The roar of Bryant-Denny stadium could be heard a mile away. I walked towards it thinking how my footsteps were falling in the same spots where Bear Bryant's had once fallen.
Kids in Alabama grow up watching the game and greeting strangers with a nod and "Roll Tide." For two decades I watched Alabama football from my living room every Saturday in the fall but had never made it to a game. On a visit home for Thanksgiving this year, I decided to finally check out a real game and wound up in Tuscaloosa for the 2012 Iron Bowl with no ticket, just a chance to hang with the tailgating scene and mill around the outside of the stadium.
I watched the first half of the game from a T.V. outside the stadium. Alabama was up 42-0 at halftime. By the 3rd quarter fans were pouring out for an early celebration.
I started circling the stadium looking for a way in. Security guards were still checking tickets at the entrances.
About halfway around I noticed a group of people going in and jumped in line. A guard at the front asked for a red ticket. I turned around and kept walking.
It was the beginning of the 4th quarter. I had nearly circled the stadium. Just as I was thinking that I might have to wait until it was empty to see the inside of this legacy, I noticed an entrance with no guards in sight. I was in.
In front of me was a field opening that led right to the Alabama sideline. I kept walking, out into a sea of crimson and watched the last five minutes of the game behind a row of Alabama jerseys.
As the clock seconds ticked down, an Alabama player ran up to high-five fans. He didn't know that I was a lifelong Alabama fan. He didn't know that this was my first game, or that I'd snuck in halfway through the fourth quarter and wound up on the sideline. He didn't even know that he was my favorite college football player of 2012. Eddie Lacy probably had other things on his mind that night, but as he grinned and slapped my hand at the 2012 Iron Bowl, he made my first Alabama game more memorable than ever.