I’ve been to Alabama games in the past, but this one was different. This was the Peach Bowl, a College Football Playoff semi-final game between the Crimson Tide and Washington.
Thanks to a surprise Christmas gift from Pam, daughter Emma and I traveled to Atlanta, Ga., for the New Year’s Eve match-up.
They said I shed a tear Christmas morning when I unwrapped the tickets. Of course, I would not admit to that. I will say I was stunned and extremely happy and excited with the gift.
Growing up in rural Alabama and playing tackle football with friends in our small front yard, my choice of team was always Alabama.
When we played, like any kid, I always wanted to be the quarterback. And I’d pretend to be one for the Crimson Tide, like Scott Hunter (1968-1970) when I was 8 years old.
Or I would try to run the football like Johnny Musso, an All-American in 1971, when I was 10.
I didn’t have the opportunity to attend any Alabama games as a child.
But when I decided to pick journalism as a career and started helping some at the local newspaper, good friend Les Walters fixed me up with a sideline pass at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.
It was awesome, being close enough to Paul “Bear” Bryant to snap my own photos of the legendary coach. I still have a black and white photo, that I took, of him leaning against the goal-post. Plus, there are many more I’ve accumulated over the years.
I’ve attended many other Alabama games. The biggest was probably Bear’s last game as coach in the 1982 Liberty Bowl. That one sticks out in my memory more than any other athletic event I’ve ever attended. And it still ranks ahead of the recent Peach Bowl, only because I grew up idolizing “The Bear.”
Emma and I arrived early enough in downtown Atlanta on December 31 to go to the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl FanFest at the World Congress Center.
The highlight was the team walk-through as the Alabama players and coaches made their way to the Georgia Dome. We got in line early, right up front.
Following performances by the cheerleaders and the Million Dollar Band, head coach Nick Saban led his Crimson Tide through a long line of screaming fans. Emma and I got a quick handshake from defensive end Jonathan Allen and saw Coach Saban, freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts and others.
Our seats for the game were great – super view of the entire field. We were surrounded by other Bama supporters, which is always a good thing, rather than being sprinkled in with fans for the opposing team.
We cheered and cheered and cheered as Alabama beat Washington 24-7 to advance to the championship game versus Clemson in Tampa, Fla. (this past Monday night).
Win or lose versus the Tigers in that one, my Peach Bowl experience will be what I will take with me from this football season. It was also the last college football game ever in the Georgia Dome (which will be torn down this year). And we were part of a record crowd – 76,996.