By HILARY ROSS
Many Mountain Brook residents rolled into the Big Easy to witness the rematch of the top ranked LSU Tigers versus number two Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2012 AllState Bowl Championship Series (BCS) National Championship football game and our family was no exception.
Two years ago when Alabama earned a spot to play Texas for the national title in the historic Rose Bowl, our boys really wanted to go; however, at the time, the opportunity was not present for our family to make the trip to Pasadena, California. So, when promises were made for the “next time”, little did we know that vow would be honored so soon. Nonetheless, we made our arrangements, packed our bags, and boarded Southwest Airlines for our travel destination.
As the Crimson Nation descended on New Orleans by plane, bus or car, it became clear that “Roll Tide” was more than just a cheer. It was a universal greeting which fans used interchangeably for “hello”, “goodbye” or general pleasantry usually accompanied by a high five or fist bump. The thing that struck me most about the Alabama fans was the intense hopefulness and optimism of the outcome of the game. That view was shared by the opponent, who had their own phrase and fight song which REALLY sticks in your head.
“Geaux Tigers” was shouted and played as proudly as you heard the other and the LSU fans also had an undying belief their team would come out on top. Over the weekend, I cannot say which I heard more often: “Roll Tide”, “Geaux Tigers” or “Need Tickets” with this event being the hottest ticket in BCS history. Word on the street was that the price per ticket for the uppermost part of the Superdome cost $1,200.
NOLA is a phenomenal venue to attend the BCS title game for several reasons. First and foremost is its food. From beignets to muffalettas, classic creole to po’ boys – the choices in culinary delights suited every taste or wallet. Missy Cox and her husband Stewart, along with Barbara and Leon Ashford, were spotted outside the historic Napoleon House. All were excited about Alabama’s prospect at a 14th National Title and said “we would not miss it for the world”.
Fans also took advantage of the mild weather and strolled the streets of the French Quarter, shopping and sight seeing. Here is where I saw several Mountain Brook fans. Consensus was that the number one ranked Alabama defense would dominate the game and that the seasoned offensive line would allow the team to score. I think several of the men I spoke with were so fired up about the game, they were ready to suit up and play.
Of course, Alabama has several Mountain Brook players, such as starting center William Vlachos (senior), offensive lineman Tyler Love (junior), defensive lineman Wilson Love (freshman) and Morgan Ogilvie (redshirt freshman), son of legendary running back Major Ogilvie. So not only were Mountain Brook residents excited to see their team in the Championship, but were thrilled our hometown boys were on the roster.
Several events preceded the title game, including two days of Fan Fest sponsored by AllState, held near the Jax Brewery parking lot. Open to the public, fans enjoyed team pep rallies, football skills challenges, opportunities to win VIP game day experiences, and free concerts by award winning recording artists, such as The Neville Brothers and Cee Lo Green. The University of Alabama Alumni Association sponsored Bama Bash, where football celebrities, cheerleaders, Million Dollar Band members and interactive games entertained Tide fans.
One Mountain Brook group staying in Biloxi, Mississippi chartered a bus to NOLA to take part in the pre-game festivities and be in the electric environment. Despite not having tickets, the group decided to make arrangements to view the game together on a big screen and not miss any of the action or fun. “We are here to support Alabama in its attempt at a 14th National Championship and be part of the game day atmosphere” said Mary Margaret Gullage, whose group was taking part in the ESPN College Game Day show being filmed from Jackson Square.
Outside the Superdome in Champions Square for five hours preceding kickoff, a first-rate tailgate party was held with food, games, entertainment and special appearances was capped off with a performance by MoJeaux, one of the South’s most diverse and energetic bands. From balconies lining Poydras Street it was raining beads, both crimson and purple. By Monday afternoon, LSU fans had multiplied and grossly outnumbered those dressed in red and white as all coexisted waiting to enter the stadium or hoping for some last minute lucky tickets.
Alabama Alum Ginger Abele and her husband, Fletcher, who is a huge Alabama fan despite graduating from Hampden-Sydney College, wanted to share the experience with their children, Helen, Alex and Julia, brother Chris, his wife Leah, and their older kids John and Grant Abele. The family enjoys traveling to football and basketball games. Ginger said, “Their grandfather bought all the kids time to settle T-shirts because he was so excited they were all going to the game.” The Abeles all told me, “We are Number 1 and are going to win the game!” as they waited outside the Superdome.
Alumni from Mountain Brook also made plans to meet fellow alumni from other parts of the country and attend the game together. “This is the third National Championship game that Charles and I have celebrated with our fellow alum, Lana Shackelford, now living in Los Angeles,” said Patti Wilkinson. “In Pasadena, our fans were so spread out so you didn’t see all the crimson like here. Playing in the Superdome feels like home to Alabama fans because we beat Miami for the national title there in the Sugar Bowl in January 1993 and have played in may other Sugar Bowls there. We love traveling with the Tide and hope to attend many more National Championship games.”
Two hours before kickoff, the doors opened and eager fans flooded the Superdome, settling into their seats for the sold-out event. LSU filled at least 65 percent of the stadium if not more. With the home state advantage, the purple and gold were confident, loud and sure their team would win the game.
Our family was thrilled with our seats on the first row of the end zone painted ALABAMA. Even though we were a red dot in a purple state, we quickly made friends with our neighbors, as most were good natured and happy to be a part of the moment they felt sure would belong to them.
However, right from kickoff, on LSU’s first drive, the Alabama defense set the tone for the entire game. LSU was stymied by the suffocating, dominating, stingy Crimson Tide. Alabama was unified, focused and would not be denied. Its offense purposely and methodically moved the ball against a tough, gritty LSU defense. Bama slowly, but surely scored points as kicker Jeremy Shelley redeemed the special teams from the first contest in November. Fifteen points were amassed on five field goals – a BCS record. LSU fans were stunned how the game was unfolding and tensions grew as time was slipping away. The LSU faithful kept hoping to cross midfield and move into Alabama territory. However, that did not happen until midway in the fourth quarter when the Tigers reached the 32 yard line, were promptly penalized five yards for an infraction, and after two incomplete passes, fumbled the ball away.
That was the moment our family knew that victory was ours. As alumni, it was a magical feeling for my husband and me to be able to celebrate this event with our children. So, we proudly unfurled our homemade sign that read, “Another Win 4 Bama”! Not only we knew – but others sensed it too, including the opponent as many shocked and stunned fans shouted in disbelief at their coach to change quarterbacks, booing Jefferson when he returned to the field. The nail in the coffin came when Trent Richardson broke away for the only touchdown of the game extending the score and cementing the win with less than five minutes remaining.
“I don’t think I relaxed, and realized that the win was ours, until Trent scored that touchdown.” said Patti Wilkinson. “The fun of games like this is being around friends and celebrating together.”
Twenty-one to zero the scoreboard showed. First shutout in BCS history. Without a doubt, this Alabama defense is one of the best, if not THE BEST, of all time holding the Tigers to 92 total yards of offense and a paltry five first downs. Courtney Upshaw was named defensive player of the game, while AJ McCarron received the offensive honors. With Alabama back on top, our great community has enjoyed three consecutive years with a collegiate team from our State taking home the grand prize of the crystal football. Perhaps they should call us the Crystal State?
It was amazing to celebrate the victory of a team which worked so hard, overcame adversity, and persevered to claim their title. With the excellent coaching and recruiting by Nick Saban and his staff, many Bama fans mulled the possibility of going ahead and making arrangements for Miami next year. All I can say are two words… “Roll Tide”!