I grew up at the tail end of an empire. That empire was known as the Crimson Tide. As far as I knew, every living soul loved Alabama Football with the exception of terrorists and baby killers. Their number one fan just happened to be my old man. Once he traded our bunk beds for a blanket which had been custom made for a former Tide player. We had the commemorative Bear Bryant Coca-Cola bottles, as did all of my extended family. I had a helmet lamp with a battered shade and framed pictures of “the Bear” as well as the newspaper which had announced his death in a display case. My room was white with red trim to match my genetically-inherited fandom and Dad completed it by painting an elephant on the wall.
When I was born, I was brought home in an oversized tee which boasted me as a “future player”. The red of that shirt effectively brought out the pink of my complexion. That was my father’s dream; that I would grow up to be a star athlete for the Crimson Tide. Dad was especially proud of book reports I did on Bear Bryant, Joe Namath, and similarly, Knute Rockne. I was excited to sign up for midget league football but as it turned out I was not as naturally, athletically gifted as we had hoped. It wasn’t all bad. I did have a few glorious moments as nose guard. Nonetheless, it was not the game for me. When it ceased to be fun, Dad assured me I didn’t have to play anymore. Still not wanting to be a “quitter” of any stripe I stuck it out for another miserable season before dropping the ball (pun intended).
In 6th grade, it suddenly was fashionable to fan other teams and to dis on Alabama. Dad explained to me that these kids were fickle and that anyone could pull for the current favorite. A true fan stood by his team through it all. No longer a Heisman candidate, I transitioned my ambition to being one of these true fans. I wore a sweatshirt, one we had bought for Dad, which listed state and national championships among other impressive stats. My knowledge of sports was very limited outside the contents of that sweater. Still, I debated those points with my wishy-washy classmates. After awhile, seeing it was futile, I bored of the discussion. I lost interest in watching the games too as I hardly understood them.
After Stallings’ resignation the university’s football program would appear dead in the water for the next decade. The critics were giddy to report the empire’s postmortem status. This was a rough patch, to say the least, a fact best evidenced by the record number of head coaches over the next several years. If ever there was a true fan, my Dad was it. He remained hopeful season after season that soon enough the empire would be reborn. He explained that this process was a rebuilding. Year after year, he’d assert that this would be their year. Every year when that didn’t happen, the sadder the story seemed. I wanted to believe him but it was so hard to. Once upon a time, I had loved them because he loved them. I had rooted for them because he did. I had taken his word for it but now I had questions. While his enthusiasm had inspired me along the way I hardly saw the point anymore.
Last year as the Titans blazed through ten straight wins, my interested piqued. I had come to call Nashville home and the spirit of the city was one of excitement. My co-workers wore jerseys on Fridays. We were even permitted a casual Tuesday if we wore blue. Any blue would do. Whether they won or lost mattered to me and this was troubling. Why did it matter? Why did anyone care at all? The idea that a team winning a game could unite a city seemed most ludicrous. And yet, it seemed to be exactly what was happening. I talked to my Dad about the Titans winning streak. He reminded me that he only cared about one thing: Alabama Football. And Mom, God bless her, gave me an earful about how Tennessee wasn’t really my home.
Amid the excitement, I hadn’t noticed that Alabama was having a winning streak of their own. That elusive perfect season had arrived. Unfortunately, it ended as Florida took away the SEC championship. This afternoon the two rivals meet again. I want the Tide to win for a very simple reason. I’ve seen glimpses of a once-great empire, an empire that my Dad and I share belief in, and I want that empire to reign supreme. Ridiculous, yes but isn’t that why we pull for our team? The rule of “kingdoms passing away” applies to football but we pull for teams not because they are necessarily the best but because they represent something of our ideology. I stopped caring about football when I stopped understanding it and when it seemed pointless. There are parallels between my early inherited fandom and an inherited faith. At some point, both have to become personal or else they die. There is an empire not of this world, unseen of this world, which one ought to have faith in. Faith being the substance of things unseen can be a lot like loving a perennially losing team.
5 Practical Ways for Keeping the Faith:
Learn everything you can so that you can adequately answer why you believe. This is important when others ask but also for when you question it yourself.
Understand that the institution is merely an instrument of the empire. That is, don’t expect perfection from the church. It is made of broken players just like yourself.
Remember, everyone can’t be QB. Teams need people in bleachers too.
Consider the unwaning enthusiasm of the die-hard fan. Be as excited about your church team in season and out. Your enthusiasm will serve to inspire others.
Remember where your home is. Winning seasons, like spiritual high points, come and go but even the best of times are merely a glimpse of future glories. Remember your home and do everything to see the dream realized.
I’ll leave you with the words of the immortal Mac Powell of Third Day who last night said, “Hope I get to meet Tim Tebow tomorrow and tell him “Roll Tide, God bless you.’”