For a long time, American football has confused me. It is an entirely different mindset altogether. I grew up watching 'soccer' (don’t get me started) and rugby. In other words, games with very few stops, and occur over a short period of 80-90 minutes. Not three to four hours, with very many stops! Football here in the States is definitely a sport that an expat, particularly a South African one at that, takes a long time to understand. I guess my boyfriend, the Traveling Ninja, decided to take upon it himself that I WILL understand, and not only that I WILL enjoy it. And so, we set off to his hometown of Birmingham in Alabama, where the Crimson Tide reigns supreme.
Now I need to add a little back-story to this event. My family first moved over to the States at the end of 2007. They moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My sister eventually went to LSU and became a Tiger, and my family "bleeds purple and gold" as does the majority of Louisiana. A fair majority of this situation occurred with me still living in South Africa, so I generally don't consider myself a tiger or that I bleed purple and gold. In the time that I have lived in the States, I have picked up little bits and scraps about football however, and of course, I also came to know that LSU's biggest rival is: ALABAMA
#ROLLTIDE #CRIMSONTIDE #BAMA.
In other words: my boyfriend's team. Whoops!
Naturally, my family was not impressed and this remains a somewhat contentious issue. For example, I posted a picture wearing an Alabama shirt at brunch, and my sister promptly commented, “You look stupid”. The other day my mom called me a traitor. Even though I never really went to school at LSU and lived in Louisiana for a total of 9 months.
Nevertheless, I always enjoy sports more when others are just as into it and my boyfriend is pretty much obsessed. I have friends back home who are die-hard fans of their soccer teams. I'm afraid to tell them that, actually, you're not a true fan until your on the same level as The Traveling Ninja over this side. The more games I've watched with him, the more I realized how intense college football is and how die-hard Bama fans are. I also started to understand why he kept saying "Are you looking forward to football season? Are you scared for it?"
In preparation for the big day, Alabama vs. Ole Miss at Alabama, the TN took to explaining a couple rules. Most of which I needed to be repeated. Several times. Especially when he was cheering like they had just scored but no one had. I guess in many ways I decided to just go along for the ride and figure out the rules later! Having previously tail-gated with my sister at LSU at a game that was a very small unimportant Texas team, I wasn't sure what to expect for my "first real SEC game". I was unprepared. Entirely unprepared. I was unprepared for Alabama tailgating, and Alabama football completely.
Tailgating at University of Alabama's Bryant Denny Stadium
We headed to the campus a little bit later on in the day as our game was only at 8:30 pm. We missed most of the traffic and took a leisurely walk from the campus to the stadium, stopping along the way so that I could look at the Fraternity and Sorority houses. Now, I'm sorry to my LSU family and friends, but the one's at Alabama are WAY more impressive. They are absolutely huge! I couldn't help but snap some pictures. In many ways I feel like I missed out on the college experience here in the States, it is truly a unique and memorable time, from what I've gathered from my sister, boyfriend and various friends who have attended the big colleges here.
Tailgating is definitely one of the highlights of attending a football game in the US. Basically, tailgating is when you set up food and drinks to have a party, usually in the parking lot or on the grounds of an event. Many people tailgate at concerts or at sports games. At univeistieis in the US, students and alumni set up tailgates on the grounds of the univeristy near to the stadium before a game. People bring drinks and snacks, many of them grill food, and often they set up TVs to either watch the game or view other games on the day before heading to the stadium.
What's crazy (to me as an Expat) is that if you don't feel like setting up your own tailgate, you can purchase one! From $400 to $1200, you can have someone else set up and clean your tailgate section for you. It includes tents, grills and HD TV's for your viewing and partying pleasure. Of course, these set ups sell out way in advance of the season.
We headed down to my boyfriend's fathers friends, who were very kind and gave us tickets to the game and let us enjoy their tailgate. They had a TV set up to watch games, and had plenty of delicious food. We feasted on grilled chicken, cookies, and the most amazing, addictive, apple sauce dip. That stuff is what dreams are made of, I could not get enough of it. The tents are also decorated with Alabama gear. Alabama's Mascot is Al the elephant. I loved the little plates we used!
Apart from the awesome food, tailgates are also known for their general rowdiness and partying before a big game. I saw this when I went to my first tailgate with my sister at LSU, although we didn't hang around for very long. Alabama is no exception. Everyone is dressed up in Bama colors, red, or rather crimson, and white. There were a few specks of blue, form the traveling Ole Miss fans, but I had forgotten how big southern schools show their pride and support for their schools. As we walked to the stadium, I also saw the America all those teen movies had told me about: huge frat parties!
Alabama vs Ole Miss
That pretty much sums up my experience at Bryant Denny Stadium. Just LOUD!
It is definitely something to be one of the thousands of people in the massive stadium, all cheering, singing and jumping up and down. Alabama went down to Ole Miss 43-37, but I couldn't have been happier, though I can't say the same about everyone else or my boyfriend. My first REAL SEC game was magic. The sea of red and white was pulsating with the game. At half time, the band came out and performed. They actually MADE an elephant in their performance. Now, if your from America and reading this, you probably don't think thats much of a big deal and its pretty standard.... But for someone who didn't go to college in America and hasn't watched games in the stadium before, and doesn't have college level sport on this level... A elephant walking across the field made up of the synchronized band members is pretty darn epic!
While I loved my experience at the stadium and the general festivities, I'm afraid I didn't understand much of the game. I still don't understand the euphoria when someone gets some yards sorted (I don't even know how to talk about it, see), but I jumped up with everyone else by the end of the game. I think I was more enthralled with the atmosphere of a true SEC game, and a ROLL TIDE game more than anything else. It was electric. The crowd never stopped. I've been to 'soccer' games before, and been in the crowd of an Man U vs Arsenal game at Old Trafford. Everyone screams and shouts the entire game long, but there is definitely something different about a college football game, especially one with such die-hard fans like Alabama.
Sorry mom and dad, after this experience, I guess I became a fan too!
Have you ever gone tailgating before? If you're from the USA, what's your college football team? Let me know below!