Today’s guest columnist is Adam Stermer.
I moved to Alabama in High School.
I was immediately struck by the natural beauty of the state, and having spent most of my short lifetime relocating often, I was excited and nervous to begin learning about my new home.
Meeting people and making new friends was a reality I was familiar with, but it’s never easy. While there were expected differences from places I’d lived in the past, one experience stands out.
I was asked, probably the first day, “Who do you go for?”
I gotta ask to the born and bred Alabamian: does this sentence mean something to you?
The question is not necessarily grammatically incorrect, but in the strictest terms, the syntax doesn’t track. There was no context. I just couldn’t figure out what was being asked. I was eager to have any conversation with the beautiful belle who was asking me this question, but instead, I didn’t understand her question at all. After feeling dumb for an eternity, all I could do was ask what she meant. Her disdainful reply was one I’d never have suspected: “Alabama or Auburn?”
When I told her I didn’t really care one way or the other, her eyes intensified; with an almost crusader-like fervor she sternly told me I HAD to pick. I also noted a glimmer of pity. She knew that my future, my friendships, even my soul may be on the line depending on how I answered this singular question.
Over the years since then, I have done my best to stay away from the conversation, because even grown adults seem to be completely obsessed with this rivalry. Children form into camps before they have mastered the alphabet, and I don’t know if they are ever allowed to reevaluate. Everyone in Alabama knows what a ‘House Divided’ is: one spouse for Auburn, the other a Tide fan. Sounds serious. It’s not pretty folks. Your obsession just isn’t one that I can understand.
First, number 1 (of course), are Alabama fans. These fans are not like others across the nation, with a fierce loyalty to their alma mater. A vast army of fans seem to have been born this way, and may never set foot in Tuscaloosa, nor on any college campus. Alumni are devoted, 100%. I have seen academic Ph.D.’s lose their minds if a field goal is conceded by Saban’s defense with a 21 point Alabama lead. In the first quarter. An actual loss requires that you contemplate your very existence: your whole week could be unsettled. There seems to be an underlying shame that pervades your entire demeanor until Alabama demolishes the next contender. Those guys better watch out.
That leaves Auburn fans: eternal optimists, the underdogs, and proud of it somehow. I’m pretty sure you are outnumbered too, AU fans. You have a bit of an identity crisis; tigers, war eagles…Plainsmen? You do have my sympathy, knowing the level of talent you have on the field. These young athletes are often the best of the best, but somehow the staff never seems to wring out all of that potential…or at last that is a regular complaint. “Coach is an idiot”, maybe he got paid by Bear Bryant to throw the game. Honestly, I think it’s a luck thing, and Auburn fans, when your luck is bad, nothing can help you. All that being said, you have earned enough hardware over the years to legitimately dream about next year.
Let me assure you that most of your fan based behavior diminishes you, but thankfully it does also usually amuse me, and big games can reduce traffic and Costco lines; that’s a bonus. I can’t deny that I have, at various times over the years, prodded one side or the other when things weren’t going their way, not just to goad them, but also with naïve hopes that they may have a change in perspective, maybe prompt a reply like, “it’s just a game”. That has never happened. More than once, having made light of the situation, I have found myself having to console my target, or worse yet, mend a friendship because I hadn’t fully realized how deep these passions run.
After many years, I finally found a solution to my initial and ongoing problem, my inability to choose a side; an apathy that refused to enlist with either army. I remained in limbo until 2003, but my future, my friendships, perhaps even my immortal soul have certainly been influenced, and I have selected not Crimson and White, nor Blue and Orange, but Green and Gold.
Now when I am asked, “Who do you go for?’ I simply say…
Adam Stermer has lived in Birmingham for 10 years, but in the neighborhood for longer. He’s the Technical Director of UAB’s Alys Stephens Center, and has worked at UAB since 2003. He thinks Birmingham’s a pretty great town. Adam invites you to join him at UAB Football’s first game at Protective Stadium on October 2nd which also will be broadcast live on the CBS TV Sports Network.
David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group for free about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org.