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Friday, August 31, 2012

Know Your Foe - Alabama 2012

Ed. Note: A huge thanks to Benny for coming out of blogging retirement to pen this week's Know Your Foe.  He blew off rescheduled a lot of work at the office the last couple of days in order to put in the time to get KYF finished by today.  

The Michigan Wolverines open their 133rd season this Saturday NIGHT! So which directional Michigan school are they going to wax in the Big House? Wait a minute, they're playing Alabama? In a professional team's stadium in Texas? In a made-for-TV showcase? How 21st Century. I don't know that Bo would approve, but it's great to see Michigan playing in games like this. And though the Crimson Tide have never before appeared on the Michigan regular-season schedule, the teams have faced each other three times, including the day after that whole Y2K fiasco. You might not remember back that far so you're probably wondering, who are these Alabamians and what should we know about them? To answer these and many other questions, the MZone is proud to present this year's special season-opening edition of KNOW YOUR FOE.

History – The University of Alabama (UA) was founded in 1831 and is the oldest and largest university in the state (take that Auburn and, uh, UAB!). It's formation actually dates back to 1818 when the federal government authorized the then Alabama territory to set aside land for a "seminary of learning." When Alabama became a state two years later, additional land was set aside. A mere 41 years later the state joined in a fight against that very same federal government. The campus design was influenced by the University of Virginia and featured a dome Rotunda in the center. It officially opened as "The University of the State of Alabama" on April 18, 1831, which seems late in the school year to start a university. 

Enrollment hovered around 100 students for the first couple of decades, but few of the early students remained enrolled and fewer graduated. Discipline was a constant issue – rules were enacted to curb drinking, swearing, and music, but gunfights and riots were common. Finally, in 1860, the governor transformed the University into a military school. Many of the graduates at this time became officers in the Confederate Army which likely explains why the Union Army burned most of the campus to the ground on April 4, 1865. Amazingly, four buildings from the pre-Civil War era survive to this day. The University re-opened in 1871, expanded in 1880 and first admitted women in 1893 (23 years after Michigan did so). The military structure was abandoned in 1903.

Much like the rest of the South, the middle of the 20th Century saw the issue of civil rights and integration come to the Alabama campus. The first attempt at integration came in 1956 when Autherine Lucy was admitted to the school (thanks to a court order), but then was suspended and expelled three days later as the university claimed it could not provide a safe learning environment for her. Successful integration finally came six years later when Vivian Malone and James Hood registered for classes in June of 1963. Then governor George Wallace made his infamous "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door" in an attempt to stop their enrollment, only stepping aside when confronted by federal marshals. Lucy's expulsion was rescinded in 1980 and she graduated with a master's degree in 1992. Hood dropped out after two months but received his PhD in philosophy from UA in 1997. Malone stayed in school and graduated. Today, the plaza outside of the building Wallace stood to block their entrance bears the names of Malone and Hood and the clock tower in the plaza is named for Lucy.

Location – Tuscaloosa, Alabama. One of the greatest college town names (KYF recalls many a game announced by Keith Jackson from there), Tuscaloosa is the fifth-largest city in the state with a population just over 90,000 and becomes the fourth-largest city after signing day before Saban starts grayshirting. The one-time capital takes its name from Tuskaloosa, the chieftan of a Muskogean-speaking people, who were defeated in battle in 1540 in the Battle of Mabila. The city is located in west central Alabama, close to, well, not much else. The “Druid City,” so named from the water oaks planted in its downtown since the 1840s, actually has a pretty diversified economy. Obviously the university is a major driver, but local government agencies and manufacturing are critical economic factors as well.

Even if the university isn’t the main pillar economically, it certainly is culturally. Whether it’s the museums or the nightlife on The Strip or downtown, going out in Tuscaloosa usually has something to do with UA. And like any good city in the South, it usually has something to do with the football team. Not only is the university dominated by football, the entire town is.

Nickname – Crimson Tide. One of the most unique nicknames, not just in college athletics but all of sports, has a bit of an unclear origin. Early accounts of Alabama football referred to the team with the imaginative “Varsity,” or the “Crimson White” in reference to the team’s colors. The first popular nickname was the “Thin Red Line,” which was used until 1906. Then, in 1907, an underdog Alabama team fought to a muddy 6-6 tie against rival Auburn (incredibly the last time the two teams would play for 41 years). Hugh Roberts, sports editor at the Birmingham Age-Herald was so impressed he coined the “Crimson Tide” name. The name was further popularized by former sports editor of the Birmingham News, Zipp Newman. What a crazy time that was – not because guys were named “Zipp,” but because newspapers actually had influence on society.

The nickname is so unique, it’s actually made numerous appearances in popular culture. And this isn’t like the coincidental character names that Michigan can cling to. The movie Crimson Tide, starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman took the name straight from the football team. Steely Dan’s famous line of “They call Alabama the Crimson Tide” from their song Deacon Blues might not make much sense, but should serve as a point of pride for UA fans. The name has also been referenced in some country music songs that Know Your Foe has no familiarity with.

Mascot – Big Al, the elephant. Now why would the Crimson Tide have an elephant as a mascot? It goes back to 1930, that time when newspapers held sway over the nation. In early October, the Tide (who won the national championship) took on Ole Miss. Sports writer Everett Strupper of the Atlanta Journal wrote a story about the game that quoted a fan yelling “Hold your horses, the elephants are coming” right as the Tide team ran on the field. Strupper and other writers of the time would then refer to the Tide linemen as “Red Elephants.”

The costumed mascot didn’t appear until student Melford Espey, Jr. wore an elephant head to games in the early 1960s. Espey became a university administrator (apparently elephant head wearing was a job requirement) and in the 1970s was instrumental in the mascot’s official debut in the 1979 Sugar Bowl. The current roster of Big Als consists of five students, including one female. According to his appearance policy, Big Al doesn’t accept tips, though it’ll cost you $400 to have him show up for an hour at your wedding or bar mitzvah.

Colors – Crimson and White. KYF has gone over the whole red/scarlet/cardinal/crimson thing many times before. Red and the various shades that make up college football looks great in a full stadium. KYF even enjoys the occasional college coach who has the cajones to wear a bright red blazer on the sidelines. But the color is just too common for KYF’s taste.
Alabama is one of eight Division I-A FBS schools to include crimson among their colors, and one of three to pair it with white (along with Utah and New Mexico State). The colors have been associated with the school for at least 120 years and even the campus newspaper (the Crimson White) takes its name from the school colors. Some might say Crimson White would be a good euphemism for redneck. KYF wouldn't do that, though.
Logo/Helmet – The crimson helmet with white numerals and grey facemask has been a staple of college football for over 50 years with almost no change. In the 1960s and in 1983 and ’84, the team wore white helmets with crimson numerals for some games but for pretty much ever since the Crimson Tide abandoned leather helmets, things haven’t changed. And KYF thinks that’s great in this case. Not only will two of the winningest football programs take the field in Dallas on Saturday night, but so will two of the best looking helmets in football.
As perfect and well known as the ‘Bama helmets are, the logos are surprisingly un-original. The official logo which incorporates a cartoon elephant, looks positively minor league, and is a classic example of generic computer graphic design or some smart ass who wanted to show what an elephant f*cking a block "A" looked like. The alternate logo is at least more major league but that’s because it’s almost identical to that of the Atlanta Braves. Hey, Alabama, you’ve had so much success with the traditional look on the field, why not go back to the logo you used from the ‘60s to the ‘90s?

Fight songYea, Alabama. This fight song doesn’t get mentioned with The Victors or the Notre Dame Victory March, but Yea, Alabama belongs in that second tier of great college football fight songs. Most Michigan fans, and most football fans outside of the South, might not associate the tune with the Crimson Tide, though they are probably familiar with it. And while most college football fans know at least some of the lyrics to great fight songs like On, Wisconsin, Fight On, and Boomer Sooner, Yea, Alabama’s lyrics are unknown to most everyone who doesn’t wear houndstooth underwear. And there’s a good reason why – they’re laughably anachronistic. They mention a school that ‘Bama hasn’t played in 28 years, and a bowl game that the Tide hasn’t played in since 1946. And the whole mention of “watery grave” makes KYF a tad uncomfortable.

Yea, Alabama! Drown 'em Tide!
Every 'Bama man's behind you;
Hit your stride!
Go teach the Bulldogs to behave,
Send the Yellow Jackets to a watery grave!
And if a man starts to weaken,
That's a shame!
For 'Bama's pluck and grit
Have writ her name in crimson flame!
Fight on, fight on, fight on, men!
Remember the Rose Bowl we'll win then!
Go, roll to victory,
Hit your stride,
You're Dixie's football pride, Crimson Tide!

The song now ends with a “Roll Tide, Roll Tide” chant, much like how “Go Blue” often follows The Victors. As a matter of fact, both phrases serve as greetings to strangers across the world who are wearing their team’s paraphernalia.
No matter how the game goes, Michigan fans are sure to hear that song plenty on Saturday night. The one song Wolverine fans don’t want to hear is another ‘Bama tradition, Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer. This song is only played following (or at the very end of sure) Alabama victories. It’s the ultimate victory cigar to Tide Fans. Listen to it and it’ll no doubt stir up memories of Verne Lundquist wrapping up a game from Braynt-Denny Stadium. The linked file is for a win over Tennessee, but the fans substitute the name of the whichever team was just dispatched.

Hey Vols!
Hey Vols!
Hey Vols!
We just beat the hell out of you!
Rammer Jammer, Yellowhammer, gave 'em hell, Alabama!

It’s typically only played once or twice after the game, but it was also played before games with the lyrics changing to “We’re gonna beat the hell out of you.” But in the early 2000s the university felt it was too taunting in nature and had the band stop playing it. After heavy criticism the university relented as long as it was only played after the game. The lyrics originate from a former student newspaper, The Rammer Jammer, and the state bird, the yellowhammer. The title of the song was also the title of the excellent 2004 book by Warren St. John, which EVERY college football fan should read. Seriously, go buy it now. KYF will wait.
Both songs are played by the 330-member “Million Dollar Band.” The name dates back to 1922 when the band had to raise funds to be able to travel to a game at Georgia Tech. Thankfully, with all the money in college football today, that would never happen. Following the game, a 33-7 defeat to the Yellow Jackets, an Alabama alumnus, W.C. Pickens, was asked "[...] what do you have at Alabama?" by an Atlanta-based sportswriter. Pickens replied only, "A million dollar band."
Academics – According to the most recent U. S. News ranking of America's Best Colleges, Alabama is a solid, if unspectacular 75th, which, ties them with seven schools, including the Big Ten’s Indiana, and Michigan lookalike, Delaware. This ranking would put them near the bottom of the Big Ten, ahead of only Nebraska (#101), but they’re ranked 5th in the 14-team Southeast Conference, and most importantly seven spots ahead of rival Auburn.

Athletics – Alabama has been a member of the Southeast Conference since it's founding in 1932. The school offers 21 varsity sports (Michigan has 27). Other than in football, athletic success has been surprisingly modest in Tuscaloosa. The men's basketball team has never made a Final Four, with an Elite Eight in 2004 representing the furthest advancement. UA has sent 24 players to the NBA, led by seven-time champion Robert Horry, all-around good guy Antonio McDyess, and ne'er-do-well Latrell Spreewell. Alabama has never won a national title in any men's sport other than football. They have won six women's gymnastics titles, and are the current national champions in women's golf and women's softball (beating Michigan in the Softball World Series).

But when people think of the Alabama Crimson Tide they think of football. And for good reason. The school has won 14 national championships (Michigan has 11), 22 SEC titles (by far the most), has a winning record against every SEC member (except newcomer Missouri who they've played only three times), and has played in a record 58 bowl games, winning 33. The program's 814 wins ranks 7th in Division 1-A, as does their 0.710 winning percentage. The face of Alabama football is Paul "Bear" Bryant, a man who's been dead for almost 30 years. Bryant's name is on the 101,821 seat stadium (along with former UA president George Hutchinson Denny), his trademark houndstooth hat pattern appears all over the state, and his legacy is reborn countless times when true 'Bama fans name their newborns (most importantly, the vast majority of Tide fans had a pretty good sense of humor when the MZone poked some fun at their beloved legend). Bryant was a solid player for the Tide in the early '30s but it's his 25-year coaching career at Alabama that has made him a legend. He won 315 games, six national titles, and 13 SEC titles. 

Famous alums – Even without including the fictional Forrest Gump, the list of alumni from Alabama is pretty decent. It includes Forrest Gump author Winston Groom, writer and journalist Gay Talese, actor Jim Nabors, actress Sela Ward, and director of many Seinfeld episodes, Tom Cherones.

Longtime baseball announcer Mel Allen is a 'Bama alum along with college football guy Rece Davis, and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. And KYF is deeply indebted to one Alabama alum in particular, Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia. Thanks, Jimmy!

There are, of course, a ton of football players, including seven hall of famers: John Hannah, Don Hutson, Joe Namath, Ozzie Newsome, Bart Starr, Dwight Stephenson, and Derrick Thomas. 

The list also includes plenty of local politicians, longtime Supreme Court justice Hugo Black, and former governor and presidential candidate (and neer-do-well) George Wallace, but, alas, no U.S. Presidents.

The Game – Wow, what a way to start things off, facing the national champions on a neutral field. This is the game of the week and could go a long way to determine who plays for that cheap-looking crystal football at the end of the season. 'Bama lost a ton of talent to the NFL, but the Nick Saban recruiting machine (scholarship limits? We don't need no stinkin' scholarship limits!) just rolls on. And if Saban's the coach, you know this team is going to be tough on defense. But the Tide don't have Denard Robinson, who saw the Michigan program through the darkest of days and is ready to cement his mark as one of the greatest Wolverines ever. It will be a lot of work, but Denard and the defense will put Michigan in the national championship conversation before we even get to Labor Day.



Dennis said...

As usual, nicely done.

While my heart wants you to win, my head says they will grind it out on the ground against you. I think Denard may get a few scores, so I agree with your point total for Michigan. Unfortunately I think your D-line will eventually wear down. Especially since I think the TOP battle will be something in the neighborhood of 37-23. I will be suprised if you have sustained scoring drives.

Alabama: 34
Michigan: 20

Again, hope I am wrong. Good luck.

616goblue said...

Welcome back Benny!

The only thing missing is the "space bitches, space" section of KYF.

Well done, it feels like football season reading another well researched edition of KYF.


Crock said...

Ah, its Friday & KYF is posted...all is right in the world.

I must say that when I read this on my phone @ 3am (was up nursing our 6 month old) - I scrolled down for the score prediction. I was very mad at Benny for picking Bama. But after some coffee & re-reading --I see that I read Dennis' comment! I hope you are wrong as well, Dennis!

Go Blue - Beat Bama!

Dennis said...


Congrats on the baby. Looks like you need to update your profile and your profile pic.

I am one to talk, mine is a picture of my 9 year old, when he was about the age of our 14 month old. He had smeared himself with appleasauce when his mother took the picture. We usually refer to that as his Imp picture.

We adopted him at 10 months and he was 15th %ile in height and off the bottom in weight. He was active though and soon started walking and climbing and rarely wore more than a diaper. We couldn't keep him in clothes. I n more ways than one, he grew 9 inches in 18 months. Because he still was very lean for a toddler, and was usally clad in only the diaper, some of our friends called him Gollum, though he had clean hair and considerably better teeth.

James said...

I always thought "Crimson Tide" was in reference to this:


Go Blue! Beat the algal bloom!

Ramona said...

Benny, really excellent. Home from work beat but cheered to see the return of KYF.

LOTS of "GO BLUE" going out of DTW flights today and yesterday... and yes, one or two "ROLL TIDE"

srudoff said...

You guys get to celebrate the 5 yr anniversary of Appy State by getting smoked by Alabama! Hollywood would have rejected this script as too perfect.

beast in 'bama said...

An excellent KYF - one that I was looking forward to reading all summer.

One omission from the notable alums category that I think is worth mentioning - Pulitzer Prize winning author of "To Kill a Mockingbird" Harper Lee. Like J.D. Salinger, she wrote a masterpiece and rode off into the literary sunset.

Good luck to you Wolverines. I'm hoping for another great game between these two giants of college football. Let's schedule another game between Michigan and Texas in the near future - the last one was so much fun, I'd love to see another.