On that most important day ever in Tuscaloosa, it was a good time to be an idiot. Something estimated to be well over a hundred thousand SEC fans and media filled the campus of Alabama for close to ten hours before the Tide and LSU kicked off the proclaimed "Game of the Century." The majority of us wandered with distraction, convinced that whatever the football game ahead of us would be, it would be the most important... thing... ever.
From the first hundred fans camped out to join ESPN's GameDay crowd at dawn until the first missed field goal of first quarter, no one on either side could forget how important everything was supposed to be on Saturday. Gone was that signature curiosity between a proud home crowd and a visiting rival boasting strong numbers. Many fans were just content to stay put wherever they could set up a tailgate, even hours before the game.
No cruising the University Avenue bars, unless you were already there. Cell phone coverage was jammed, and despite the fact AT&T commonly fuzzes out at just about every football game in the Southeast, the loss of our most coveted creature comfort still had the old and young alike antsy to split their groups. No quests for a liquor store unless you got detailed directions from a local. No visiting that friend of a friend's tent "up north a ways from the stadium." That ritual so often lifted up as the unmissable experience of community was, despite teeming numbers, both loud and subdued.
In a truly unorthodox sign of the game's magnitude, I saw a group of Alabama fraternity brothers admonishing each other for binge drinking a case of Busch Light just as the clock hit 12:30 p.m. local time. It's hard to imagine any points earned among even the 23-year-old forever-young fifth-years for "getting so hammered I missed the damn game" on this particular Saturday. This was not a day to slip out on, even by bro standards.
The idiots didn't know better, thankfully. Visiting LSU students had failed to congregate in a single area of campus - likely due to the extreme number of people both attending the game and simply milling about - and as a result, bawdy confrontations arose between the two universities' student bodies.
LSU and Alabama failed to match the hype supplied for their on-field match-up Saturday night, but that's OK. They even failed to completely put to bed the question of the country's best team, what with the meager 9-6 score reflected in Sunday night's BCS Standings. The system is providing the losing Tide the chance of a potential rematch. But arcane logic isn't anything new in college football.
The hype for this game was inevitable, unavoidable and in some cases merited. These were, with virtually no argument, the two best teams in the country, undefeated and neighbors in the same division of the same conference considered the nation's best, boasting a reverence and fandom like no other American sports culture.
Saturday wasn't the ideal SEC football game. It was far from it. If anything, that signature warped mixture of hostility and hospitality SEC fans love to brag about was vacant. Aside from the usual idiots, well over a hundred thousand people nervously milling around Bryant-Denny stadium for the 10 hours before kickoff practiced reserved gentility.
If you're even remotely familiar with the SEC and its team by team traditions, nothing stood out on Saturday. The kind of provincial color national writers love to wrap with prose was muted, bland. Maybe that's because I've personally seen it all before - Bear Bryant's immortal voice bouncing around the stadium P.A., the houndstooth everything, and fashions of porcelain Southern Belles .