It happened again the other morning at the bagel shop, and I guess I should get used to it. It's not that I am unaccustomed to people remarking on my appearance. At 6'5" and just an ounce or two over 250 lbs (pause for laughter) and with my predilection for outrageous behavior, I have seen plenty of people giving me the two-eye squint.
But when I wear a certain jacket and/or hat, it's as if I am a member of a secret society. I have always heard that Rosicrucians or Hibernians or members of the Internat'l Order of Odd Fellows wear tiny lapel pins that, when spotted by fellow members of the group, get them preferred seating at an Ed Ames concert or an extra porkchop or something.
My clannish garb is a crimson Alabama jacket or cap. Wearing either or both always yields the same results: someone will look me up and down (which takes a while, granted) and then nod and say, "Roll TIDE!" (Fist pump optional.) You see, they call Alabama The Crimson Tide, as Steely Dan knew so well. They got the name from a football game in 1907 which was played on a messy field of red muddy dirt, a game in which an underdog Alabama team fought to a tie against the heavily-favored eleven from Auburn, which, as I understand it, is a college that people attend half-heartedly after being denied admission to the University of Alabama.
Where did all this come from, that I, a man who can count his trips to Dixie on the fingers of a catcher's mitt, became such a devotee of a school I've never been to in a state I have driven through but twice? A state which holds the crypt of Hank Williams, but when I stopped for gas and waffles there in 2004 on the way to Drew and Laura's wedding and asked Goober for directions to the graveyard, he said, "You don't wanna go there." Yes, I did, but he just repeated that I did not want to go there. Still a mystery. It was a chilly morning, and when we left the Cracker Barrel and piled into the minivan, Mom could hardly stop chuckling about the guy in the restaurant who was talking about the "Damn fool out there wearing green shorts on a cold day like this."
I'll end the mystery right here and tell you, I was wearing green shorts that day. Surprise surprise!
So, I don't know. Somehow, perhaps because of the influence of seeing so many Tide football games on the TV, or perhaps from seeing the swashbuckling quarterbacks Joe Namath and Ken Stabler, both proud 'Bama boys, or just because I love the sound of the words "Alabama Crimson Tide" the way Keith Jackson used to croon them on ABC, I became a fan, and I'm not alone. Thanks to all of you who have given me the high sign and hollered "Roll Tide" at gas stations, grocery stores and wedding ceremonies. And remember this: the NFL may be on strike, and they may or may not play this year, but the Tide will roll, as sure as grits are groceries.