A Piece of My Heart
It’s been said that you never really appreciate something until you no longer have it, but I like to think that I appreciated every day that I woke up in Tuscaloosa, AL during my five years in college. It was the first place in my life where I really felt like I belonged. It was warm and comforting and yet just as comedic as a dysfunctional family. I never expected to feel that way when I first visited the campus in high school, but there was something about that place the minute I got there that I just knew. I knew it was home. Now, I’m not saying my five years didn’t come with its share of adversity and trial. On the contrary, I faced some of my biggest fears and had some of my biggest heart breaks on that campus. They made me stronger. The University of Alabama made me stronger. Tuscaloosa, AL made me stronger. I completely believe that I would be a totally different person if I had gone to college anywhere else.
I didn’t land on campus because of anything to do with athletics, and when I tell people that, they’re still shocked. They don’t understand why anyone would go to Alabama for any other reason mainly because they don’t think Alabama has anything else to offer. But when I chose The University for its academics it was because they had one of the best accounting schools in the southeast. That carried more weight than you can even imagine, and so, I embarked on a five-year love affair with a place that can still to this day make my heart skip a beat.
I miss the smell of the smoke stack in winter. I miss walking to class in standing water because there was no proper drainage system. I miss the sound of the quad on gameday. I miss the traffic on campus on a Friday afternoon. I miss dodging cars in the pedestrian walkways. I miss lawn decorations during Homecoming. I miss pep rallies. I miss the sound of the train that never failed to make at least one person late to class every day. I lived on campus so I never had to worry about that. I miss the smell of the bread company on 15th street because on a clear, windy day the smell of fresh baked bread would permeate campus. I miss walking up and down three flights of stairs to do my laundry. I miss the light breeze that would blow in around March and make me bust open my dorm room windows to let it in. I miss steak night in the Burke cafeteria. I miss fighting for parking spaces…everywhere! I miss the people…the people who asked how you were and really wanted to know. I miss knowing that my professors were some of the smartest people in the world and realizing that even then I still wasn’t fully appreciating their knowledge.
Now, academics aside, it’s very hard to attend Alabama without becoming fully engrossed in the athletics. I loved football games in October because the weather had changed just enough to make it not too cold and not too hot and the sound of Bear Bryant’s voice over the loud speakers still makes the hair on my neck stand up. I loved basketball games in the winter because Coleman Coliseum is electrifying from the student section and Jeremy Hays was HOT! I loved gymnastics meets because you haven’t lived until you’ve sat in the Coliseum, had the lights go down, and those girls walk out like they own the place…because they do. I loved baseball games in the spring on Friday nights sitting in the bleachers on the left field line because those boys could just flat-out play.
You have to remember that I didn’t grow up an Alabama fan. I couldn’t claim knowledge of any of the 12 national championships they’d earned before I arrived on campus. So, this newest national championship, #13, is actually my first. I’ve never been a fan of a team when they won a national championship in football. Thirteen years I waited for this to happen. There was laughter and tears and frustration and yelling and screaming and cheers all throughout these last 13 years not because I expected something from the players because they were Alabama football players, but because I could just see it. I could see that they were talented. I could see they were better than their records. I can tell you that Andrew Zow is probably the most underrated quarterback to ever play at Alabama. He never gets enough credit for what he did for his team. I can tell you that Shaun Alexander picked up the pieces of our broken hearts and pieced them back together. And I can tell you that Nick Saban made our hearts whole again after DuBose and Franchione and Price and Shula.
There have been ups and downs, and I’ve been there for it all (in person or miles away). I had my doubts that we’d ever get there, but I still held out hope. I had my doubts that Thursday night when we played in the championship game that we’d bring home that trophy. This making it to the “promised land of college football” is all new to me. I may have never taken a snap on any kind of football field, but this championship was for all of us who wore our team colors proudly despite the snickering from outsiders. There is no other single time in my life that has topped my time at Alabama. I experienced a lot during my time there. I’ve experienced a lot since I left. But no matter where I am in this world, a piece of my heart is always in Tuscaloosa. And that very fact has made me who I am today.