With apologies to their men’s golf and women’s gymnastics teams, the Alabama Crimson Tide are a football institution through and through. Put another way, could you imagine how strange it would be to holler “Rammer Jammer” anywhere other than Bryant-Denny Stadium? Since touching down in 1892, the gridiron gladiators who have donned the Crimson and White haven’t just brought countless national championships to Tuscaloosa, but they’ve done it in such a way that the phrase “Roll Tide Roll” is as commonplace in modern parlance as “Four score and seven years ago.”
It was head coach Wallace Wade who first brought title aspirations to the Alabama campus, as his squads won crowns in 1925, ‘26 and ‘30. While Wade’s replacement, Frank Thomas, would oversee national triumphs in ‘34 and ‘41, it was the arrival of Paul “Bear” Bryant in ‘58 that transformed the Tide into the nation’s most revered collegiate football program. Over the course of 25 years (and always while wearing his trademark houndstooth hat), Bryant accumulated 232 victories, captured 13 Southeastern Conference championships, led Alabama to 24 bowl appearances, and most importantly, propelled the school to NCAA titles in ‘61, ‘64, ‘65, ‘73, ‘78 and ‘79.
If there’s one thing that diehards value more than being the number one team in the country, it’s being tops in the Heart of Dixie. Since 1893, Alabama has battled Auburn University in the annual Iron Bowl for state bragging rights. While the two schools didn’t square off at all from 1908 to 1947, the rivalry has displayed enough intensity since then to make up for all the lost years. From 2009 to ‘13, the winner of the Iron Bowl ended up competing for the national championship; it’s a statistic that most ‘Bama fans know by heart, as the Tide were the victors in three of those tilts.
On Saturdays in the fall, the city of Tuscaloosa comes alive. Members of the Crimson Tide family take part in the “Walk of Champions,” while the university’s Million Dollar Band gets to work firing up the crowd. Bryant-Denny Stadium holds more than 100,000 spectators, and rest assured, each and every one of them is in the coliseum in time for kickoff. You may think that you already know the words to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” but once inside Bryant-Denny, don’t forget to punctuate the chorus with a “Roll Tide Roll.” When the gridiron contest reaches the second half, the band trots out “Dixieland Delight” to ensure that fans go wild for the remainder of the game.
With coach Nick Saban at the helm, Alabama claimed NCAA crowns in ‘09, ‘11 and ‘12. In doing so, Saban joined Bryant in the elite company of field generals who have won at least four national championships. Tide supporters get so caught up in the work of the veritable dynasty that they joke about which NFL teams the school could beat. To say that titles are expected in Tuscaloosa would be a gross understatement. It’s not a matter of “if the Crimson Tide win” but rather “when the Crimson Tide win.”