By Hunter Ford
I posted this last year after the Tennessee game. I canâ€™t think of the Tennessee game, win or lose without thinking about my grandfather.
It was a glorious autumn scene- clear blue skies and a gentle breeze with just enough nip in the air to justify wearing a sweater outside on a bright sun-drenched day.
The University of Alabama football team, which had been on the short end of the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry for several years, was laying the wood to the Hillbillies from Tennessee.
I could have been describing the scene from Saturdayâ€™s 41-17 Alabama victory over the Vols in Tuscaloosa.
But the memory in my mind is actually from a fall afternoon two decades ago; the day my grandfather Ralph Ford was laid to rest.
Grandpa was the biggest Alabama fan I have ever known. He was a cheerleader for the Tide in the 1930s and rode with the team to the Rose Bowl one year.
I asked him once if he ever got teased for being a male cheerleader.
â€œOh, sometimes,â€ he said. â€œBut I was on the sidelines with the prettiest girls on campus while the football players were getting their teeth knocked out. (Those were the days of leather helmets). So, it didnâ€™t bother me too much.â€
The Alabama-Tennessee football rivalry was special to my Grandpa and people of his age. Alabama did not play Auburn in the years between 1907 and 1948, so the Tigers were not foremost on the minds of Tide fans.
The Tennessee Volunteers were, and still are, the only rival that, historically, has challenged Alabama for Southeastern Conference supremacy. Alabama has won the most SEC championships with 21, and Tennessee is second with 13.
Grandpa used to tell his grandchildren that you could predict the winner of the rivalry game by the color of the falling leaves. If there were more red leaves than orange left in the trees on game day Alabama would win, and vice versa, he would say.
Anyway, back in 1986, much like last Saturday, the Crimson Tide had something to prove against the Vols in the annual epic struggle. On that particular day, Alabama entered the game after losing four in a row to Tennessee. Much like this yearâ€™s Tide, who had lost three out of the last four and eight of the last ten, that Alabama squad was hungry for a victory.
Alabama racked up a 56-28 victory in 1986 with Mike Shula at quarterback and Bobby Humphrey at tailback.
We listened to the game on the radio on the way to the cemetery. Following the services the family gathered at my parentsâ€™ house to watch the end of the game.
Somehow, several of the Ford family members received a mutated crimson gene that turned orange. Yes, there are several Tennessee fans in my family.
But even the Tennessee faction of the family clan had to admit that an Alabama victory on this somber day was very fitting.
â€œRalph would have missed his own funeral to see this game,â€ one family member remarked.
Iâ€™m sure he would have.
With Grandpa as the head cheerleader, my childhood and teenage years were a time of glorious football memories. My father and younger brother often attended games together with Grandpa, and many years after his death, without him. I would be willing to bet that there are many folks like me who have wonderful memories of spending time together with family, gathering around the TV or at the stadium to enjoy college football games. It doesnâ€™t matter what your colors are or what team you pull for. And it doesnâ€™t matter, in the grand scheme of things, whether your team wins or loses.
I was able to attend the Alabama-Arkansas game this year with my Dad and my oldest son. It was a thrilling victory for the Tide. I attended the Alabama-Georgia game with my brother, an equally thrilling game, but a loss for Alabama.
In each case, the best part of the games was spending quality time with family.
I shared high fives with my eight-year old son during the Arkansas game, and watched him high-five otherwise perfect strangers who shared his enthusiasm.
My brother and I reminisced about past Tide victories on the way home from the close loss to Georgia.
Grandpa would have had a ball at those games too. I truly believe he was there with us in spirit.