This week I have been suffering at one of the hot spot destinations where couples go to remember why they fell in love. My wife could read by the pool for 12 hours a day. I get bored in about 12 minutes. But we’ve had a great time. I love coming to tourist destinations like this one because it is a melting pot of people from all over the world. And whether you vacation in the U.S. or abroad, everyone always gives themselves away by wearing their colors.
Iâ€™ve had some unbelievable conversations around the resort with people from all over, but in particular, Iâ€™ve had some incredible luck meeting people who have direct ties to some notable college football coaches.
Yesterday at lunch by the pool, I had the pleasure of meeting a man decked out in Virginia Tech gear. Normally I have my Bama visor on, but for some reason I didnâ€™t, so he didnâ€™t know where I was from (until I told him later). As it turns out, he grew up with Frank Beamer and knew him before he was badly burned as a kid (which is the scar you see on his neck). He still gets together with Coach Beamer on occasion and doesnâ€™t miss a game. He shared some neat insight on him as a man, how down-to-earth he was, and how unphased he was with the celebrity status that comes with his profession. Although Iâ€™ve had my opinions about Beamer through the years, particularly when he was uninterested in our coaching vacancy (how dare he…this is Alabama!), he sounded like an okay guy.
I couldnâ€™t resist picking this gentlemanâ€™s brain about the upcoming season. He said he thought they could win the ACC, but the game that scared him the most was the first one; he was fearful the Hokies could get beaten badly. Defensively they would be okay, but he believed their offense couldnâ€™t move the ball against Bamaâ€™s defense. At that point I revealed my affiliation and offered that our offensive line had to come together before that could happen. He voiced his respect for Nick Saban, and echoed again it scared him that Coach Saban had an entire off-season to prepare for Va. Tech, especially following two season ending losses. It sounded like Sabanâ€™s assertion that he wanted Bama to be the kind of team other teams dreaded to play was coming into effect.
Amazingly, at the same resort I met a friend of the Bowdens. They knew Tommy best, but were acquaintances of Bobby as well. I did have my visor on that day, and got a shock when she said the best thing that happened to Tommy in a long time was the Alabama game. There were some insinuations of his fatigue from coaching, and that game cracked the door for him to step away for a while. They expressed excitement in the prospect of Dabo Swinney’s reign, but I didn’t have the heart to explain the Shula/Dubose learn-on-the-job experiments usually don’t work. Dabo is a great person, however, and I’m praying he blazes a new trail.
But the coolest conversation I had was with a man from Pennsylvania. We talked in the pool for close to two hours, and the more we talked the more I learned. Incredibly, he is a friend of Joe Paterno. He played at Penn State just before Joe Pa, coached for him, and he and his wife go to the Paternoâ€™s meager house a couple of times a year for dinner. Joe Pa has lived in the same house since arriving in State College close to 50 years ago, and his name is still listed in the phone book.
This person, weâ€™ll call him â€œGlennâ€ (because thatâ€™s his name), wasnâ€™t bragging, because it was me pulling the info out of him over that two hour conversation. Instead, what he revealed was a content fanbase, confident in their leader who was committed to doing things the right way, with class. We swapped stories, though his were much more interesting. But he talked about Coach Paterno helping him get his start in coaching, letting him coach at Penn State for two years before setting out to coach elsewhere. He said Paterno didnâ€™t recruit players, he recruited families, and if he got a bad vibe about a family, that was it. Glenn isnâ€™t in coaching anymore, but went into private business and apparently has done well…as evidenced by his ability to bring his entire family and grandkids to this resort…believe me, thatâ€™s a chunk. But the impressions Coach Paterno made on him have lasted a lifetime. And thatâ€™s what happens when you have a real leader in a position like Coach Paterno is in.
He also said something that made me sit up a little and take notice. He said Coach Paterno would never stop coaching because of his friendship with Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes. He noted that as soon as they stopped coaching, they died, and Joe Pa wasnâ€™t ready to die. He said he doesnâ€™t like to golf, fish or do yard work, and heâ€™s doing now what heâ€™d like to do if he was retired. So why quit? He also invited me to tailgate with them in 2011, and you better believe Iâ€™ll take him up on it. I assured him that in 2010, heâ€™d find a hospitable crowd in Bryant-Denny that holds a special respect for Penn State and their tradition.
I have always found Penn State fans to be just like Glenn, and when we play Penn State the next two seasons, let me be the first to urge the Tide faithful to be generous hosts, and to possibly put Rammer Jammer on the shelf for one game. Glenn was astounded at the hatred SEC schools have for one another, as evidenced by a Florida fan who joined our conversation and immediately started talking trash. (This fan did offer that this was their last year with Meyer, thinking he was headed to Notre Dame after this season because â€œweâ€™re losing everybody.â€)
I met fans from other schools as well, but these three were pretty notable. But one interesting twist to all of this was the opinion they shared about our little sister across the state. Now, I have been accused in here of having to take a dig at Auburn in my articles, but this one is just too precious not to share. Every fan I engaged…every one of them…commented about their experience with Auburn. Specifically, using their words, how “classless, obnoxious, vile, confrontational and dirty” they are. Those were THEIR words, unprovoked and unsolicited by me. Rant and rave all you want, but word apparently has traveled from sea to shining sea about the school my Va. Tech friend said “has never done anything.” Too funny.
But in fairness, schools like Penn State don’t show up on game day when GameDay comes to their town with signs trashing their rival, even though that day’s game isn’t against their rival. I challenge all fans, but especially the Bama faithful, to start leading the way in showing the kind of class displayed in State College. According to Glenn, the Big Ten has their Auburns too, in Michigan and Ohio State. But for the most part it’s a gentleman’s game. Imagine what football season would be like if we could all follow that blueprint.