Game day at Alabama is a "sea of humanity" when Missouri – or anyone else – comes to town

Eighty Crimson Tide fans were quizzed on their homecoming Saturday about where the tradition’s origins are (Missouri).
Alabama mascot Big Al stands atop a four wheeler in the Alabama Homecoming parade on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Kevin Crawford has already thought of the note that will be engraved in Missouri's tombstone.

“I think I’ve got it,” he said from a lawn chair under his tailgating tent on the University of Alabama quad. “They came. They played. They lost.”

Crawford, 56, has operated his mock cemetery from that spot since 2002, displaying the names and parting messages of every team that falls victim to Alabama football in a given season. He says 1,000 people stop by the site every week to observe, take a picture or simply chuckle at the most recent message. He hasn’t been inside the stadium for a game in four years, but the lifelong Tuscaloosan still claims his spot every autumn Thursday in anticipation for the Saturday swarm.

“These people in the spots around me, we’ve all been setting up together for 10 years,” Crawford said. “They’re my neighbors.”

The hoopla and extreme preparation necessary ahead of a college football game day every week at Alabama is comparable to that at an annual 4th of July parade anywhere else. The college town that deems football a religion, Bear Bryant a god and Nick Saban his disciple has come to expect routs every week, but it doesn’t stop the spectacle surrounding every Saturday.

Especially for homecoming.

The university, city and state police forces have up to 300 combined officers deployed across campus and downtown for some Alabama home games, said Tuscaloosa police department chief deputy Byron Waid. Waid has patrolled the quad then moved to the stadium at game time on Saturdays since 2004. He carries a diagram depicting every light post in the area, each marked with a number that corresponds to a paper label on said light post.

That’s the best way for area officers to keep track of each other.

“It’s just a sea of humanity,” Waid said.

Officers and some of the older fans also do their best to accommodate for visiting fans. Missouri's, they said, had a surprisingly impressive turnout this weekend.

“They’re not LSU or Auburn or Ole Miss,” 10-year tailgater Joe Geer said, “but they took over the bar we were at last night. They’ve been great.”

Geer was adamant that no school in the country comes close to matching Alabama’s game day and homecoming atmosphere – he was one of many to claim “there’s nothing like this” – but when asked to name the birthplace of the homecoming tradition in college football, he was stumped.

“It’s not Tuscaloosa?” he gawked.

Missouri is in fact the school that stakes that claim. Take a tour of MU’s campus and you’ll never forget that. But beyond Columbia, the tradition’s origins are ambiguous. Geer’s reaction was similar to the dozens of other fans quizzed along the homecoming parade route throughout the afternoon.

Eighty Alabama fans were asked the trivia question. The Maneater didn’t identify itself as the campus newspaper from MU until after asking each fan counted, as to not influence the answers. Two of 80 succeeded in naming Missouri as homecoming’s birthplace.

The most common answer was Alabama – “If the answer in church is always Jesus, the answer in Alabama is always Alabama” – but it was met with a variety of other responses, some plausible, some not so much.

Many rationalized that it could be an Ivy League or other old eastern school: Yale, Harvard, Princeton, William & Mary, Columbia, Virginia and Penn State, among others.

Other answers included England, Birmingham, “another country,” “a church,” and Bethlehem.

Two women, guessing together but refusing to be told the answer, finally conceded to a hint: It’s an SEC school. They proceeded to name nine – Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M – but couldn’t place a finger on that day’s Alabama opponent.

“Who are we missing?” they said in exasperation before finally thinking of Missouri. Tenth try’s a charm.

Most subjects laughed when Missouri was revealed as the answer. Others scowled. One said, “Ew,” then walked away.

“Yeah, but they’re playing two-hand touch,” another Alabama student said.

“Well, I’m glad they have something,” seemed to be the consensus quote.

The two who got it correct were Damien Gilbert, an Alabama student and parade street worker, and Kyle Price, an 11-year-old who was even more thrilled than his parents when he knew the answer.

For the most part, Alabama fans, expecting an impending rout, said they’ve taken it easy on Missouri fans as they do with most visitors. That won’t stop Crawford’s Corner from being adorned with a Tiger tombstone for the remainder of the season after Saturday night’s game, but Crawford says he has sympathy for most SEC schools. He even learned to cope when both of his daughters went to Ole Miss, only naming one exception in their decision process.

“I wouldn’t have let them go to Auburn.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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