Today was my opportunity to go back to homecoming at the University of Alabama. It was exactly forty years ago this fall that I was a freshman in Tuscaloosa. Like everyone at this stage of life I found myself saying, "Where have these four decades gone?" My memories of time in Tuscaloosa are generally sweet. It was there that I began to take my faith seriously in a secular and non-comfortable context. It was there I had my first out and out challenge from atheist professors. I even had a history prof who tried to convince us that Jesus of Nazareth never even lived. It was there that I also came to deeply love college football with a passion. So today’s game with Houston was a real treat.
Alabama was favored to win this game by 8 points and escaped narrowly with a 30-24 win, intercepting a pass in their own end zone on the final play of the game. As the saying goes, "A win is a win, is a win." We also enjoyed time for lunch in the A Club with a former Crimson Tide lineman from the 1980s, Gary Otten. Gary told us a lot of neat stories but the one that stands out was about the late Christian minister and star University of Tennessee and Green Bay Packers football player, Reggie White. He said I blocked him eight times in one game and had eight negative marks for my eight failures to remove him from the play. Someone asked him, "Gary, how come you couldn’t block Reggie White?" He answered, "If I could have blocked Reggie White I would have had a nice career in the NFL." He also told us he never ever faced a guy with Reggie’s ability and class on and off the field. He said Reggie White never said one word the whole game. No trash at all. He just played the game with excellence and did his job. He once tried to block him by hitting him low and said, "The block I used on this particular play takes down every man I ever blocked. I had the angle and had him on the ground, I thought, but instead he jumped right over me as if I wasn’t even there." Reggie White was a phenomenal football player and an amazing Christian too.
The day’s greatest shock had to be USC losing at home to Stanford, 24-23. This is a bigger upset, by far, than Michigan losing their home opener to Appalachian State. USC was favored by 35-38 points and hadn’t lost at home since 2001. How could this happen? I don’t know but it is the mystique of college football and it may also be the result of a leveling of player talent via the scholarship limits and the impact of ESPN and college football on television. By this I mean the high school players know they can go to many good places and play immediately. Thus there is clearly more talent, spread more widely in more places, than in the past. The ESPN guys think no major team will go undefeated. I tend to agree. For now LSU, Cal and Ohio State are the only unbeaten major teams. LSU clearly deserves the number one spot, for now, after coming from behind to beat a good Florida team. All three teams will likely all lose a game. And what about Illinois? Congrats to Ron Zook on bringing this team back to the big time. And Notre Dame finally won a game, upsetting UCLA. The losing streak is over for the Irish.
I love the pageantry of this sport and the college campus scene. 93,500 singing "Sweet Home Alabama" is a nice sound and a lovely show. Bama will likely win only seven games in this rebuilding season but then who knows since "on any given day any given team can beat any other team" as the old saying goes. One thing is for sure, the polls have been way off the mark so far. At the half-way point it should only get better in the weeks ahead.