IMG_0779 Last Saturday I had a marvelous afternoon in Lexington, Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium. It was fun to see my football team play, and win (38-20). But it was even more fun to soak in the sights and sounds of big-time college football. The pageantry of such an event is a great deal of the fun for me personally. Tailgating, talking to fans (serious and casual), engaging with various team personnel and the media and watching the team arrive and leave are all part of such a great game-day experience. The photo at the left is the Alabama equipment trailer that travels with the team to road games carrying all their stuff. I thought it was a pretty cool truck myself.

IMG_0781 My daughter told me before I left for Kentucky that she wanted me to get a photo with Big Al, the Alabama mascot. I told her I would. (I was quite sure I couldn’t but I am a persistent sort of guy and knew that I would do about anything to get that photo.) Early in the day I saw a lady with an Alabama shirt with these words on the back: “I Am Big Al’s Grandmother.”  I snapped a photo of her shirt and walked away. Later I was walking around the stadium an hour or so before the game and very few fans were in their seats yet. I saw the same lady on row one at the Alabama end of the field. I went down and asked her, “Are you REALLY Big Al’s grandmother?” She proudly said, “Yes, I really am.” (All grandparents are allowed such proud moments so if you do not understand then just let it go.)

IMG_0789 I then spent almost an hour talking to this wonderful Christian lady from Cleveland, Tennessee, who told me all about her family and her grandson, Big Al. I learned that Big Al was a freshman at the University of Alabama who had tried out for this mascot position and earned a scholarship. The competition was fierce and he had to demonstrate considerable skills to earn this honor and scholarship. He travels with the team, represents the school at various events and entertains in ways that just make you smile.

Now I care a good deal about mascots since I have been one on a few occasions. I wear a costume as a Kung Fu Panda for my kids who own a martial arts academy. This little task is a lot of fun but the uniform is hot, the minutes in it are draining and the role anything but easy. And putting on the Kung Fu Panda persona is not the easiest role that I have played over the years. I am truly out of character. Or so I think. My daughter thinks this really is my character!

Anyway, I already have a great photo of Big Al on my computer screen as he leads the team out of the tunnel in Tuscaloosa and the deal was made clear: “Get a photo with you and Big Al.”

IMG_0802 I sat in the first row with my new friend from Cleveland until two minutes into the game when the rightful seat holder showed up and I had to move to my real seat in the upper deck, much, much farther from the field. While I was in the first row Alabama scored a touchdown right in front of me (in the first 45 seconds of the game) and the photo is the team lined up to score. Pretty cool shot for me to get I thought.

Before the game I got a great close up of Big Al but no photo of me with him. This wasn’t enough. I had to persist for more. In the last two minutes I went back to row one to find my new friend, Big Al’s grandmother. Sadly, Big Al had left to get out of his uniform so when I saw him he was then out of character. (I cannot show you my photos since part of the mystique and team rule is that Big Al is anonymous!) Anyway, my new best friend, Big Al’s Grandmother, told me she would get me a signed, “To John,” Big Al photo and have it sent to me. She wrote me a few days ago and told me that it was going to happen.

So here is my question: “Does this count for a photo of me with Big Al?” My daughter is impressed enough that she says this is acceptable. I think I exceeded, once again, what she thought I would have the determination to produce. I will hang my signed Big Al, personally inscribed to his fan John, right next to my photo of Coach Nick Saban. Call me crazy, but call me a true Crimson Tide fan for sure. Roll Tide and Go Big Al.