Friends and regular readers know that I had the thrill of traveling to Pasadena, California, for the BCS College Football Championship game on January 7. It was the “trip for a lifetime.” While it is far easier to really see a game on television there is nothing to compare with the joy and excitement of spending “game day” at a BCS Championship. I loved every aspect of this amazing experience.
I want to thank everyone who made this wonderful surprise come true. First I want to thank my student Dan Jones, who called my son Matt and offered to get the ticket through a broker who would not mark it up above what he paid for it.. Dan, along with Pastors Ron Ward and Tim Balow, contributed their own money to my Christmas gift as well. Then there are my children: Matt and Adriana and Jason and Stacy. All four of them had a part in this surprise and all four of them gave up a lot to buy this ticket. (I have been told already that this is Christmas, birthday and Father’s Day in one!) Stacy planned the trip behind the scenes by working with American Airlines to use free miles from my account and my nephew Chris Bonga loaned me his condo and a car. I spent less than $80 to make the whole trip.
But nothing really good happens in my life unless my dear, generous wife is behind it. Anita not only encouraged me to go but she actually got really excited with me and for me. Since she does not like football at all so this was a real, heart-felt gift. She made me feel so special and delighted in seeing me respond like a young boy at Christmas! Thanks my dear soul-mate for being a major part of this story.
As for the game itself, Alabama obviously won (37-21). Texas was a worthy opponent but the best team won. Texas, with or without Colt McCoy (a class guy Christian if there ever was one), would not have beaten us. We played only our third or fourth best game of the year to be really truthful. If he Longhorns had kept Colt McCoy for more than five plays then our entire game plan would have unfolded very differently. We were ready to stop him and almost everyone but die-hard Texas fans knew it. Injuries are a part of the game, sadly. The freshman backup will be a great quarterback at Texas and give him credit, in the second half he stepped up in a big way.
If Texas had a real running game on offense then I would not be so confident about the outcome with or without McCoy. But the Longhorns were a weak running team and they met a truly great defense. We fought the battle the way a good general fights a battle once he sees what is actually there in front of him on the day of the battle. I would add that the better coach also won. Don’t get me wrong. Mack Brown is a nice man, indeed probably a lot nicer man than Nick Saban, one of the most intense guys I have ever seen. But make no mistake about this. Nick Saban came to a program that was in a shambles and in three years he reached the pinnacle. The guy can recruit, manage, coach and motivate. He is the best! The day he was hired I called my brother in Alabama and said, “Tom, the entire landscape in the SEC has been fundamentally altered today, January 2007. You will see more coaching changes and more turmoil at other schools in the next few years because we just hired this man. He will win and if he stays for ten years or more he will likely win several championships.” I stand by that minor prophecy now more than ever.
What I think I enjoyed the most at the game was the energy and experience I had because of where I sat. I was on row five right by the rail of the tunnel where the Alabama team came onto, and off, the field. I actually saw myself several times on the television replays when I got home. I did not have the best seat in the house to see every play (I have a great pair of field glasses) but I got to see and feel the intensity and joy of the Crimson Tide team. They were ready to play and very focused. My greatest memory, after the game, was watching seniors walk through that tunnel as we yelled our appreciation and gave them high fives. Most of these seniors worked very hard for four or five years to get here. They will never play another game of real football in most cases. They will go on into a new life and pursuit in the years to come. Most have already graduated or will graduate in May. But one thing they will take with them is that they were the champions. 2009-10 was a dream season and none of them will ever forget that hard work and discipline that paid off big time. That is so cool and watching them just soak it all in was so much fun for me. I wish Christians in general would be willing to pay the price to succeed at their mission. Few do and seeing these young men succeed made me aware of my own life and goals all the more. I am determined to fight the fight of faith until I have no strength left. I dream bigger dreams now than ever before and I will not give up.e
The other great memory was all the people I met. Some of the finest folks I met were Texas fans. These people were class all the way. And I met a lot of Christians and had some sweet Christian fellowship and made contacts that will lead to friendships well beyond this game, even on my flight to and from the game. I met, for example, the number one minor league pitcher in the Atlanta Braves farm system, a triple-A hurler named Craig Kimbrel, who is the “closer” of the future. He too is a Tide man. I also met a long time friend, who I had actually prayed to meet, in the airport on the day I came home. His name is Wayne Atcheson and Wayne was at one time the Sports Information Director at the University of Alabama. He is now director of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. We will begin again on an old relationship. I met several former Alabama players, including one Christian who will become a contact for me in the state when I return on visits to see my family.
As important as all of this was to me the time I spent with my nephew, whose condo was my home for three days, was as good as it gets. Chris Bonga is one fantastic young Christian man. I am honored to be his uncle and feel the importance of his role in my life very, very deeply. Getting to hang out with Chris was special beyond my words. He will be a major part of my ACT 3 vision in the years ahead. He shares it and loves it. More importantly he loves me and this love is mutual. Thanks Chris.
What else can I say? My dad introduced me to Bear Bryant in the 1950s? He was born and reared in the same small place in Arkansas, in the same
year (1912), and told me al
l the great Bear Bryant stories. I was reared on the Alabama tradition as a boy. I always dreamed of seeing them play in a bowl game where the outcome could be a national championship. I got my wish. I saw the Tide play three times this magical season and I will celebrate and enjoy this one for as long as I can remember. The best word might be “satisfying.” To see a great tradition rebuilt and then to see a great team win it all was a (sports) dream come true. This was not a life and death event, nor is it what I live for at all, but it sure was a fun time. Thanks to all of you who vicariously enjoyed it with me as your friend.
Life is filled with far more important things than sports. I am well aware that sports can become, indeed has become, a god to many Americans. For me it is a pleasure, a joy, a point of relaxation and the opportunity to strike up great conversation with friends. It is a point of life contact, a place for life’s lessons to be pondered in some way. I love this great sport of college football and admit I had a blast seeing all this happen in my lifetime. I still can’t believe I was there. It seems rather surreal to be honest!