College football is back today. This is a great day for the fans of schools all across America. My friends know that I am a college football fan. Just the other day I saw that 70% of football fans prefer the NFL and 30% prefer college. And only a few are fans of both games, oddly enough. My daughter has a simple explanation. People like me, who went to a major football university, stand by their team and school spirit with deep feeling. People who did not go to a major football school, or at least grow up around such a college or in an area where this spirit is real, have little interest in the college game. I also tend to think that Sunday is a bigger day for television sports in the U.S. than Saturday.   

Whatever the reason, I am a college football fan. I will watch a few minutes of the Chicago Bears, now and then, but Saturday is “Game Day” in my household. My ritual includes wearing crimson shirts, getting the right food prepared, telling the dog to be quiet, getting my day planned around kick-off, turning the phone off, etc. Since I get the ESPN college game day plan I can see every Alabama game played, whether on tape (if I am out-of-town) or live.

Today begins a new era for the Tide. Exactly twenty-five years after the legendary Bear Bryant’s retirement and death a new day begins if all the hype is to be believed. Nick Saban takes over the Crimson Tide today and though the game itself is not one that will be very competitive (Western Carolina) the anticipation of watching Saban and his new team will be a great event for die-hard fans like me. What will the coach do and when?

Saban is colorful if he is anything. I still remember when I first read an article about him in Sports Illustrated. He had built a winner at Michigan State, not an easy place to do that since the legendary Duffy Daugherty, and he was on the way to LSU, another place with legends and recent losses. The article told why he would succeed and how he would do it. I thought to myself, “This guy is tough, thorough, disciplined, dedicated and a Bear Bryant-type winner.” The rest is history. He restored LSU to football glory and they won a national championship under Saban.

Now comes the Alabama challenge. The school that once boasted the premier program in the nation has fallen on hard times. It was time to hire the best. The contract Alabama gave Saban is the biggest in college football history. It brings awe or opposition. Nothing about Saban makes people neutral it seems. Bama fans are dying to win again. They welcomed him warmly to say the least. The Sabannation, as they now call his fan base, will be patient this year but he must win and win big games or the glory will fade fast. I think he will succeed. Frankly, I haven’t been this excited about college football since 1992 when Alabama won its last national championship. The guy on the sidelines exudes confidence and a proven winning way and that should make for a fun season even though Alabama is several years away from where Saban will likely take them in due course. He is under the gun to win and to win big within a few seasons. He relishes this role.

Tommy Tuberville, the respected coach at Alabama’s huge rival Auburn University, put it into perspective when he said:

“Nick’s a good football coach. He’s won a lot of games, he’s won a national championship, but patience is a virtue when you’re at a new school. Your philosophy has to change everything around and then you have to build on it. I don’t care how much money you make. It doesn’t make it any easier.”

I think Nick Saban will make a difference. Not all at once for sure. But he will, in the next few years, turn Alabama into a major college power in football. I look forward to the fun. I am anticipating kickoff at 6:07 p.m. tonight even though the game itself should be over before halftime. If it’s not the fans will be restless. The expectations are high, maybe too high right now.

I did get a crimson and white bumper sticker this week in Alabama. It simply says: S-The Coach. A shirt, that I did not buy, said: Sabannation. On the back there was an outline of the state of Alabama. It said, “First we take back the state and then the nation.” So much for our fans and their vain boasting. We shall see. Football is huge at Alabama. My daughter’s theory, in my case, is correct. I got the bug when the Bear was there and I was a college student in the 60s. I still have it. Roll Tide!!!!!!