I remember it like it was yesterday.
Last September, Alabama was hosting Arkansas for an annual game that usually ends up being a "tell" game for how well each team is probably going to fare for the rest of the season. It was the primetime game on ESPN.
We had just moved Mom home a couple months prior to that. The cancer had spread to her brain, and she hadn't been doing too well. August was a particularly somber month, because we had been expecting that she might die very soon. We were very concerned. But with the coming of September her health & strength had started to improve some. So on a mid-September evening, she stayed up late with me to root on her Alma Mater against the Hogs.
It was an exciting game. Alabama came out of the gate hot, and amassed an early 3-touchdown lead. But the Razorbacks had two dynamic running backs. And between those two guys & a couple of big mistakes by Alabama, Arkansas came roaring back to take the lead.
There were only a couple minutes left in the game, and Alabama had to drive the length of the field to win the game. QB John Parker Wilson led the Tide all the way down the field. And then this play happened...
It was one of those moments where, as a fan, you lose all sense of sanity & decorum. I jumped up like a maniac, started slapping the ottoman with both hands, and as the kids say, I went ape. I started screaming at the top of my lungs, "HE CAUGHT THAT BALL!! HE CAUGHT THAT BALL! OH MY GOSH, HE CAUGHT THAT BALL!!!"
Mama just started laughing. She thought it was so funny how excited I got over that play. But she had her moments in that game, too, as well as other games. Mom would always get excited when the little guy would bust free for a big play. She wouldn't go ape like I would, she would just sort of ball up & let out an excited squeal. This play especially, from last year's LSU game, with the fan reaction in the background, reminds me of how Mom got excited over big plays:
That's a warm memory. But it's one that makes me cry as I typed it out because Mom's not with me anymore. You see, football is a big deal to our family. It starts with my mother's mother -- Mama Jean. She is simply a fanatic. Most grandmothers, when you call them want to know who you're dating & what's happening in your life. Mine? She wants to talk about the quarterback situation up in Tide Town. At one time, it was such a joke among my friends that our fantasy baseball league was named, "Philip's Gramma Loves Bama." All of my cousins are gigantic Alabama fans. It unites us even more than religion. Literally. They're all Mormon. Football is a big part of our life.
Folks always say that the first time to experience things without a loved one are difficult. I think that's true, but it's different for different folks. Some of my friends were really kind in wanting to take my sister & I out for dinner on what was recently my Mom's birthday, September 4th. But that wasn't that big of a deal to me. That was Mom's day, not my day. So it wasn't that upsetting a day on the calendar for me.
My sister had a nostalgic time last weekend. A well-connected & wealthy friend of our's has luxury box season tickets to Alabama home games, and he gave them to us for the Western Kentucky game this past weekend (just because he didn't care to go). As Katie & I drove into Tuscaloosa, Katie marveled as we drove past The McFarland Blvd Mall. She remembered out loud shopping in those stores with Mom & eating at the Morrison's there with her. When we got on campus, she wanted to make a point to think about Mom. When we passed by some of the business & accounting buildings, we talked about how Mom had had some classes in there. Everything in T-Town reminded her of Mom, but it really didn't have the same affect for me. I've been to plenty of 'Bama games without Mom; Katie, however, was usually there with Mom. And while my Mom's relationship to the school played an integral part in developing my fanhood, it wasn't as personal of an experience for me as it was for Katie.
However, the fact that Alabama is traveling to play Arkansas this weekend seems significant to me for the fact that we shared that great moment together last year. I know that they're going to replay that play at some point during the game. Just thinking about the fact that I'm going through a football season without Mom makes me sort of sad. Mainly just because that I won't ever get to hear that excited squeal again.
They say the Holiday's & the Birthday's are tough. That'll probably be true. But just watching a ballgame this Saturday -- something that is normally nothing more than a simple pleasure -- will hold a lot more meaning to me this year.
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