The great thing about college football is that, for a few hours every Saturday, it provides an escape from the world, even though that escape is actually an illusion.
The real world can’t be held at bay, no matter how much we’d like to keep it at arm’s length for a few hours. For some of the participants, the issues are large. Last week, it was Hurrricane Harvey that affected the families of some players. This week, depending on the path that Hurricane Irma follows, even more players could be affected from Alabama’s sizable group of south Florida players.
Sometimes, the storms are wind and rain and lightning. Some storms are private. Alabama assistant coach Mike Locksley and his family have had to deal with heart-rending tragedy this week, the death of Locksley’s 25-year old son, Meiko. Mike Locksley was at the Crimson Tide’s Wednesday practice. The support of his coaching peers helps, he told Nick Saban. No doubt the mentoring relationship that he has with his position players, the wide receivers, some just a few years younger than Meiko Locksley, is a solace. He will leave Tuscaloosa after the Fresno State game on Saturday to attend the funeral of his son.
All that is a reminder that, while college football is an elaborate extravaganza and a billion-dollar business (Saban was asked about his salary, a recurring topic, at Wednesday’s press conference), it is also a major part of our common communities — the school, the city and the state. There’s a level of personal involvement on both sides of that chain-link fence that separates sidelines from stands at Bryant-Denny Stadium and it doesn’t stop there.
Some adjectives are applied often to Saban. “Wistful” is not usually one of them, but he sounded almost sentimental — almost — when he talked about the team returning to play in front of its home crowd after last year’s post-season odyssey and this year’s long build-up to an Atlanta opener.
“I can hardly remember the last time we played at home,” Saban said. “It will feel good to be back.”
Saban hasn’t lost focus, of course. The win over Florida State was huge, but a decade filled with huge wins has made Alabama less vulnerable to the joys of over-celebration. The head coach hasn’t unleashed any of his trademark fire-and-brimstone “every game is the biggest game” tirades this week. He’s said it, but without the reporter-charring heat of some years. Perhaps that’s due to some unusual circumstances this week: a rash of injuries have created sudden opportunities for young players. They may struggle with inexperience but won’t lack for enthusiasm. Then, there have been all the off-the-field issues. They can be distracting but they can also be unifying.
The focus will be on football, quickly enough. Fresno State is a huge underdog but many Alabama games now are played as much against a standard as they are against the opponent. How will the young linebackers, thrust into action, respond? How will the offense evolve from Week One, where survival was a goal on many plays, to Week Two? Those are natural questions, part of the context of watching a team develop from week to week. There is something to be said for seeing that happen at home.
Saturday also renews something else, though — a bond that has been growing for a century between those who coach and play, and those who watch. This will be a good weekend to think — perhaps even take a moment of silent reflection — about what that means.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.
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