By Cecil Hurt
There’s no research I know of that would prove this point definitively, but it’s possible Tuscaloosa is about as neutral a community as there is in America when it comes to watching a Super Bowl.
There isn’t a pronounced geographical leaning to any particular team, although I’d suspect Atlanta and New Orleans have a little more of an edge than any other city. That doesn’t mean there are pockets of fierce loyalty to those teams, as well as the usual assortment of fans of the national franchise teams – Cowboys, Steelers, Packers and, for a younger generation, Patriots. Also, I’m sure I’ve offended a loyal lifelong Buffalo fan out there so please accept a blanket apology. A Bills fan probably needs all the blankets he or she can get.
There’s another factor, one that probably applies in other college towns as well. This is a college football town, first and foremost. In large swaths of the South and parts of the Midwest, the main interest is in the college team, and then you pick a pro team. In hard-core NFL territory, the college team is often the secondary rooting interest, if it’s an interest at all. That’s one reason why Atlanta gets short shrift as an “NFL town” from columnists in New York, Philadelphia and Boston. Atlanta is populated by people, some natives and many other transplants from around the South, who certainly support the Falcons but are, at heart, Georgia fans (or Clemson, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Tennessee or FSU, all well-represented in the Atlanta populace.)
Living in a college town, or in the Crimson Tide diaspora, there’s a strong predilection to “pull” for familiar college faces, especially if there are major stars on their team. That’s not unique to Alabama. You see the phenomenon all over the SEC (and in other college football areas), so much so that you can almost identify the players by a single name, their celebrity as assured as Elvis or Prince: names like Peyton and Eli, Emmitt and Cam (who certainly turned Auburn into a Carolina Panther hotbed in last year’s Super Bowl) and Dak (who hasn’t made a Super Bowl yet.) The hottest autograph signing in host city Houston this week wasn’t a Super Bowl participant at all. It was Johnny Manziel, who brought the Aggies out in droves.
In the early days of the Super Bowl, those instantly-recognizable stars were Alabama quarterbacks: Bart Starr (whose name was so perfect for the star of some John Ford western that there was no point in changing it). Broadway Joe. The Snake.
Since then, Alabama has had plenty of Super Bowl players, as you’d expect, especially since Nick Saban has started putting players onto NFL rosters at a record rate. This year, as it was last year, Alabama is guaranteed to have an alumnus win a Super Bowl ring. But they also have one of the elite offensive stars, one good enough to meet the single-name test.
The name is catchy, for one thing. The game is something beyond that. It wasn’t that Julio Jones was underappreciated at Alabama. Far from it. He was, in some ways, a hard superstar to define. Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report, writing about the Crimson Tide’s 2008 recruiting class captured the essence of the Julio aura when he discussed the “nonchalant acknowledgement of Julio’s absurdity.” Moving to the NFL hasn’t changed that. One wonders if there is any level where he would be on a level playing field with opponents – certainly not on this planet.
With that said, he is a wide receiver, not a quarterback. Sometimes his performance depends on how many times he is targeted, or how many resources the opponents are willing to commit to stopping him. He could have a monster game today, or he could be relatively quiet.
Most Alabama fans, though, will watch with great interest, making Tuscaloosa in Sunday, if not a Falcon town, then a Julio town for sure.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.