Tommy Ray will tell you he’s not an Alabama football fanatic.
Growing up in Huntsville, he didn’t have family members who were big Crimson Tide fans and he didn’t graduate from the university.
For almost 50 years, however, Ray has attended every Alabama football game. On Saturday, the Crimson Tide plays Arkansas for homecoming, which will mark Ray’s 600th consecutive game.
“Alabama is not my life, it really isn’t,” Ray said. “I’m not one of those guys that wear crimson everywhere I go. It’s just something I really enjoy and want to do as long as I can.”
The record for consecutive Crimson Tide games is 781 by the late Dick Coffee Jr. of Birmingham. Coffee’s last game was Alabama’s victory over Notre Dame in Miami for the 2012 national championship. He died in 2013 at 91.
Ray, 71, began his involvement with Alabama football when he was a kid listening to the games on the radio. When he was 12, his brother-in-law happened upon a pair of tickets to see the Crimson Tide vs. Mississippi State on Nov. 2, 1962.
“The reality of going to see it years later just blew me away,” Ray said. “We were walking down an embankment at the stadium during UA warmups and we walked past Joe Namath while he was running an option play. I said, ‘Oh my goodness.’ I thought, ‘I’m not supposed to be here.’ But I remember that very vividly.”
Ray attended 26 games between that first one and 1971. He had attended several games in ’71 but failed to get a ticket to Alabama’s Orange Bowl game against Nebraska, which the Crimson Tide lost 38-6.
“I wrote to the university trying to get a ticket and they wrote back and turned me down,” Ray said. “I still have the letter and envelope it came in. I missed that one, but the first game in 1972 against Duke, I went to that one. I went to the second on against Kentucky, and the next until the season was over. I realized, ‘Man, I saw every game this year.’ So I just started the next year doing the same thing, and now I’m in my 48th year.”
Ray, who has worked for the city of Huntsville as a surveyor in the engineer department during his streak, said his streak is not something he planned all those years ago.
“I never intended for this to happen,” he said. “I just wanted to go see Alabama play one more time. After that was over I was like, ‘Man, that was great. I want to do that one more time.’ If they play I just want to be there.”
Ray has been married to his wife, Sarah, for 17 years. She has made it to several games — she’s missed three games in 25 years — and has not missed a game in the Nick Saban era.
“I stop and think how in the world can someone be so blessed to have the health, the desire and to want to do something like this. I’m just blessed. I can’t say that enough,” Ray said.
Here are some of Ray’s highlights, and lowlights:
• 1971 Iron Bowl: “Alabama and Auburn were both undefeated and playing at Legion Field. That was very special.”
• 2010 BCS title game: “Being there in that old stadium (the Rose Bowl) and knowing Alabama’s history with it and then Alabama beating Texas for the championship was just incredible.”
• 2014 BCS title game: “Beating Notre Dame so convincingly for the championship and putting all those ghosts to bed, I enjoyed that very much.”
• 1973 Sugar Bowl vs. Notre Dame: “There will never be anything in sports that will affect me the way that bowl game did (Notre Dame won 24-23). I literally did not touch a bite of food for three days. It was just devastating.”
• 1972 Iron Bowl (Punt Bama Punt): “That was such a shock. Alabama controlled that game and suddenly it was gone.”
“I’ve always said (quarterback) Scott Hunter was my favorite. I loved watching him drop back and the way he threw the ball with that powerful arm. Unfortunately the years he played, Alabama was not very good, to say the least, on defense.”
• 2018 national title game: “The Tua (Tagovailoa) touchdown pass against Georgia has to be up there because of what it meant.”
• 1979 Iron Bowl: “I remember the Auburn game when Steadman Shealy had to drive the whole length of the field and he scored on a 9- or 10-yard run at the end to beat Auburn.”
• 1999 vs. Florida: “Another good one was when we went down to play Florida and Shaun Alexander scored on the first play of overtime, and we were sitting right down near the end zone where he scored.”
INSIDE THE STREAK
Here is a breakdown of Tommy’s Ray’s 600 consecutive Alabama football games, which includes Saturday’s game against Arkansas. Numbers reflect an Alabama win.
|Estimated miles traveled||360,602|
|Games in Tuscaloosa||236|
|UA streak record||481-141-4|
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