I’ve had the honor to cover my alma mater on various occasions since going into my profession. As luck would have it, it was right when they began this championship run of a dynasty.
In 2009, when the Tide rolled into Pasadena, I was a production assistant for the show “ESPNU Road Trip”. I graduated from Alabama the previous summer and was currently working for the Tennessee Titans as their intern. I remember my broadcast professor called me and said they needed a PA for this ESPN show and thought I'd be a perfect fit. Titans were off, so I drove to Tuscaloosa for the LSU game and the rest is history. Alabama beat Texas for title #13.
I was there in 2011 when Alabama trekked to the Superdome in New Orleans to face LSU in the infamous rematch. But this time I was on location as a host for ESPNU Road Trip. I guess holding all of those water bottles, batteries and Drub’s makeup bag in 2009 was worth it. Love ya big guy!
The following spring I was sent on assignment by Comcast Sports Southeast to be the sideline reporter for Alabama’s spring game at Bryant Denny. If you wanted to watch the spring game, it was LIVE on CSS. Alabama was coming off their most recent national championship and this was the first time fans would see the team simulate a game. Admission was free and the stadium was packed. I interviewed Bama alums on the sideline and even had a one on one sit down interview with Coach Saban. I’ll never forget that opportunity or interview. I worked in athletics when I was a student at Alabama, but this situation was different. I was interviewing coach as a professional. I sometimes forget about all of the cool things I’ve done and gain perspective back about the stories I’ll be able to tell my kids one day. I truly got to live out my dream that day.
I was so young, so green and probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. Most people see Coach Saban as this all business, stoic coach who doesn’t have time for nonsense. And sure much of that is true, but he made me feel incredibly comfortable that day. He was patient, he was kind and I saw a side to him the public rarely sees. I mean don’t think in the back of my mind, I wasn’t thinking to myself how I’ve been present for his pressers and know how it could’ve gone south shall I ask a dumb question. We laughed and joked about how if for some reason this interview went off the guardrail, we can’t blame the institution of my higher education.
I already knew Coach Saban is a big golfer for he frequently plays with my uncle. I remember my uncle even telling me how he was playing golf with Coach Saban the day he found out Trent Richardson officially signed to the Crimson Tide. The spring game was the week after the Masters when Bubba Watson won his first major and donned his first green jacket. I remember that particular sudden death playoff againt Louis Oosthuizen like it was yesterday. As a lover of the game of golf, I figured it was a great way to lead into the interview and make us both comfortable.
I remember asking Coach if he could hit the links with any foursome who would it be and why. He jokingly said his friends and made a comment about how frequently he has to play golf with people he doesn’t know. I asked him about his handicap, in which he replied he’s a 6 or 7, but his friends would make him play a 15. And then I told him he needed new friends. He liked that one. Make Coach Saban laugh? Smile? Jackpot. I also asked him (again, mind you this is 2012 with one championship to go and one on deck) if Hollywood ever made a movie about his success at Bama who would he want to play the part of himself and his wife. He was quick to point out Al Pacino for his role and said nobody could play Terry, for it’s truly impossible to replicate her. Awwwww. But really, she runs the roost. I remember talking to her when LSU first came to town that 2012 season and she said she has about 20 something people staying at her house for the big game. I asked if she cooked for all of them and she said oh no… not anymore. That ship has officially sailed, but she definitely knew how to get it all done. She said she wanted to hand those duties over to someone else so she could enjoy her company.
Alabama went on to win the national championship that season in Miami with the team I covered in the spring at Bryant Denny. I was fortunate again to be on site for #15 and cover the game with ESPNU Road Trip.
Fast forward to 2013. We kick off Road Trip in Clemson for the Georgia game. Both teams were ranked in the top 10 and it was a night game on ESPN. IT. WAS. INSANE. The atmosphere (and game!) in Death Valley that night was one of the strongest atmospheres I’ve ever experienced covering football.
Dabo and company rolled out the red carpet for us and to this day that episode was one of our best. By now he already knew I was marrying Michael Palmer, one of his former players in the spring. Michael played at Clemson for four years. He broke Clemson records as a TE and was a captain his senior year. Michael even served as a sideline reporter for Clemson radio this season. The Palmer house continued to be vacant during football season.
Dabo is a Birmingham boy and my parents see his parents at the country club on Friday nights with mutual friends. We joke about how we’re cousins. But really, my cousin is related to him by marriage. In the state of Alabama, well that makes you cousins, too. Right?
And when you marry a Tiger, you instantly become part of the Tiger family (even though plenty are Bama alums on staff!). I mean it’s just how it works. Anyway, the point is because of Michael, I was introduced to some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. They’re family. We have friends coaching on the sidelines this evening and I know the amount of hard work, stress and countless hours they’ve put into making this season what it has evolved to be. I know the wives who are pretty much single moms during the season, put in a lot of hard work too. It isn’t easy. Football (as Michael and I have both learned) comes with exuberant highs and somber lows. Your whole family has to be on board and understand the inevitable sacrifices. The good news is football also means family. And for the rest of our lives, some of those people on the Clemson sideline, will forever be family.
Do I love the Clemson narrative? Yes. And the people behind their program? Absoutely. Would I be tickled and oh so happy to see them win a national championship? You betcha.
Am I proud to be an Alabama alum? Yes. Would I love to see them get #16? Of course.
House divided? Not really. It's more like I’ll be happy with whichever team wins. And it's really more like Michael Palmer will *not be rooting for the Tide, because loyalty.