Out of place in the eye of the storm: Georgia fan spends a day with Alabama fans
College football in the Southeastern Conference is a religious experience -- a lifestyle that steals Saturdays and consumes conversations every other day of the week.
New York City is a hotbed of graduates from the SEC. I'm one of them. I graduated from the University of Georgia in May and moved to Manhattan a month later. No one could prepare me for a college football season in this city. My Saturdays transitioned from a stadium full of nearly 93,000 people to packed bars of people wishing they were back in college.
Each of the 14 SEC schools has a designated site for viewing parties in NYC. I visited the No. 1 bar for watching college football in Manhattan, which also happens to belong to the fan base of the current No. 1 team in college football:
The Ainsworth is the sweet home Alabama of New York City.
Tables at the bar offer seating for around 200 people, but they were fully reserved before Saturday's game against Texas A&M. Fans usually get there early and pack the bar well before game time.
When I arrived, I ordered coffee for the 3:30 p.m. kickoff. Why not? I quickly realized I would need the caffeine to keep up with the energy surrounding me as Alabama chants echoed through the bar.
"Roll Tide to that!" one fan said about my odd beverage of choice.
I smiled a painful smile.
I'm sitting here, a complete fish out of water, and people are saying "Roll Tide" to me as if I'm supposed to say it back. I can appreciate football of any kind, but I was a student at UGA when Alabama broke Georgia's heart in the 2012 SEC Championship. I was in the room of the Georgia Dome as Alabama's confetti fell from the ceiling. I'd be lying if I said my heart wasn't still a little damaged from that game.
Since then, the historically dominant program has broken many hearts of opposing teams around the country -- and Saturday was no different.
Alabama's offense wasted no time getting three big first downs to start the game. With 13 minutes left on the clock in the first quarter, a fan looked at me and said, "This game is over already."
Right, only 58 more minutes to play with a score of 0-0. "Over."
(Lesson No. 1: Alabama fans aren't cocky, they just believe in their team more than they believe the sun will rise in the morning. When they know, they know.)
Two field goals and a touchdown later, Alabama was winning 13-7 as halftime approached --- but the Aggies were driving down the field in hopes of stealing the lead.
And they did. A touchdown for Texas A&M meant silence from Alabama. The bar was completely hushed as if there wasn't an entire half of football left to play.
(Lesson No. 2: When Bama is losing, the world is simultaneously ending.)
Nick Saban said some magical combination of words during halftime, and from then on, it was Alabama's game to win. Texas A&M didn't score another point the entire game. As I sat in shock over the maddening dominance, I turned to the guy next to me to ask a simple question:
"What's it like to win every single game you play?" I asked.
He threw together a bunch of clichés about how awesome it feels, and I realized I wasn't going to get much out of a fan of a team that has won nearly 50 games in less than four years.
"Never mind, what's it like when you guys lose?" I followed up.
"It's horrible," he said. "Everyone just walks around campus looking down. It's usually rainy, too. Even the weather knows to be sad."
(Lesson No. 3: Your team probably knows a lot more about losing than Alabama.)
There's something different about Alabama and we all know it. They expect greatness on every down, points on every field goal attempt and championships at the end of every season. We love to hate them and hate to love them, but embrace them -– because they aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Of course, people gave me a hard time when they found out I was a Georgia grad in an Alabama bar. But we all had one thing in common. Something bigger than the teams we support. It didn't take long before I was making friends and high-fiving complete strangers. That's college football.
When I walked in before kickoff, I assumed I was walking in to enemy territory. I told myself to stay for at least one half just for the experience. It was here that I learned something odd: It doesn't matter where you are, or really even what teams you're watching. College football isn't always about a location, it's about a feeling. I've never felt more at home from 1,000 miles away.
And for that, I can say "Roll Tide."