I had cried at football games before. In 2005 I watched JaMarcus Russell throw an 11-yard touchdown pass into the south end zone in overtime, and as I walked back to the car with my family I felt a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes as I whipped my shaker wondering how Alabama had just lost to LSU. I sobbed pitifully in 2010 when Cam Newton led the Auburn Tigers in a comeback Iron Bowl and then made victorious throat slashing gestures in front of the south student section.
Those tears were nothing compared to what poured from me on November 5, 2011.
It was “The Game of the Century” as two heated SEC West rivals came into the match-up undefeated and ranked as Nos. 1 and 2 in the country. LSU held the top spot and Alabama was looking to reclaim the throne. Bryant-Denny Stadium was full to capacity with 101,821 fans and another 40,000 were in town without tickets. It was going to be a great game.
Except it wasn’t. The game itself was one of the most boring sporting events to watch of all time. It was a stalemate, the two teams obviously as evenly matched as two teams could be. Neither offense could move the ball very well because the opposing defense would just swallow them up. Alabama made what ended up being costly mistakes early, by missing two field goals in the first quarter and having one blocked in the second. The game went into overtime tied at 6-6, where the Crimson Tide kickers continued their trend. After missing another field goal, Alabama could not stop LSU from driving just far enough down the field to kick their own field goal through to win 9-6.
The winning kick went through the uprights of the the south end goal post. For the third time, I had seen my beloved Crimson Tide lose a heartbreaking game right in front of my eyes. I lost it and stood in the stands sobbing.
When he saw my tears, my dad yelled at me in front of our entire section.
“If you don’t enjoy this, you don’t have to be here!” he said.
I learned so much in that moment. I learned that we do have choices of whether or not we should do things we actually want to do. I learned that my dad could be a bit of a hard ass sometimes. But perhaps most importantly, in that moment I learned why I love sports.
Earlier that year, Tuscaloosa had been ravaged by a monstrous tornado. It had killed 15 people and left countless homes and livelihoods destroyed. The Alabama Athletic Department played a huge part in the city’s recovery, and the football team played an especially important role. Nick Saban and his squad were present through every effort of recovery from cleanup to rebuilding. Just seeing the team gave citizens and fans hope and something to believe in. Being a Saints fan and growing up with family from New Orleans, I had seen just how important a football team’s success could be to a city’s recovery from a natural disaster. I knew that if Alabama could win the national championship in the 2011 season, people in Tuscaloosa would have every hope in their ability to overcome.
When LSU’s overtime field goal went through the uprights I thought those hopes were dashed. I cried for the people of Tuscaloosa, for the team and for all those who look to sports as their source of inspiration. I found myself caring more about the story than the game.
It was in that moment that I knew why I needed to pursue sports journalism. Sports are important to people and more often than not people care more about the stories than the scores. The stories are how people connect with sports and find true hope and inspiration in them. Stories found in sports are touching and never was I so sure that I was meant to tell them.