I love University of Alabama football. I have been as big a fan as you could possibly be, starting at an early age. Part of this feeling came from growing up in Tuscaloosa during the Bear Bryant era, part of it came from dreaming that one day I would be a Crimson Tide football hero myself. That dream never came true.
But this story is about another dream; a dream that has come true, yet, at the same time, hasn't.
Recently, I took my son to the Alabama-Western Kentucky football game in Tuscaloosa. My son, who my wife and I call Trot, is a young man with an assortment of special needs. He’s 20 but pretty much functions as if he were seven.
I knew he wasn’t going to be interested in the game. We’ve been to games off and on over the years and I knew that he would mostly be into what I call the “periphery stuff” — walking around, seeing the people, snacking, exploring Bryant-Denny Stadium etc — rather than paying attention to or even understanding the game itself.
He says “Roll Tide!” and “Let’s Win Bama” and “Let’s Score!” — but he says these things at my urging, essentially mimicking me. Sometimes I have to say “Roll Tide” four times before he says it once.
My tickets are in an area of the stadium — the North Zone — which combines the best of two worlds. We can sit outside watching the action unfold or wander about inside, in a large banquet room, that features delicious food, large airy windows to watch the game, air conditioning and multiple TVs.
Trot likes to roam around inside; he's more interested in the popcorn, cookies and ice cream than the game. He’s also fascinated by loudspeakers — and wants me to walk around with him, throughout the stadium, so he can examine and count every speaker he can find. Because I love him, I walk around with him and count the speakers though I’d rather be just sitting in our seats watching the game unfold.
Sometimes, though just for a few minutes, I'll even let him wander by himself through the enclosed area, knowing that I can keep an eye on him through the window. He pushes me to let him explore.
“I can do it. Let me do it by myself! Dad, don’t follow me everywhere,” he says, wanting some independence. I take a deep breath, say okay, and keep an eye on him from my seat, looking outside-in through the window, without him seeing me.
Sometimes I’ll even see Trot standing at the window, watching the game. When I come back inside to check on him, he’ll ask, “Did we score?” I sense he’s asking this because of me — he wants to show his interest — and this reflects Trot’s magic; he is so endearing and loving and filters life’s experiences in the simplest of ways.
It’s hard for me to take him to an Alabama football game. On a practical side, I always have to worry if he’s in my line of vision. Having Trot there takes away from the game because I’ve got to watch him and make sure he’s entertained -- and safe. So why do I take him?
I feel going to college football games needs to be part of his experience; this is what dads and sons do in Alabama. I don't ever want him to feel left out. But, that’s only part of my motivation.
The truth is that I take Trot to Alabama games because of me: I'm chasing a dream, searching desperately for some semblance of normalcy. I want to be like other dads who take their sons to Alabama games routinely, bonding with their sons even more deeply and remembering forever the magical memories they shared watching the Crimson Tide together.
As a younger man, even before we adopted Trot, finding out later that his special needs were acute, I resolved that if I were ever blessed with a son -- or a daughter -- that I would take him or her to Alabama games. Couldn't wait, in fact, and a childhood memory made me even more determined to do so.
When I was a kid my father took me to a game just once, even though he had season tickets. I was about six and that experience ignited my love for Alabama football. But he never took me again. I think the reason he didn’t take me was because he wanted to have a good time with my mom and their friends and it was a hassle to take me. I always wanted to go.
So, my dream of taking my son to an Alabama game has come true even though it hasn't. It's a dream I keep chasing, always willing to give it one more try, thinking that the next game, somehow, will be different.
Two weeks after the Alabama-Western Kentucky game I gave my tickets for the Kent State game to a good friend. He took his son, a great young man and passionate Alabama fan who I've gotten to know.
This friend and I have become close, so when I saw him a few days later he thanked me several times, said the day with his son had been great, and, with love and compassion, told me, "I never took a single minute of the day for granted, because I know that you would have given anything for a day like that with your own son."