By Charles Morgan III
The state of Alabama does not test well. Nationally, Alabama ranks 46th in health care, 47th in education, 48th in opportunity, 42nd in crimes and corrections, 38th in economy, 35th in quality of life, 32nd in infrastructure, 48th in poverty and 48th in obesity. In Alabama, even though it’s usually whispered, it’s whispered a lot:
“Thank God for Mississippi.”
Alabama is not home to any true international cities, certainly not like Florida, where everything below Gainesville is a melting pot of ethnicities and nationalities.
Alabama got shortchanged on the Gulf Coast and ended up with a small strip of Gulf front known as “The Redneck Riviera.”
There is great art and music in Alabama, but it’s never been considered a bastion of artistic culture.
There are no big league professional sports franchises in Alabama. The long history of racism and oppression kept that from happening. African-American players from visiting teams wouldn’t have been able to stay in hotels or eat in restaurants with their teammates in 1960w Alabama.
But they could in Atlanta. That is why the Braves, Falcons and Hawks have called Atlanta home for 50 years.
There is some spark in Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, Florence, Tuscaloosa, and even Auburn. But much of rural Alabama is depressed—and depressing.
Alabama is home to Frank Stitt, the chef-owner of Highlands Bar and Grill, the best restaurant in the United States. Most of the best restaurants in the state (with the exception of the remarkable Greek family classics and the spectacular BBQ joints) are directly attributable to Frank.
Still, Alabama doesn’t test well.
However—and as a testament to the notion that there is a God—in Alabama, they play football.
The University of Alabama is the best football team in the United States. They’ve been the best team for a while. You never know, but it looks like they’re going to the best team forever.
Alabama football fans—and there are more and more of them every year—would be plenty satisfied with one victory after another and a national championship thrown in every couple of years. But there is way more to it than that.
There is drama. Maybe not quite in the Shakespearean sense, but there is drama.
There are protagonists and heroes, foils and villains. There are characters with greatness in them. There are players who fail and make mistakes and then redeem themselves. There are young men striving to be better.
It all takes place on a university campus full of young people trying to be better, smarter, learning to grow up.
It takes place under the leadership of a head coach who takes his role with a passion and a level of intelligence and intensity that has not been seen before. Anywhere. Ever.
This past Saturday in Atlanta, for the second time in less than a year, amidst smothering media coverage and the kind of intensity only seen in the fall, in the South, on a football field, Alabama played Georgia.
In the two games—the first for the national championship, the second for the SEC championship (basically the same thing)—Georgia led Alabama for 119 of the 120 minutes.
In the first game Tua Tagovailoa relieved Jalen Hurts, and in the second game Jalen relieved Tua. There is no way to recount the drama built up between the two games. But it was as dramatic as anything in the world of literature. Alabama won both games.
So thank God for Mississippi and football.
Alabama doesn’t test well.
But damn, we’ve got a football team.
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