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Being An Underdog at Alabama

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If being an underdog at Alabama is wrong, you want to be wrong at least once in your life.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Being an underdog at Alabama means you don’t get to take your Yellow Hammer to go from Gallette’s. You just watched three girls in front of you walk right by the outside exit without so much as a stare from the bouncer, but you can’t do it. It’s nothing personal, Alabama says, but they have boobs and you don’t, and besides, you’re not even wearing crimson anyway.

A Yellow Hammer, for those who don’t know, is basically what an alcoholic hummingbird would drink. It’s an infusion of vodka, rum, pineapple juice and orange juice that sends a tingle down your spine and serves as the official state drink of Alabama — no matter what the Auburn grads will tell you. Drink ten of these and you’ll die of diabetes before you die of alcohol poisoning. But you’re an underdog at Alabama, so on this day you might just take your chances.

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Being an underdog at Alabama means unloading your car full of whiskey and beer and Red Bull — the magic potions that will make this game watchable — under an overcast sky that’s as gray as the wisps of hair near Nick Saban’s ears. Five minutes into the 15-minute trek to campus, your cooler hits a bump in the sidewalk and spills all of its contents onto the pavement.

A tailgating party of five gives you a brief moment of grief while you stuff them all back in their proper places, and the rest of the crowd around the tent stares at you. Not a mean stare. More like a "Hey guys, this is Bama. Get your shit together. TAILGATE LIKE A CHAMPION" stare that makes you want to sprint the cooler through the tunnel of Bryant-Denny Stadium and hit someone in the mouth with it. Even the fans demand excellence in all phases of the game.

You arrive in the heart of campus and into the bucolic scene that is game day in Tuscaloosa. The faint smell of grilled meat explodes into your nostrils as grey smoke permeates the surprisingly cool September air. Everywhere around you is the reason Alabama is Alabama, and the underdog in you just can’t get enough.

A guy with a Bear Bryant arm tat and faded AJ McCarron jersey walks by drinking a Bud Light Lime. He’s wearing a houndstooth cap Bryant himself would disown and gives you a nod. Five minutes later, a pledge in a neatly pressed white oxford shirt and blue jacket (crimson tie, of course) sprints by chugging bottled water. There will be no Alabama fun for him today.

Families trudge by, determined to get to their tailgate before Uncle Jim eats all the ribs and they have to settle for hot dogs. The Quad is filled in a sea of crimson and white, all here to see the Tide take on a team they want to beat by 100 and probably should.

People walk by and welcome you to Tuscaloosa, because you are an underdog and nobody is worried about you causing a scene or — God forbid — winning the game. Those few that know your school’s motto will say it jokingly to you, because this is Alabama and we know college football, little guys. We know so much about college football we can tell you what your traditions are too.

Being an underdog at Alabama is getting invited under a tent because you’re wearing the wrong colors. You pass out some beers and take a few shots and pretty soon Alabama is much less concerned about the development of Blake Sims and way more concerned about you getting a hamburger at Rama Jama’s because it has that smoky taste that you’ll just love.

"These breakfast bowls will make ya say Roll Tide," the underdog says jokingly. The benefactor of them, a small lady in a gray Alabama shirt, rebukes. "Oh no, I went to yer school too, honey. But I’ve always loved the Tahd." The underdog nods, because those breakfast bowls are worth the egregious act of treason.

The underdog at Alabama has all the fun, because he and his fellow underdogs aren’t worried about the final score. They drink beer and watch the cornhole game and pray to the football gods for a touchdown. "Man, wouldn’t that be awesome? To score on Bama. Man." The underdog will not get his wish on this day.

****

Being an underdog at Alabama means stumbling to the gate of Bryant-Denny Stadium, the mecca of college football that looms as large as Bear Bryant’s legendary shadow over the meek underdog and his band of outcasts. After flashing the tickets and attempting to find the right way to go, the underdog gets stopped by a cop and asked if he’ll kindly throw the beer in his right pocket away.

The underdog obliges, and the cop then questions what is in the underdog’s back pocket. "Just my wallet and the stuff that will make this game enjoyable," the underdog says truthfully, patting a half pint of Maker’s. The cop gives a laughing nod and his sign of approval. Go on in the game, son. You’re gonna need more than what’s back there for what’s about to happen anyway.

Finding your seat as the underdog means passing the stares of a hundred Alabamas, all of whom look a little surprised and excited that you even decided to come. You slide gracefully into the chairbacks next to a bald man in a Crimson Tide polo and, a seat over from him, a man wearing an orange Florida shirt. "I can’t go to the game next week," he says, "so I’m here now."

After a slew of decent gains and calculated risks, the underdog moves past midfield and into scoring range before kicking a field goal. The underdog is beating Alabama, and already people are panicking.

"THIS SECONDARY IS GARBAGE," a woman ten rows up yells, while the Florida fan claps along. There are less than four minutes gone in the first quarter and somebody has already cursed Nick Saban. The underdog smiles. His team is beating Alabama.

****

Being an underdog at Alabama means watching quietly while the Crimson Tide carves your team up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Blake Sims can’t miss as he connects with Amari Cooper seemingly at will. Kenyan Drake rushes for three touchdowns and your team can only muster field goals — field goals you cheer as if they are all game winners in the national championship. Every precious point against Alabama is sacred.

Being an underdog means turning to the old man behind you, one who sports a thick, snowy Tom Selleck mustache and looks like he spoils his grandkids on Christmas. "Do we at least look better than FAU did against y’all last week," the underdog asks.

"Oh yeah, much better. Much, much better." The underdog is relieved.

Alabama will win this game by a lot but still won’t cover the spread. With under a minute to go and the backups in since the third quarter, the Crimson Tide score a garbage time touchdown to break the half-century mark. "PUNCH IT GAWTDAMMIT," a man screams before the TD. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is or what the scoreboard says. You cross that end zone.

Being an underdog at Alabama means waltzing along The Strip with an air of confidence. You are the only break in a wave of crimson and white that sweeps down the street at a determined lull, and people notice approvingly. It’s cute that you came.

You slip into a bar and wait in line. Florida is in its third overtime with Kentucky, and you wonder if the Gator fan in Bryant-Denny is sweating it out close by. The smell of grilled chicken is replaced by the sticky scent of beer. The underdog is now unnoticed. It’s time for the real game, one that involves staying upright before midnight.

After hours of drunken revelry and 30 sincere minutes trying to convince an Alabama fan that yes, y’all will beat Florida by double digits next week, it’s time to call it a night. The underdog stumbles into a cab and heads back to the hotel.

"Hey, I know about your team," the cab driver says smiling. "I’m so pissed because I had tickets to next week’s game and I have to go to the beach with my girlfriend. Life, man."

The underdog fumbles for his keys as he glides toward the hotel door. He was determined to come teach Alabama a thing or two, but it turns out Tuscaloosa taught him something instead.

"Remember that time we were beating Alabama," he says, laughing to no one in particular.

It was a great four minutes that complimented an even better 11 hours. Because he was an underdog at Alabama. And on this day, he won.

Follow Cory on Twitter @CoryGunkel or email him at cory.a.gunkel@gmail.com