So once we got our little rental car we made the drive down to Tuscaloosa to have lunch with one of my teachers and program director. Usually the drive takes me 45 minutes…but….Topher is a model citizen and drives at the speed limit (even if we’re in a construction zone….with no construction going on). It took us a little bit longer but we made it to my college stomping grounds! I was more nervous introducing Toph to Deidre and Jeri than to my own parents! Part of the reason was because he’s an athlete, and we all know it’s quite the conflict of interest from a professional standpoint for an athletic trainer to date an athlete. I was frantically telling him while we were ordering our food to emphasize the fact that he has an MBA and has plans to pursue a career outside of being a professional baseball player in the near future. Needless to say, there was no need, because they liked him and spent most of the time catching up with me and all my shenanigans (Cape Cod League, Miss Taiwanese American Pageant, Swine Flu, etc….maybe one day I’ll get to those on the blog).
Afterwards we made our way over to the athletic facilities where Toph had a chance to “ooo and ahhh” over the multi-million dollar football facility. It was great to see all the people I worked with when I worked with the team in 2006 (sadly, I was only there for the spring of “two-thousand-Saban”). He marveled at our training room and the storage room (it’s even larger than the Angels!), and the abundance of free Gatorade products strategically placed around the complex just in case anyone got thirsty again for a couple of bottles in the 40 yards between the bins. We made a stop by the equipment room where I got to say hi to Tank and my beloved Bear. Bear was “my” equipment guy when I worked with the linebackers. I swear, that gig is so good at Alabama (full scholarship, tons and tons of Nike shoes and clothing, sideline passes to top 5 football year after year) that a lot of them stay and get their masters AND doctorates! Well, Bear was so excited to see me and show Topher around (to the automated sliding 20 foot shelves) that he hooked us up with warm-ups and Topher with several dri-fit shirts to work out in and wear around. Needless to say, I think that experience helped to make Toph a bonafide football fan. I showed Topher around the practice fields, and up to the Trophy Hall, where he got to marvel over the 12 national championships and then we wandered over to see the basketball facilities.
We grabbed dinner with my freshman roomie Elizabeth at Dreamland BBQ, which is a must for any person visiting Alabama (my parents used to have me bring some back on the plane when I came home for the holidays), and then caught a late night dinner with Tommy (my man of honor and former senior yr. roomie) and his girlfriend and childhood friend Drew. It was great that Topher got to meet them, because now he’s met so many of the important people in my life. We stayed at Todd’s place this whole time, and learned how to sleep in 3 different positions on a L-shaped couch!
Gameday finally arrived the next morning, and Topher got to experience the mayhem of Crimson Tide tailgating! We headed on out about 4 hours before kickoff, and Topher’s first experience was something I like to call “curb parking”. Basically, it gets so crowded on campus that you just have to pop a curb and park somewhere on the grass or dirt! We passed by our famous million dollar tricked out RVs (where they have customized mini-Alabama cars), and Topher couldn’t believe that practically every tailgate had at least one (large flatscreen HD mind you) TV hooked up to satellite so you could watch multiple games throughout the day. It was a great mix of families with little boys running around in jerseys throwing the pigskin, to young sorority girls in cocktail dresses and high heels (the Greeks dress up for games down here!), and old old men tossing the football with random strangers (one of them got Topher by surprise while crossing the crosswalk, Topher gave him the Northerner awkwardness and that game of impromptu toss ended pretty quickly).
We walked around the quad and to the bookstore (where he incredulously exclaimed that we brand everything and ANYTHING with Alabama) and then to the front of the stadium where he got to see the walk of champions (aka, the police escort bus of the team to the front of the stadium, where they walk in through the front). He was impressed by the huge following of fans who come for that and he could see how these guys think they’re Gods….they’re treated like ones down here.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat at Rama Jamas, but I was pretty bummed to see that they didn’t have their milkshakes! It was so packed that we ate on the curb outside of the restaurant, while I shared tales with Topher of how I would sneak back into the stadium after I graduated. Needless to say, Toph was pretty jazzed by kickoff, and he was not let down. He got to see a great game (that came down to a field goal block by Terrence Cody with 14 seconds left to keep Alabama’s lead) and sing along to Roll Tide renditions of Sweet Home Alabama and Dixieland Delight with 96,000 of his closest friends.
We saw Natalie for a little bit, then we had an impromptu trip to the Burke cafeteria (ohhhh hoooooowww muuuucccchh I love that place). We went and hung out in Barnes in Nobles reading (and being old people) til the traffic died down, and then headed home to a raging black light party at Todd’s (aka club rave Hackberry) where everyone was barefoot and plastered drunk. We didn’t get a chance to go to bed/"couch" until 4am, and just took Sunday off catching up on rest and correspondances before heading back to Tampa. I was so proud to show off my school and see what my undergrad experience was like. It was so much fun and a great opportunity for Toph to meet all the important people in my life.