GATLINBURG, Tenn. — While sitting on a bench waiting for my family’s post-Christmas shopping to finally end, a friendship is struck with an Auburn fan who is proudly wearing his colors and letters, deep in Alabama country. (Even the Santa in a store window is dressed in Alabama colors.)
He notes my Sooner windbreaker and Sugar Bowl stocking cap and shares some advice for the Sooners as they head to New Orleans for a Sugar Bowl showdown with Alabama this week.
“Get a good timekeeper,” he jokes, noting the final second run by Auburn to defeat its in-state rivalry. Weeks later, they’re still reliving the moment. “Hey, it was them that asked for the extra time,” he says.
It’ll take more than a friendly timekeeper for the Sooners to beat Alabama. The players and coaches will all have to bring their “A” game into the stadium. Alabama is still reeling from its loss to Auburn and will want to pound anyone it can on national television.
For traveling fans, it should not be nearly as ugly as the Sooners last bowl appearance in New Orleans. That was Jan. 4, 2004, and Louisiana State University fans seem to have made up about 79,000 of the 79,342 attending the game inside the Superdome. The Sooners lost 21-14.
LSU fans, not known for their collegiality, turned their hometown Bourbon Street into their personal party zone. We Sooners were not on the invite list.
The walk from the Superdome to our hotel was about as scary as anything I’ve experienced. Tossed beer bottles, curses thrown our way, offers to fight and a few shoves. I hate to think how they would have treated me if the Sooners would have won the game.
The Alabama fans I’ve met are passionate, but seem to be more like Notre Dame devotees than the LSU faithful. They love their own school but respect the game and the traditions associated with their opponents. Alabama fans have done their homework and can talk Sooner with the best of us.