Having travelled to Columbia, Mo. this past weekend to see the Alabama Crimson Tide take on the Missouri Tigers, one word could be used to describe the game day atmosphere:
While it was certainly an incredible feeling knowing that SEC football was back, it was hard to shake the feeling that something was missing. Something that the stadium was lacking. What exactly was it?
Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the fans of Missouri for showing out. Selling out over 11,000 seats during a pandemic in a town as small as Columbia is quite impressive. While there weren’t many fans in the stadium, the fans that were there provided quite a loud ambiance to the atmosphere despite their small numbers.
SEC fans are known across the country for their passion and die-hard approach to their respective schools. On the drive up to Columbia from Tuscaloosa, fellow staff writer Tyler Martin and myself discussed what the atmosphere would be like with so few passionate fans packed into such a large space.
As I recalled in my story on the Memorial Stadium atmosphere, the city was abnormally, eerily quiet. While both Tyler and myself expected this, both of us were surprised by just how quiet the place actually was when approaching the stadium on Saturday afternoon.
On our half-mile walk to the stadium, we encountered a grand total of five fans — four Missouri and one Alabama. No tailgates. No traffic. No pre-game hype.
Granted, this was two hours before the game even started. Once the opening kickoff was underway, the 11,000 in attendance did still fill the stadium with a slight bit of life, although faint.
Two hours before the start of Saturday’s game between Alabama and Missouri:
Saturday’s efforts by fans were valiant. It’s not their fault. Heck, it’s nobody’s fault. We’re all dealing with the hand that we’ve been dealt by COVID-19 in various ways, and the fans of the Tigers handled the situation appropriately.
This coming Saturday, No. 2 Alabama football hosts No. 13 Texas A&M in its home opener. The Aggies just slipped by Vanderbilt in a 17-12 victory in Nashville with no fans in attendance.
With fans limited to just 20-percent capacity in Bryant-Denny Stadium this season, there is no doubt that much of what makes the Alabama game day atmosphere so special will be missing.
However, it will still be present to a lesser extent.
With no tailgating, no Walk of Champions and many other Crimson Tide traditions gone, this will be a year unlike any other. However, there is a lesson to be learned from the city of Columbia:
Prove just how much Alabama football means to the community.
I applaud Missouri fans for this past weekend. They were loud and proud of their Tigers. They showed up to the best of their ability. They were as loud as they could and provided the best sense of normalcy that the possibly could. They made me proud to cover SEC football and they should make you proud to be a fan of SEC football.
Be like Missouri. Be the game-changing factor. Be the fuel that lights the fire under the Crimson Tide. While the Tigers ultimately fell short, their players played with much tenacity in a game that I’m sure most of them knew they would lose going into. There’s no doubt in my mind that much of that drive came from the fans in the stands backing them.
In short, let’s deal the hand that we’ve been dealt. The coronavirus has given us circumstances that most of us had never even considered. In a constantly-evolving world we must adjust to whatever this new normal is so that we might one day see Bryant-Denny Stadium once again filled to its maximum capacity.
Be like Missouri. Be like the Tigers.