The old man sips his drink and watches the game on the TV over the bar. Whenever LSU scores, he and the bartender head-butt me.

The Alabama-LSU game is on. Half the jerseys in this sports bar are Alabama-crimson. The other half are purple, worn by people who shout “GO TIGERS!”

I am wearing a crimson T-shirt, sitting at the bar, meeting my wife here for dinner tonight. She is running a little late.

There is some trash talk going on between opposing teams. Nothing too off-color. This is a game day tradition between LSU and Alabama fans. These two sets of fans are vicious enemies.

Today, it’s mostly just middle-aged guys doing the tough talking. There are no cuss words being used because most middle-aged guys are dads and have already started speaking fluent Four-Year-Old. Take my friend, John. He often uses the word “potty” in daily conversation. He will use even use this word if he is, for instance, at a monster truck rally.

There is an old man at the bar beside me, an LSU fan. He is old. Reserved. Wearing purple. He drinks gin and tonic. He and the bartender start talking about LSU. She’s in a purple jersey, too. She is from Louisiana and she even sings a little of the LSU fight song, “Hey Fightin’ Tigers.”

“Hey fightin’ Tigers,
“Fight all the way,
“Hey fightin’ Tigers,
“Win the game today…”

I have known all kinds of fans in my time. LSU fans are a different breed. I once dated a girl from Baton Rouge. She was so passionate about her school that it’s a wonder she’s not in jail on assault charges.

She and her mother and her sisters would often burst into singing the LSU fight song at the most bizarre moments. It didn’t matter if they were cooking spaghetti, or at a Junior League meeting. When the mood hit, they would sing “Hey Fightin’ Tigers” and then headbutt whoever dared oppose them.

Ask me how I know this.

Alabama fans aren’t that way. We are tame. We don’t headbutt our enemies. Sure, we might shoot potato guns at our opponents’ windshields during a fourth-quarter tailgate brawl. But we don’t headbutt.

The old man sips his drink and watches the game. Whenever LSU scores, he and the bartender headbutt me.

No. I am only kidding. They only smirk at me. But I can tell that they want to headbutt.

The place starts to get out of control, further into the game. Alabama is behind, and anyone who happens to be wearing purple is ordering another round.

But the old man is not like that. He is not saying much. He’s just watching.

I start a conversation with him.

“Are you from Lousinana?” I ask.

“No,” he says. “Birmingham, but my daughter went to LSU.”

“Oh? Where’s she live now?”

“Well… She’s uh…” He shifts on his stool. “She’s no longer living.”

There’s another play on the screen. People cheer. He doesn’t say anything. He’s too lost in thought. The bartender asks if he wants another gin. He says no. He just wants some tonic water.

We toast to our health. We clink glasses. He says, “Did you go to the University of Alabama? Over in Tuscaloosa?”

“No. Community college. Niceville.”

“Nothing wrong with community college. Tried to get my daughter to go to a community college. I was selfish, I wanted her close by.”

There’s a story here, but he’s not telling it. And I don’t have the right to ask. So I don’t. We just watch the game. No more talking.

Soon, my wife has arrived. I leave the old man. My wife and I watch the game from a two-top table. I order a hamburger. She orders a salad.

We cheer when Alabama makes good plays. And when the middle-aged LSU fans begin to make vulgar comments about our boys in red, my wife and I make remarks about their mothers. It’s all in good fun, you understand. My wife didn’t even bring her potato gun tonight.

Throughout the game, I have to go potty a few times. I see the old man in the bathroom once. He’s at the sink, washing his face, staring at his reflection. My first thought is that he’s had too many gins, but he’s as sober as a Pentecostal. It’s not the gin.

“You okay?” I ask.

“Great.”

“You sure?”

He nods.

What else can I do? I leave him and rejoin my wife. But I watch him all night. He claps for touchdowns. He high-fives the waitress. He orders gumbo and a sandwich. And when LSU beats Alabama like a rented redheaded step-mule, he applauds, then pays his tip and leaves.

I congratulate him before he goes.

“It was a good game,” he says.

“It really was.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?” I ask one more time. Now I’m borderlining on being annoying.

“I’m fine,” he says. And I know he’s lying.

After we pay our bill, we head to our vehicle. Louisiana fans are celebrating in the parking lot.

I am carrying half a hamburger in a Styrofoam box. I don’t know what’s happened to me at this stage of life. When I was young, I used to be able to eat two hamburgers and finish the day like a jackrabbit on Mountain Dew. Now I take leftovers home.

I see the man by his car. He’s leaning against his hood. Looking upward at the night sky. Arms crossed.

I am disappointed that Alabama lost, of course. In fact, it kills me. I wish my boys in crimson would have won. Especially this game. But for the old man’s sake, and for his late daughter’s, just this once:

Go Tigers.

27 comments

  1. James e inman - November 10, 2019 6:52 am

    It was a great game to watch even for a UGA fan! Yes sir I’m with you bud, for that baby’s Dad, go Tigers

    Reply
  2. Ann Marie Bouchet - November 10, 2019 7:04 am

    You are a good man….We were beaten by a better team today. God Bless that father.

    Reply
  3. Marcia Lynn MacLean - November 10, 2019 7:20 am

    Some things are more important than a “W”.

    Reply
  4. George T Jacoby - November 10, 2019 8:07 am

    LSU 72 (after US Army 67) – Geaux Tigers! And you’re a good guy, Sean, and if I ever run into you, the burgers and beers are on me. Or porterhouse steaks, your call 🙂

    Reply
  5. MaryJane Breaux - November 10, 2019 8:29 am

    It was a wonderful game, this coming from a fickle sports “fan”. I have a daughter at LSU so this touches my heart. Wherever he is and whatever his story is LSU Dad and daughter have my prayers. I cannot imagine…thank you for Sean.

    Reply
  6. GaryD - November 10, 2019 10:38 am

    Oh well, there’s always next year. Roll Tide.

    Reply
  7. Ted Leach - November 10, 2019 12:24 pm

    It’s hard for me to say it, too. If your computer had been bought in Louisiana it would have spell checked you. It’s “Geaux Tigers.” 🙂

    Reply
  8. Howard Humphreys - November 10, 2019 1:11 pm

    Always love to see that discussed look on Sagan’s face when things go bad for Alabama…Geaux Tigers…

    Reply
  9. Howard Humphreys - November 10, 2019 1:13 pm

    Saban’s

    Reply
  10. MermaidGrammy - November 10, 2019 1:18 pm

    You’re a very kind man. I’m sure you’d love to know the story but your angel side left him with his grief. Roll Tide!

    Reply
  11. Shelton A. - November 10, 2019 1:19 pm

    I hope the man can work through his issues and eventually be ok. Nice try with him, Sean. You tried and that’s more than can be said for most of our world. God bless

    Reply
  12. Gary McKnight - November 10, 2019 1:30 pm

    Thanks Sean. This helps put something that is just a game in perspective

    Reply
  13. Carlene - November 10, 2019 1:55 pm

    Sean
    There are tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. What a beautiful story. I’m glad you were sitting by him and not some unfeeling lout. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  14. Nell Tipton - November 10, 2019 2:12 pm

    When we feel so smug and ‘in your face’ after a win, we must remember there are stories like this with both sides. These bring us back to reality and how it’s ‘just a game’ and life can be hard.

    Reply
  15. Misti Gil - November 10, 2019 2:20 pm

    This is beautiful. Your ability to weave humor and deep emotion into the same story is unparalleled. Thank you for your southern storytelling. It’s entertaining, but it’s also meaningful. LOVE IT

    Reply
  16. Carol Gentemann - November 10, 2019 4:22 pm

    Amen…Geaux Tigers😢

    Reply
  17. Linda Moon - November 10, 2019 4:28 pm

    I’m glad you were wearing a Crimson T-shirt (T for Tide!). In the end, good fun was had by some, but not all….just ask two brothers I know! You were very kind to acknowledge those Tigers for the old man’s sake and his late daughter’s. A similar conversation took place at my house after the Alabama loss. Geaux, but just for this once, Sean!

    Reply
  18. Edna B. - November 10, 2019 4:39 pm

    Such a nice story. And it’s true, sometimes other things are more important than winning. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  19. Mary T. - November 10, 2019 4:43 pm

    The sun did come up today didn’t it? Roll Tide! My family comes to our house for Thanksgiving. We have Alabama, Auburn, and Clemson fans/graduates, Republicans and Democrats. We have decided that to love each other is more important than football or politics. There is plenty of other things to discuss. I can’t wait!!!

    Reply
  20. Jeff - November 10, 2019 5:03 pm

    Thank you Sean for sharing your heart and your experiences with us. You truly have a gift from the Lord. Thank you so much for blessing us with it. We are praying for this heart-broken gentleman as he grieves for his lost daughter. How does one ever get over the loss of a child or grandchild? Thank you for showing genuine compassion for him. God bless you and your dear ones.
    Your friend,
    Jeff
    Proverbs 17:17
    Psalm 34:18; Psalm 116:15
    Hebrews 6:10
    Proverbs 11:25

    Reply
  21. Steve - November 10, 2019 6:37 pm

    We are Auburn fans. The whole family watched every play. Because we knew it would be a great game – and it was. We didn’t gloat that Bama lost. We ate Dad’s world famous chili. Eight or nine of us, enjoyed family time. I know we are blessed. I wish the old man could have joined us. The 72 year old nephew of my dad joined us. He’s had a hard life. A Vietnam Vet who still wears the mental wounds. He, in a way, has lost his son as well. He’s in jail awaiting trial. Soon he’ll be in prison. I’d like to think he enjoyed the game. At least he was with family. I have cancer, mom has dementia, brother-in-law’s in a electric wheelchair. We all have something, every family has something. Ours has family. Family. Family and a great football game.

    Reply
  22. Connie Havard Ryland - November 10, 2019 7:21 pm

    It was a heartbreaking loss, but as so beautifully pointed out, there are way more important things. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  23. Beth - November 10, 2019 8:17 pm

    Good for you! Hope the old man is ok. RTR

    Reply
  24. ce Harbin - November 10, 2019 9:49 pm

    beautiful

    Reply
  25. Beth - November 11, 2019 12:37 pm

    Okay, Sean. You made me cry. Just a bit. Again.

    Reply
  26. BECKY JACKSON - November 11, 2019 7:52 pm

    This is a great story.
    Roll Tide.
    Geaux Tigers.
    Hail State.
    We’re all one in the end.
    When we play outside the SEC.

    Reply
  27. Martha Black - November 12, 2019 8:02 pm

    Here’s to the “rented redheaded step-mule” from LSU & the Alabama fan that was kind in defeat to him. Go Tigers!

    Reply

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