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.
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: