The older man behind the cash register wore a University of Alabama lapel pin on his apron. And, in rural accent, he said, “Nervous about the game?”

The University of Alabama took the field against the Georgia Bulldogs this afternoon for the SEC Championship football game. Tensions were high in our town.

I ran into a man at the gas station who wore a Bulldogs T-shirt. We pumped gas beside each other.

“‘Bama sucks,” he said, pointing at my Alabama shirt.

“Roll Tide,” I remarked.

Then he started laughing.

“Aw, I’m just kidding,” he went on. “I know Alabama doesn’t suck, but I sure hope they do tonight.”

I told him I would pray for his eternal salvation.

During kickoff, I was still running errands. In fact, I was standing in a long supermarket checkout line. I counted eight shoppers in line who were watching the game on their phones.

And when the Bulldogs scored their first touchdown, a Georgia fan shouted at his phone, “YES! TAKE THAT, ALABAMA!”

There was an old woman ahead of me. She wore teased white hair, pearls, and an Alabama jersey. She turned to me and whispered, “Do you mind watching my cart while I go beat that man’s ass?”

So I bought supplies for the evening. Namely, beer, chips, boiled shrimp, and chicken wings.

The older man behind the cash register wore a University of Alabama lapel pin on his apron. And, in rural accent, he said, “Nervous about the game?”

“If I was any more nervous,” I said. “I’d have to call the incontinence hotline for support.”

“Me too,” he went on. “Just don’t forget, there’re three kings in this world. The Good Lord, Elvis, and Nicholas Lou Saban Jr.”

He scanned my groceries.

And that’s when it dawned on me. This poor man was stuck at work during the big game. I asked him about it.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s a bummer, but nobody would work tonight. I wish I were at home, having a beer with my son, we are huge fans. But since he’s been gone, I hardly even watch games anymore.”

“Where’s your son?” I asked.

“He’s overseas. I miss him pretty bad. Been three years since we watched a game together. ”

“I’ll root extra hard for you tonight.”

“Roll Tide,” he said.

I got home in a rush. I sat on the sofa and watched the boys play. My wife made cheese dip. The dip was so hot it scalded the roof of my mouth. It took one whole beer just to bring the swelling down.

The first two quarters were hard to watch. Georgia was impressive. They pushed Alabama to the fence and held them there. The last eleven minutes of the game were looking worse. Georgia controlled the field. Alabama’s quarterback was hobbled.

I was chewing a throw pillow and reciting the 23rd Psalm.

But at the final trumpet call, Jalen Hurts leapt off the bench, replaced his injured teammate, and made the whole world proud. He passed one touchdown, then ran another.

There was a lot of shouting in our house. My wife screamed, “ROLL TIDE!” I screamed, “ROLL TIDE!” We jumped up and down. My dog hid under a table and almost had a nervous breakdown.

And when Alabama won, I began to cry. I didn’t mean to, it just sort of happened.

When I watch football, I miss my late father more than usual. I can’t help it. I was born during the third quarter of the Alabama-Illinois Liberty Bowl. I drew my first breath only seconds before Jesse Bendross ran an eight-yard touchdown against the Fighting Illini.

They say my father kissed me on the forehead, then held me up to the glow of the television and traced my face with his finger.

Big games bring out the loneliness in me. Because they aren’t just games. They are the memory of who I come from. They are something that ties me to my father. They are moments meant to be shared. And everyone deserves to share them with someone.

After the game I told my wife I had to go to the supermarket. It was late, and the store parking lot was mostly empty. I walked through the store’s sliding doors and saw my friend, the cashier. He was behind the customer service counter.

“You again?” he said. “You forget something on your list, buddy?”

“Sorta,” I said.

I picked up a magazine and went to the customer service counter. He rang me up.

“A National Geographic magazine?” he said. “That’s what you came here for?”

“Well,” I said. “That, and this.”

I held out my hand. We shook.

“Roll Tide,” I said.

45 comments

  1. Diane - December 2, 2018 6:56 am

    Christmas movies make me lonely. Tonight I watched The Bishop’s Wife by myself. It was a favorite of my mother and sister. We watched it together every year. They have gone on to their reward now so I watch and remember the good times.
    Oh, and one more thing…ROLL TIDE ROLL! 🏈🏆🏈

    Reply
  2. Afi Scruggs - December 2, 2018 8:08 am

    I love this one, so much. It’s my second favorite column of yours. (Happy Girl) is my first. So I swallow hard and say RTR!

    Reply
  3. Trina V - December 2, 2018 9:05 am

    I will admit I cried a little when Jalen ran for a TD. I was so excited and proud for him. He is a perfect example of taking what life gives you and making the most of it. Afterward he said in an interview this season has been hard, and I don’t doubt that for one second, but I know there are lessons to be learned from it, not only for Jalen, but for every kid who ever dons a jersey, as well as for those of us who never have or never will. As a lifelong Bama fan, Jalen has cemented his spot on my list of all-time favorite players. Roll Tide, Sean! Roll Tide!!

    Reply
  4. Pamela McEachern - December 2, 2018 9:07 am

    RTR!!! I do believe there are Heavenly voices yelling that too!

    Peace and Love and Roll Tide Roll from Birmingham

    Reply
  5. Brenda - December 2, 2018 9:09 am

    Oh Sean, I am a 71 year old, white haired lady, with grandchildren, I cried like a baby. I love the Crimson Tide like a family member. And Jalen Hurts, God took care of him.
    P.S. Love you also, and so glad you love the TIDE.

    Reply
    • Jess Rawls - December 2, 2018 4:02 pm

      Oh, Brenda, I am a 76 year old, white haired grandfather, I cried like a baby too because I was pullin’ for my beloved Dawgs!!!!! I was hoping that the Dawgs could beat Bama this year, but it wasn’t meant to be. Oh, well…………

      Reply
  6. Marilyn Ward Vance - December 2, 2018 9:55 am

    I had a nervous breakdown just like your pup, but ROLL TIDE ROLL! Thanks for taking time for the handshake……

    Reply
  7. Jean - December 2, 2018 11:19 am

    God bless The Tide!! Roll guys!!!

    Reply
  8. Elaine Walizer - December 2, 2018 11:31 am

    That was a heartbreaker for The Dawgs, but impressive. ‘Donned’ is a real word; we DON clothes. Spellcheck won’t help in this case, but you wanted ‘dawned’ there.

    Reply
  9. ponder304 - December 2, 2018 11:32 am

    I love The Tide! More than that, I love a heart that cares…Thank you for your return visit to the supermarket! I am sure he will always remember that someone cares!

    Reply
  10. Debbie - December 2, 2018 12:00 pm

    What a game! A hard-fought win for your Tide. Heartbreaker for my Dawgs.

    Reply
  11. Blake - December 2, 2018 12:18 pm

    It illustrates where your priorities are.

    Reply
  12. Barbara Pope - December 2, 2018 12:36 pm

    You DON got it wrong but the Tide got it right…and you did too when you needed a National Geographic!

    Reply
  13. GaryD - December 2, 2018 12:54 pm

    All I can say is “Roll Tide”! “Roll Mighty Tide”! They dun don it again! Love your stories, love your spellings.

    Reply
  14. Tom Tankersley (Vicksburg, MS) - December 2, 2018 1:28 pm

    If you want to go to heaven,
    And walk the streets of gold;
    You’ve go to know the password –
    ROLL TIDE ROLL!

    Reply
  15. Connie Havard Ryland - December 2, 2018 1:45 pm

    Awesome column this morning. I missed the game but I heard it was a nail biter. The memories you share though are always sweet. Love and hugs and Roll Tide.

    Reply
  16. Ron Wachs - December 2, 2018 1:47 pm

    Sean, you and your hero, Lewis, could have had a great time with this one !

    Reply
  17. Jane Weir - December 2, 2018 1:49 pm

    Roll Tide and roll Sean. Love your stories!!!

    Reply
  18. Ashley - December 2, 2018 1:51 pm

    I love the connections created by college football. But I can’t appreciate this story. As a diehard Georgia fan, the feeling of seeing my 5 little siblings in tears because we lost to Bama again is too fresh. Knowing that their grandmother who ignores them and their cousins who can be snotty are obnoxious Alabama fans and they got another championship, even though their loyalties originally layed with another team. Knowing that my siblings just want to see one championship, having been Dawgs since birth and watching way more football than their Alabama cousins. Knowing that my 5 yr old sister loves Jake Fromm, and cried her eyes out when he lost, even though he played the game of his life. He was the better quarterback and he’s a Christian too. Why can’t he have a win? And then there’s my mama. The reason we’re all Georgia fans. She was too young to remember the championship in the 80s and her lifelong dream has been to just see one national title. She’s lived through the heartbreak of 2012 and last year’s title , but she’s never given up hope. This past year she not only watched her Dawgs lose the title, she also lost whatever remained of her relationship with her mom and sister due to countless backstabbing and deliberately leaving her out. She also lost her best friend of 15 years to cancer. They talked everyday and no one has been able to fill the void, but football helps. All this hurt and pain the past year and I only wanted to win the SEC. For her. So celebrate your title. Celebrate Jalen’s second one. But I can’t congratulate you, because my mama needed it more.

    Reply
    • Harvey Clapp - December 3, 2018 1:16 pm

      Your comment is moving but what I expect your family needs more that a football win is to let another kind of light shine in your lives. Forgiveness and acceptance can go a long way towards contentment. Look for that.

      Reply
      • Ashley - December 3, 2018 3:49 pm

        Oh, I agree! We are Christians and my mom has come a long way over the course of the year through lots of prayer. But, sometimes it would be nice to have something tangible to hold on to and see something go our way once, especially when so many people are claiming that the championship was the result of God blessing Jalen. By saying that Jalen and my relatives’ were blessed because of their Christianity, but my family wasn’t is making some contradictory claims about God and is quite hurtful, especially to someone who’s already struggling. I love reading Sean’s work, but the hurt was too fresh and I probably shouldn’t have commented. But I think it’s important that people realize this win meant a lot to other players and fans as well.

        Reply
  19. Susan Self - December 2, 2018 1:55 pm

    I can not say it any better Trina. The football world saw a fine young man of character that stepped up and did his job. Thank you Sean for shaking that hand.

    Reply
  20. Shelton Armour - December 2, 2018 2:10 pm

    Sean…you are a good man. Roll Tide! From a UNC fan…I am a fan of the Tide and pull for them (unless they played Carolina-the real Carolina, not the one with a chicken for a mascot).

    Reply
  21. Rhonda - December 2, 2018 2:12 pm

    You are a good man Charlie Brown.

    I was going to go into a rant about Bama football in a state with PITIFUL education stats. About how our tiny rural school gets nothing but trash mouthed by local politicians who say the bible says women teachers are supposed to be poor and underpaid while we have a school in Tuscaloosa that gets more money than the rest of the whole education system of the entire US. And not for education.

    But I know it means a lot more to you than the sport. That it calls home somebody you need to drop by every now and then. I think his ticket is more than a seat in a stadium, its a seat next to his son. I am betting when you walked back through the door of that grocery store his heart was busting with pride.

    See Daddy, you were doing a great job all along. Saban might know football but Sean knows hearts. Roll Pride!

    Reply
  22. Shelton Armour - December 2, 2018 2:12 pm

    p.s.-God bless that cashier’s son and guard/protect him so he can return home to watch football with his dad.

    Reply
  23. Jack Darnell - December 2, 2018 2:50 pm

    I was interested in sports when my kids were in little league. Then when they were Redskin fans and watched the games together. But now, it is just games. There are times I understand the games but since I did not take advantage of an education and started writing NOW I understand we NeeD Education. If sports help, that is good. But when my local HS puts more emphasis on sports than EDUCATION it bothered me. When I hear a college player interviewed and he cannot put a complete sentence together, it bothers me. If the kid doesn’t make the majors, he is in trouble. But if he makes the majors and makes millions I guess the education doesn’t matter (to him). SAD
    But I did enjoy the read and as my friend Sheila and her mom down in Opp would say, ROLL TIDE!

    Reply
  24. Kathy Wolfe - December 2, 2018 2:59 pm

    You make me cry more than my ex husband did…but in a good way….Roll TideTide!

    Reply
  25. Debbie - December 2, 2018 3:38 pm

    Great win!

    Reply
  26. Martha M Wilson - December 2, 2018 4:04 pm

    My father played football for Bear Bryant…before he found his home in Alabama…at Vanderbilt. Daddy maintained a lifelong friendship with him, I met him once. When the good Lord made gentlemen, he used the Bear as the model. His charisma was awesome.

    Daddy grew up in the Fairhope area, and football was in his blood. His family eventually moved to Birmingham and he played for Ramsey high school. His senior year he decided to play for VMI, as I understand it…until Coach Bryant paid his Mama a visit and they sat around the kitchen table. That was the day that Coach Bryant convinced first Daddy’s mama, and then Daddy, that it would be a great idea to take the entire Ramsey backfield to Nashville to play ball. It was something he never regretted.

    When Coach Bryant settled in Alabama, Daddy became a ‘Bama fan for life. My Great Aunt Rosie was not happy, her family was the Jordan in Jordan-Hare stadium. Alabama-Auburn games were vocal, but the love of the game held them all together. I miss my Daddy, but I know he and Coach Bryant were up in Heaven cheering like crazy yesterday, and it makes my heart smile to think of them watching from on high. My son was having a heart attack watching down here.

    Roll, Tide, Roll!

    Reply
  27. Dee - December 2, 2018 4:29 pm

    Sean, I’m not even a football fan but this warms my heart and brings a smile to my face. Thank you! Please don’t stop blogging!! I savor every post and look forward to them.

    Reply
  28. Pat - December 2, 2018 4:53 pm

    Sounds like you and the cashier found a proxy father and son for each other. I’m sure that National Geographic magazine was as good an excuse as any to go back to the store. God bless you Sean for thinking of the cashier!

    Reply
  29. Carol - December 2, 2018 5:18 pm

    I hope you and this man become friends.
    He sure needs someone like you. And I’m sure you’d be the best friend anybody could have!
    I watched the game alone GO DAWGS!
    Wasn’t much fun , daughter and I texted a few times during it,
    Usually I put a movie on and just switch back and forth for the score!
    Must better to watch with someone!!
    Glad for your win Sean. !
    Love ya!
    P.S. Rest of the night I spent in the bathroom with the dogs
    Hiding from the weather and scared to death !
    My fault. I told God I would trust him to keep me safe and then I took it out of his hands and drove myself crazy scared!!!

    Reply
  30. Susie, as well - December 2, 2018 6:43 pm

    I agree with Trina V. So proud of Jalen Hurts, and you Sean, you have a heart of gold.

    Reply
  31. Patricia Gibson - December 2, 2018 7:12 pm

    It was a great game! Love ya Sean!

    Reply
  32. Leslie - December 2, 2018 7:27 pm

    My Daddy and I watched our Bulldogs play every chance we got. If I wasn’t there with him I would call to cheer or commiserate with him. He’s been gone almost a year and I miss him on football Saturdays more thank any other day.
    Thanks for this sweet story.
    Go Dawgs – maybe next year!

    Reply
    • Pete marovich - December 2, 2018 8:10 pm

      One word descibes Jalen. Character

      Reply
  33. shannon sligar - December 2, 2018 8:22 pm

    I cried, too. I wore my Aunt Helen’s Alabama sweatshirt and cried. She died in August of 2012. She would have loved Jalen Hurts and been very shocked that I could wear her sweatshirt. I cried because I couldn’t call my daddy and hear him say “I knew Alabama couldn’t win by 13 points against Georgia.” He died in July of 2015. I’ve somehow managed to help raise an Alabama football fanatic in the state of Georgia who takes a lot of jabs before these big games. But, he stays true to Alabama and Grandpa Rex would be very proud of him. And this afternoon, I found the letter I received from Bear Bryant in December of 1978 and yes, I cried again. Roll Tide!

    Reply
  34. Linda - December 2, 2018 8:35 pm

    You did it again Sean, I laugh so hard I cried and then you made me cry again. ROLL TIDE

    Reply
  35. elainenkarrh - December 2, 2018 9:28 pm

    Yesterday was a great day for me,too! Not only did the Crimson Tide win,but I got to watch the entire game with my Daddy,and that was a priceless gift I will never forget.It’s the small things in life that matter the most. Thank you,Sean for what you do!!

    Reply
  36. Ruth Watts - December 3, 2018 12:21 am

    Great story Shawn. I watched the game as an Alabama fan, it was nerve wracking until the end. I believe it was a God thing because of Jalen’s faithfulness God was faithful . Imagine the hurt Jalen felt losing the QB position to Tua last year in the champion game. However, he stayed with Bama he and Tua are good friends, supporting each other. Also both are Christians always giving God the credit for their success. Jalen worked very hard to improve himself and only got to play a few minutes in each game. Tua is a great Qb and played with a sprained ankle until he couldn’t play anymore. He also made a few passes that were on target but were dropped by players that just don’t drop. Why, I think because of God’s plan for Jalen. I cried like a baby and thanked our Lord when Jalen made the winning touchdown, because I was so happy for him. I believe!!! Proud that you went back to the store to see that man, you are also a blessing!

    Reply
    • Ruth Watts - December 3, 2018 12:23 am

      Sorry Sean, not Shawn!!

      Reply
  37. Emily - December 3, 2018 1:54 am

    I always love reading your stuff! Keep it up! Thank you so much!

    Reply
  38. Stuart - December 3, 2018 4:31 am

    College football has had a sort of magic for me since I first heard Larry Munson call a game for the Bulldogs when I was a kid. I get all nostalgic and venomous at the same time.
    Here’s hoping that Oklahoma beats the brake shoes off of Alabama.
    A happy ending to 2018.

    Reply
  39. Estelle Davis - December 3, 2018 5:27 am

    It was a good game. And the Georgia fans were gracious in defeat. Now is the time for Alabama fans to show how gracious they can be in winning. I was for neither team. But now was the time to show others and our children how to act like adults.

    Reply
  40. Jack Quanstrum - December 4, 2018 12:51 am

    Wonderful story!

    Reply

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