The University of Alabama

“Welcome to the University of Alabama,” says Ashley, as she shakes my hand.

Ashley is my liaison today. She is wearing a crimson dress and crimson shoes. Everyone is wearing crimson. Even the custodians are pushing crimson brooms.

Ashley leads me to my dressing room. I am doing a show at the Bryant Conference Center today.

Pinch me.

Today, I will perform in a room filled with six hundred bazillion people. I will play my guitar and tell jokes about the rural singlewides from whence I sprung.

The lights are dim in the giant auditorium. The room is big enough to qualify as an aircraft hangar.

The sound guy shakes my hand. He is probably wearing a crimson underpants.

“Welcome to the University of Alabama,” he says.

The University of Alabama is not like your run-of-the-mill State-U. This place is Disney World.

Everything is big here. If you ask for a Coke, for example, they give you a two-gallon jug of Coke and several hundred shares in the Coca-Cola Company.

In the lobby of the conference center are monstrous glass cases with artifacts and oil portraits of Coach Bryant, Gene Stallings, and Joe Namath.

“This place is like the Vatican for SEC fans,” says the sound guy. “Only instead of Jesus, Mary, and Saint Peter, it’s Frank Thomas, the Bear, and Saint Nick.”

I am led into the auditorium to set up my guitar for soundcheck. Directly behind the stage is the largest video screen I’ve ever seen. The screen broadcasts gigantic slideshow photos of my face before the event.

“That’s a big screen,” I say.

“Biggest in the southeast,” says the sound guy.

My headshot is on a 32-foot, ultra-high definition, highly advanced, 4K, LED video wall that is roughly the size of a small subtropical continent. You could park a Buick in my nostrils.

“Has anyone famous ever been on this stage?” I ask the sound guy.

“Oh, sure,” he says with a laugh. “Nick Saban gets up on this stage all the time. All the Heisman Trophy winners have been here. National media fills this room whenever anything happens.”

“Wow,” I say.

“Yeah,” he says, a smile plays at the corner of his mouth. “Wow.”

And I’m wondering what in the name of Derrick Henry I’m doing here. I have no educational pedigree. I am a guy without qualifications.

Still, my life has intersected with the University of Alabama over and again. My father was a big fan of Alabama football. So am I. My wife bleeds houndstooth.

As it happens, I was born during the third quarter of Coach Bryant’s Liberty Bowl. His farewell game. The Crimson Tide did battle with the Fighting Illinis. I came into the world after Jesse Bendross ran an 8-yard touchdown and Peter Kim kicked a field goal.

At the moment of my earthly presentation, there was a television in the corner, broadcasting the game.

My father was sitting before the TV. His nose, an inch from the screen.

My mother was huffing. Throughout my delivery, the doctor would occasionally ask my mother, “How are we doing?”

At which point my father would answer, “Twelve to fourteen. Alabama’s ball. Third down.”

All my life I wanted to attend the University of Alabama. It was the emerald city at the end of the proverbial rainbow. The big dream.

All my friends attended Alabama. I married into an Alabama family. I went to games with my pals. I smuggled alcohol into Bryant-Denny Stadium in well-known orifices of my body.

But guys like me don’t go to college. I am an academic nobody.

After my father died, my educational life became a colossal shipwreck. I became a dropout and an abject failure. I was a faceless ‘neck working construction, playing music in beer joints. I was one of a million guys with an Alabama “A” on the back of his 27-year-old Ford.

I went to community college as a grown man. Got my high-school equivalency. Tried to make something of myself. But there is only so much lipstick you can put on a goat.

When I finally finished college, I tried to further my education by enrolling in a small university which shall remain nameless. I dreamed of becoming a teacher someday. Maybe English or literature.

But admissions turned me down. Educational deficiencies, they said. Which was code for “sorry white trash.”

For years I believed there was a ceiling above me that could never be transcended. I believed I was without value. I hated myself.

But somehow I started writing. Somehow I became me. Despite my own deficiencies. Somehow, there were other plans for me. Apparently, you can put lipstick on a goat. Apparently all things do happen for a reason. Apparently I’m not trash. Because here I am. In Tuscaloosa dadgum Alabama.

Before the show, a member of the university English department shakes my hand. He says, “Welcome to the University of Alabama.”

And the heck of it is, I think I really am.

80 comments

  1. Bill Putnam - August 24, 2022 7:07 am

    Frank Thomas was a two sport (Football & Basebsll) Auburn Scholarship Athelete. His football coach, Pat Dye said that Thomas was the very best Tight End he ever coached, anywhere. However Thomas chose to concentrate on Baseball rather than Football, and became “The BIG HURT” with the Chicago White Sox.

    Reply
    • JOEL BLACK - August 25, 2022 12:30 am

      Can’t expect an Auburn fan to keep up with all of Alabama’s national championship coaches.

      Reply
  2. Steve McCaleb - August 24, 2022 7:36 am

    I believe the Frank Thomas Sean was referring to was the legendary football coach at the University of Alabama (1931-1946). My favorite U of A moment came what seems like a 100 years ago a very young George Wallace Junior, budding politician and drummer for his country-rock band ( The Governor’s Four) was interviewed by the legendary Dick Cavett on his talk show. When asked by Mr Cavett where he attended college Jr calmly replied “ I go to the University”. Dick was highly amused…I think for a flash he thought Jr was under the impression that there was ONLY 1 university in the state of Alabama. Well….hey ! How wrong was he ? RTR

    Reply
  3. Steve McCaleb - August 24, 2022 7:47 am

    Sean my friend, in a future posting…..please explain to the unenlightened the cultural phenomenon of the one and only Shorty Price. I cannot wait. Thanks in advance.

    Reply
  4. Melaney Douglass - August 24, 2022 7:48 am

    Roll Tide!
    Roll Sean!

    Reply
  5. Ed (Bear) - August 24, 2022 7:50 am

    Go Bulldogs! 😉

    Reply
    • Jennifer - August 25, 2022 12:22 pm

      Go Dawgs!

      Reply
  6. Debbie g - August 24, 2022 8:55 am

    What color lipstick do you put on a goat.
    I need some too 😂😂😂
    Congratulations!!!!!!!!
    Love to all

    Reply
  7. Bryan - August 24, 2022 9:07 am

    Frank Thomas is an Auburn man. Just sayin’. War Eagle!

    Reply
    • Teresa H Trammell - August 24, 2022 1:58 pm

      Not the same Frank Thomas.

      Reply
  8. Melissa Norman - August 24, 2022 9:29 am

    We all have our own story. Thank you so much for sharing yours. I am loving discovering your life’s journey in snippets.

    Reply
  9. Ann Thompson - August 24, 2022 10:14 am

    What color lipstick did the goat choose to wear? Crimson?
    I’m glad you are you. And, that you are sharing you.
    Enjoy the day!

    Reply
  10. Tom Flowers - August 24, 2022 10:35 am

    Sean, Frank Thomas went to Auburn. I doubt his likeness, in any form, is displayed on the U. of Alabama campus. Otherwise, good article.

    Reply
    • auburn tiger - August 24, 2022 1:07 pm

      Tom, another Frank Thomas played at Bama and became a coach. Not our ‘Big Hurt’ – I thought the same thing. Also, Sean – great article. But, I believe AU’s screen may be bigger… 🙂 WDE

      Reply
  11. Jean Sherrill - August 24, 2022 11:05 am

    My team…..God’s Country!! Roll Tide!! You have made it big!! Woo hoo!

    Reply
  12. cahterry - August 24, 2022 11:13 am

    RTR

    Reply
  13. Lyla Springfield - August 24, 2022 11:14 am

    Happy for you in the land of the elephant, but I so wish you were a Gator! 😉❤️🐊

    Reply
  14. Roger - August 24, 2022 11:33 am

    Roll Tide!

    Reply
  15. Jim Bryars - August 24, 2022 11:44 am

    Love it

    Reply
  16. Sister3of4 - August 24, 2022 11:58 am

    Enroll at UA! It’s not too late!! You can do it! 🎓🏆♥️

    Reply
  17. Pat Deas - August 24, 2022 12:13 pm

    Roll Tide !!!

    Reply
  18. Connie - August 24, 2022 12:13 pm

    I hope you had a great show. WAR EAGLE!

    Reply
  19. Cindy - August 24, 2022 12:19 pm

    Roll Tide!

    Reply
  20. sjhl7 - August 24, 2022 12:20 pm

    I am happy for you, Sean and I know you had a great show. WAR EAGLE!!!

    Reply
  21. Lianne - August 24, 2022 12:28 pm

    Sean-your readers know your worth and value. I hope that you do as well 💛

    Reply
  22. hbryan21 - August 24, 2022 12:41 pm

    Sean I have to know how did it go. Your story is amazing Lewis would have lovd it

    Reply
  23. Oliver Rhett Talbert - August 24, 2022 12:42 pm

    Another fun column to read, but only one letdown: I fully expected it to end with your being awarded an honorary degree after your performance.
    ‘Bout damn time. Who’s running that place anyway?

    Reply
  24. Cynthia Russell - August 24, 2022 12:45 pm

    BESTEST ONE YET!!! ROLL TIDE!!,
    BamaGal

    Reply
  25. Christine - August 24, 2022 12:59 pm

    Congratulations, you have graduated 🤩

    Reply
  26. Paul McCutchen - August 24, 2022 1:05 pm

    My uncle played at Alabama, my aunt and cousins went there, heck my dad even went there but my family are Hogs, Razorbacks what ever side mouth you want to give us. I was born and raised in Arkansas and now live in Georgia but still call the Hogs whenever they are on tv. I once worked in a shipping and receiving office in a large warehouse and I put a WPS in the upper corner of our big board with all the doors and truck numbers. On occasion, a driver would come in and ask who was the Razorback. Everyone would point at me. Just like in WWII “kilroy was here”, Razorbacks are scattered coast to coast and if we get a chance we make our mark. With our Pit Boss you better watch out because we are coming. Just in case some of the “uninformed bandwagon fans” Razorbacks play in the toughest conference, The SEC WEST.

    Reply
  27. Mary Henderson Willis - August 24, 2022 1:17 pm

    As a University of Alabama Alum, I absolutely love this. Your writing transcends any barriers. Keep writing, brother and Welcome to The University of Alabama, 😉

    Reply
  28. PecosKate - August 24, 2022 1:21 pm

    YES, YES, YES.

    Miracles still happen and our dreams can come true!!!

    Thanks for that confirmation, Sean.

    Reply
  29. JAMES W NEAREN JR - August 24, 2022 1:40 pm

    Roll Tide!

    Reply
  30. Noah Funderburg - August 24, 2022 1:47 pm

    Sean, as a 35-year employee of The University of Alabama, I am glad you enjoyed your visit. You are right, the Bryant Conference Center is quite a place. I think that large screen was installed after I retired in 2015. One correction to your text, however. The University made a big deal of the correct spelling of the work “The” in the University’s name. It has to be a capital T. So the correct spelling is “The University of Alabama.” I am sure it is not because the school thinks it is more important; well, maybe they do. I always enjoy your stories, and I am not surprised that you would be welcomed in a place that respects great writing such as you and Rick Bragg do in capturing simple people who live extraordinary lives. Come see us in Fairhope again.

    Reply
  31. Dorotha (Dot) Coltrane - August 24, 2022 1:47 pm

    My best friend and I had planned to attend the event you described, transported from Hoover on a Crimson Tide bus. She came down with COVID. I am old and have a bad back. I needed her to help me walk. We missed seeing you, and maybe getting a hug (as we have done before at the Hoover Library.) Neither of us attended the University of Alabama. We came here from neighboring states to be near our adult children and grandchildren. We would have gone to Tuscaloosa to see YOU, Sean, and to hear you sing and read words written by a real person. Remember that. ❤️❤️

    Reply
  32. Teresa Trammell - August 24, 2022 1:54 pm

    Roll Tide! You are living close enough to enroll there now! They will be lucky to have you!

    Reply
  33. Joan Mitchell - August 24, 2022 2:00 pm

    Such a good one! I wish I’d been there! And the moral is, and you said it SO perfectly, as you always do, “Don’t let anybody else tell you who you are.”

    Reply
  34. Priscilla Rodgers - August 24, 2022 2:06 pm

    I’m with Paul, WPS. By the way, Bear Bryant was an Arkansas boy!!

    Reply
  35. Jennifer Bain - August 24, 2022 2:13 pm

    Great reading today. Enjoyed it

    Reply
  36. Suzanne Mcquiston - August 24, 2022 2:21 pm

    sounds like a fabulous time.

    Reply
  37. Butch Veazey - August 24, 2022 2:26 pm

    Welcome Sean to the Capstone otherwise known as The University of Alabama. Notice the “T” in the is capitalized. We welcome you and Forest Gump’s character are two extraordinary guys bigger than life that everyone incorrectly assume graduated from Bama, but who really deserve Honorary Doctorates from The University of Alabama. Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, Roll Tide Roll!

    Reply
  38. Luis Davila-Lizardi - August 24, 2022 2:54 pm

    Well Done from one accordion player to the next.

    Reply
  39. Peggy M. Windham - August 24, 2022 2:54 pm

    You are an amazing person, Sean! It makes me sad to hear you say belittling things about yourself! You bring so much joy to others and I can’t wait to see and hear you at my church, Christ United, I. Mobile next month.
    And BTW…Roll Tide!

    Reply
  40. Carmen - August 24, 2022 3:07 pm

    You rock, Sean!! I’d say you’ve made it, with or without the University of Alabama!! But, Rolllllllllll, Tide…………, Rollllllllll, buddy!!!
    Lookin’ forward to the Columbiana show Sat. night.

    Reply
  41. K. D. Kempf Jones - August 24, 2022 3:16 pm

    Sean – Thank you! This was downright inspiring AND a fitting intro/summary of your life output of commentary and columns. Perhaps keep a copy on hand or at hand to help anyone who might want to catch-up on your life quickly (grinning the whole way, of course!). Looking forward to more! – DiAn

    Reply
  42. jachanin - August 24, 2022 3:19 pm

    You’re not a UGA fan??? Sad.

    Reply
  43. Bobby Hamil - August 24, 2022 3:30 pm

    As a proud graduate of the University of Alabama, and a loyal Sean of the South reader, you have reached the promised land, or its functional equivalent. Roll Tide!

    Reply
  44. Susan Ellen Thomas - August 24, 2022 4:05 pm

    I witnessed your wonderful performance for Olli via Zoom. I was so moved, I cried. Love your writings and glad you discovered the you that you were born to be, not what others judged you should be. Carry on! God bless.
    From a damn Yankee (lol),
    Susan

    Reply
  45. Chasity Davis Ritter - August 24, 2022 4:21 pm

    They’re dang lucky to have you too!!!

    Reply
  46. patriciasimmonstaylor - August 24, 2022 4:23 pm

    Sean, you should be teaching at The University of Alabama! You have “Arrived,” as they say! Loved this story…you are such a special person and connect with people so well, educated or uneducated…God is using you in a big way to give others hope, and to let us all know that in His eyes, we are all special! Roll Tide and keep writing…we need your words!

    Reply
  47. Kip - August 24, 2022 4:32 pm

    You give me hope Sean. I’m 44 and still hate myself. Still not found Me. Still feel trapped under the proverbial ceiling. Thank you for sharing your life.

    Reply
  48. Bubba Bingham - August 24, 2022 5:21 pm

    Dear Sean,
    You’re not a “nobody”, you’re a somebody. I’m glad you’ve moved to the Heart of Dixie. I’ll invite you to speak to the PRATTVILLE Lions club anytime you it fits your schedule (as long as it’s a 1st or 3rd Thursday 🤣).
    Keep up the good writing 👍🤝.
    Bubba Bingham
    👨‍🌾

    Reply
  49. L Rice - August 24, 2022 5:34 pm

    I love this! Who doesn’t love a good Horatio Alger story? Congratulations for putting in the work to make your dreams come to fruition.

    Reply
  50. Arnold Kring - August 24, 2022 6:51 pm

    I attended the University of Alabama, assigned there following basic training, as a member of the United States Air Force. I was on a six month’s assignment during the Korean war. I arrived in the middle of July. Bama’s football team was much less then than it is now. As a matter of fact they gave us G I’s free tickets so they would have fans in attendance. It so happened that their opening game in September was against Villanova University…..in football, not basketball. I was in attendance, since Villanova was only about ten miles away from my home in southeast Pennsylvania. Guess what? Little ole Villanova football team soundly beat the Crimson Tide that Saturday afternoon in 1951. That’s not my only rememberance of The University of Alabama. There was a sweet, lovely and pretty southern belle also enrolled that same summer. Guess what? Yes, we just happened to meet at a local church, Trinity United Methodist Church right there in Tuscaloosa. I was sent to Korea, and when I returned I was stationed at Patrick Air Force Base, Cape Canaveral, Florida. Guess what? We were married in her hometown church in Gordo, Pickins County, adjoining Tuscaloosa, in June 1953. It is now four beautiful daughters, nine grand children and five great grandchildren later. Sadly my sweet and so beautiful wife passed away almost five years ago. We had been married almost sixty four years.When this Pennsylvanie Yankee met that beautiful southern belle, who would have ever.thought that that Yankee fly boy (as she used to call me) would be writing such beautiful memories for the rest of the world to read. Thanks for allowing me to share such beautiful memories. Arnie Kring

    Reply
  51. Thames - August 24, 2022 7:02 pm

    I was there!! It was a thrill for me to hear you speak, listen to you sing, play your guitar, and tell stories as only you can. Hugging your neck and getting your autograph in two books of yours was icing on the cake. Thank you for sharing yourself with all of us. You are loved.

    Reply
  52. Brenda Hittle - August 24, 2022 7:30 pm

    Congratulations. Sean. This story makes me so happy!

    Reply
  53. MAM - August 24, 2022 7:51 pm

    I’m so happy for you! I assume you snowed the audience with your dulcet tones and guitar strums. You made it to The U of Alabama! (I came back and edited by putting a capital T on the school title.)

    Reply
  54. LIN ARNOLD - August 24, 2022 8:00 pm

    I’m not much of a sports fan … not since my kids graduated from high school. All 3 of them were very active in sports until they received that HS diploma. After that, only one remained active in sports … competitive weightlifting. He went to UGA. Athens is about an hour away. Now he is a strength & conditioning coach at a private Christian school. Plus, he has a competitive weightlifting business where he trains teenagers and young adults for the Olympics. So other than cheering for his lifters, sports just isn’t “my thing”. But if I want to ever see my grandchildren again or get a hug from my kids or my husband, well …. all I can say is “GO DAWGS!!!” (-:

    Reply
  55. April McGough - August 24, 2022 8:33 pm

    Roll Tide

    Reply
  56. Marley - August 24, 2022 9:15 pm

    Lipstick or no lipstick, you truly are a goat – greatest of all time! Thanks for sharing your writing.

    Reply
  57. cathyd001a41bbb - August 24, 2022 10:07 pm

    You rock, Sean!

    Reply
  58. Robin - August 24, 2022 10:23 pm

    You are cordially invited to return to Tuscaloosa anytime! You would be heartily welcomed!

    Reply
  59. cekey44 - August 24, 2022 10:37 pm

    You’ve done good. You are an inspiration to high school dropouts everywhere. {I am one}. It’s tough but we can overcome.

    Reply
  60. Linda Moon - August 24, 2022 10:37 pm

    There were reasons my family might’ve been considered to be “white trash”. But, unlike you, I knew I’d get out of that so-called trash can, and I did. You see, there were plenty of wadded up love letters in the bottom of it…just had to dig to find ’em. You were loved in spite of the messy trash too, Writer. I have no doubt you were welcome at the University and have been and will be welcome to many more important places, including my Inbox.

    Reply
  61. Debra Galladora - August 24, 2022 11:45 pm

    So glad you started writing…

    Reply
  62. Barbara Dunham - August 24, 2022 11:55 pm

    Sean love your columns! Just to set the record straight, Frank Thomas played Baseball at Auburn, not Bama. War Eagle!

    Reply
  63. Nancy - August 25, 2022 12:30 am

    I do so love your humor. Frank Thomas…so clever sending Alabama in orbit thinking of the more recent Frank Thomas. Just love it!!!
    How do we find out your speaking schedule. I would love to hear you.

    Reply
  64. Holly Moore - August 25, 2022 1:31 am

    Awesome Post! Congratulations on making it to OZ! We are an BAMA family with a son at the other state school (AU), so we are a very confused family! RTR

    Reply
  65. suzi - August 25, 2022 2:01 am

    You have arrived!!!
    But wait, I knew that a long time ago, Crimson Tide better step up their game….

    Reply
  66. AlaRedClayGirl - August 25, 2022 2:22 am

    Even this Auburn girl enjoyed your adventure at that other school!

    Reply
  67. Slimpicker - August 25, 2022 2:51 am

    Go Gators!

    Reply
  68. Penn Wells - August 25, 2022 3:01 am

    Congratulations
    And Go Dawgs.

    Reply
  69. Alice - August 25, 2022 9:07 am

    You have earned this, Sean , and you certainly deserve it! You have that special “something” and never again sell yourself short. Your work is appreciated and you are loved.

    Reply
  70. Craig Johnson - August 25, 2022 5:13 pm

    RTR!

    Reply
  71. Anne Trawick - August 26, 2022 3:57 am

    Sean, I’m so glad you are getting the accolades that you deserve. I knew you had “it” when I invited you to speak at the Donalsonville Woman’s Club back in the Dark Ages. Still love your story, your love of people, and the way you look at the world. I remain a huge fan.

    Reply
  72. Suzanne Scivley - August 27, 2022 4:36 am

    Yes, you are. RTR.

    Reply
  73. Patricia Gibson - August 27, 2022 12:03 pm

    You are a beacon of light to many!!!

    Reply
  74. Diane - August 27, 2022 1:46 pm

    Frank Thomas was a Pro baseball player from Auburn University not Alabama!! War Eagle!!

    Reply
  75. Mary D Hawkins - August 29, 2022 3:31 pm

    Proud to be a transplanted yankee living in the south!!! This is the last bastion of the individual. It is a coincidence, but I like your mom,
    named by first born son after Sean Connery. I felt Sean was such a manly name. Could not help but wonder if when you go to Starbucks and they write your name on a cup, do they call out SEE-ON? My poor son has to live with this.

    Reply
  76. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - August 30, 2022 6:06 am

    ❤️

    Reply

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