A League of Her Own: Pilgrimage to ‘Mecca’
by SARALYN NORKUS Banner Sports Writer
Nov 26, 2013 | 505 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
By now it is fairly common knowledge that I am an oddball of a fan; born and raised in Michigan, relocated to Tennessee and still “somehow” became a diehard Alabama fan.

Well, up until last month I had never been to a college football game. There have never been any trips to the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., or Spartan Stadium in Lansing for this girl, because up until I moved to Tennessee for school I really didn’t care a lick about college football.

As we all know, that changed within two years of being in SEC-land and I soon found myself a member of the loyal legion of Crimson Tide fans.

It may have taken me a whopping six years, but I was finally able to make the pilgrimage down to the Alabama version of Mecca, and got to see the Tide play in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

On Oct. 23, I made the 3 1/2-hour drive down to Tuscaloosa to watch Alabama host Tennessee in SEC rivalry action. The trials and tribulations of how I even secured myself tickets to this game is Homer-esque enough to merit a column on its own, but what matters is that 24 hours before the game and thanks to assistant sports editor Joe Cannon, I finally secured my lower bowl, face value tickets.

I was accompanied on this first time visit to T-town by my editor’s wife and diehard Vols fan, Lynnae Roberts.

The drive down went smooth enough and we were able to navigate through the game-day traffic with little to no struggles. Sure there was traffic, but it was at least moving.

Parking was secured about half a mile from the stadium, where we paid $25 to “park” a.k.a. wedge my small car into an even smaller space in some random apartment complex.

We had to meet up with the person who sold us the tickets at the Bear Bryant statue, so there was no time to partake in any tailgating festivities prior to the game.

It was while walking around Bryant-Denny Stadium that I finally grasped just how large a major college football stadium really is. Those things are MASSIVE!

I have been to numerous arenas as well as a couple NFL stadiums before, but the size of those pales in comparison to what I saw in Tuscaloosa.

We got inside with no issues at all, and then joined the throngs of folks trying to make it to their seats.

You all know how that game went. Alabama trounced Tennessee, whose team apparently didn’t feel like even showing up.

If there is one thing I hate, it’s a blowout game.

I had hoped that following their incredible victory over South Carolina, the Vols would at least hang in there for the first half. No such luck.

As the game went on you could actually hear me going, “Come on Tennessee, at least get ONE touchdown. Just one!”

While the team was lackluster on the field, the Pride of the Southland Marching Band was incredible. At least you have an awesome band, Vols fans!

It was surreal actually being in Tuscaloosa for an Alabama game — I was actually there, among my people being able to yell “ROLL TIDE” as loud as I wanted without garnering any dirty looks from those around me. Ok, perhaps Lynnae rolled her eyes at me one or two or three or four times.

I was in Crimson Tide paradise, but even paradise has some downfalls.

Now I’m probably going to sound like a “bad” Alabama fan, but overall I really wasn’t that impressed with the stadium. While the inside and the field looked great, the concourse left oh so much to be desired, besides bathrooms — there were plenty of those available which is always nice.

Since I have only been down there once perhaps someone will be able to correct me on this, but the innards of the stadium are just so bland. No pictures of championship winning teams, no homages to Bear Bryant or Nick Saban, no team colors.

I didn’t go in through the front main entrance, so maybe that is why I was so underwhelmed when entering Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The only merchandise I was able to find was set up in a little tent. The food offering was bland, only hot dogs, some kind of specialty chips, pretzels that they ran out of, sodas and water. Where were the specialty foods that we all love to partake in when we go to sporting events?

Also, out of all the food stands near my section, only one window took credit or debit cards. While that’s all fine and dandy, it became quite a nuisance because I could not locate a single ATM.

The concourse was also very small and narrow, making it hard to navigate throughout the 100,000 or so fans.

Perhaps my adventures in professional sports venues have spoiled me, but for a 15-time national championship team I expected oh so much more in Tuscaloosa.

I was assured by Lynnae that Neyland Stadium was a much better stadium multiple times throughout the day.

Sadly, the warnings I had received about the traffic leaving the games proved true to life, as it took close to an hour and a half just to get out of the city limits.

So now you’re probably wondering why I’m writing about my Alabama adventure a month after it occurred — I promise you, there’s a really good reason.

One of my friends has been bugging me to go to a Vols game for years now. This past Saturday, I actually ventured up to Knoxville for the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game.

Back when we bought these tickets no one had a clue that it would turn into such an important game for the Vols. All they had to do was beat Vandy and then Kentucky and they would finally get back to a bowl game.

Again, as you all know, that didn’t happen. Anyways, let me regale you with my adventures in the heart of Volunteer territory.

First, the drive to Knoxville is much easier due to the shorter distance. We got up there, paid our $25 to park about three-fourths of a mile from Neyland Stadium, and then were greeted by a small group of tailgaters who immediately offered up a can of beer and a red solo cup.

Hello tailgating, I didn’t get to partake in any of your activities in Tuscaloosa.

After finishing my adult beverage, my friend and I walked down to the main food strip, got our grub on and then high-tailed it to the Vol Walk.

The Vol walk was pretty cool to see, but I would have found it more enjoyable if I was actually a Tennessee fan.

We made the short trip to the stadium amidst a sea of orange; oh so much orange. It was like being at a construction worker convention, honestly!

The first thing I noticed when I got into Neyland was that there was a merchandise store — an actual store that you could walk into.

Then there was the multitude of food vendors who were actually offering different types of food. Oh, and rows of ATMs were accessible too!

I was instantly impressed, simply because of the sports fan creature comforts that were in front of my eyes.

The only thing Neyland lacked enough of was bathrooms, but then again that’s basically typical at a sporting event.

We got to our seats in the corner of the lower bowl and I noticed that it wasn’t as “fancy” as Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Since I’m not a Tennessee fan, I expected the cold weather to really put a damper on the evening. Surprisingly, I was having so much fun throughout the game that it really wasn’t a major factor.

I haven’t laughed that hard in a while, as basically anything that could’ve gone wrong for the Vols did. Why don’t they just start referring to themselves as the Murphy’s Law of college football teams?

I feel Vols fans are a bit nicer and more down to earth than Tide fans, but I guess when you’ve had to suffer through so many bad seasons you tend to band together for moral support.

At the end of the whole Tennessee game-day experience, I can safely say that I had fun. Imagine that, an Alabama fan having fun at a Tennessee game.

What I didn’t enjoy was the traffic getting out of the UT area. It was beyond nightmarish, but again, I didn’t expect anything less.

Due to the fun I had at the game, I would like to go out on a limb and say that if a former boyfriend had actually taken me to a Vols game like he always talked about all those years ago, I probably would’ve been swayed to the orange side.

He never did though, and alas, I was fully and 100 percent swept away with the Tide. Perhaps I should thank him, though; orange is definitely not a good color on me.

You Tennessee fans most definitely know how to have a good time on a fall football Saturday, even if the temperatures are sub-Arctic.

I respect your struggle Vol nation, and I hope in the near future you will have a team to actually be proud of.

I would like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! May you spend it with those closest to you and may your pants be made of a stretchy material.

Here’s hoping that my Lions can actually pull off a win over the Packers. That would be quite the Thanksgiving miracle.

To the Black Friday shoppers out there, let’s not get too crazy now, folks! Also, to those who will actually partake in Thanksgiving shopping: You should be ashamed of yourselves and you know exactly why. Unless you burned the turkey there is no reason to be out shopping on Thanksgiving.

Oh and one final thing: ROLL TIDE ROLL, lets win that Iron Bowl, boys!