Not to sound like Cate Blanchett at the beginning of "The Lord of the Rings," but the world is changed.
On Saturday, I was strolling around campus holding hands with my friend Peter's 2-year-old daughter, surrounded by roughly 90,000 people, the point was driven home. The University barely resembles the place I knew when I graduated.
It's not like I didn't know this already: Right after we graduated, the powers that be immediately set about the task of making campus a much more attractive, safer place, building and renovating buildings all over the place, limiting driving on campus and generally upgrading everything. Much like old New Yorkers, I spent much of the past decade sneering at the campus every time I visited — we all liked it the way it was, even if it was kind of terrible.
Anyway, all that to say that I have little to no memory of A-Day as a student. I remember that it existed and I'm almost certain I went a few times, but it was kind of an underground thing that only the diehards really knew about. In fact, here are the memories of A-Day that immediately come to mind:
• 1998, when I was still in high school (I won a credential to A-Day in a high school sportswriting competition) and A-Day took place in front of a crowd of about 500 because of a driving rainstorm.
• 2003, Mike Price's only game as head coach at Alabama (press box again). For reasons I cannot recall, Price loaded up all his first-team guys on the same squad; since the Tide was paper-thin because of NCAA-related attrition, the first team won 43-0. Things kind of went to hell for him after that.
That's really it. Every other year, as my friend Amanda ably pointed out, A-Day almost always took place around Easter and/or Spring Break. We were all out of town. And besides, it wasn't like it was that big a deal.
But the world is changed.
I'll say this for the A-Day experience: Since Nick Saban came to town and 'Bama fans went berserk back in the spring of 2008 — and decided they were proud of how many of them showed up for a spring game — it is one of the better experiences for a casual fan. Without all the tension that comes with a game against an actual opponent, fans can feel free to walk around and see parts of the campus they normally can't. For fans with young children, A-Day is perfect: free admission, much less chance of a fight or someone screaming violent expletives, and all the side attractions geared toward kids with no attention span.
And the impact of the A-Day crowd on a recruit can't be understated: They're looking around the stadium, seeing people dressed up, hearing the marching band play, and thinking, "This is just a (expletive) practice game." Yup.
— Obviously the actual game told us very little. Specifically, neither of this fall's prospective quarterbacks did much to distinguish himself from the other. As RBR correctly notes, the 2011 Crimson Tide offense will live or die primarily on the back of Trent Richardson, with some Marquis Maze and others sprinkled in for good measure.
As for the defense, this Alabama team looks loaded and experienced in the back end, with Upshaw, Hightower, Mosley, Nico Johnson, Jerrell Harris, Mark Barron, Robert Lester ... and so on. If I were Nick Saban I wouldn't be able to sleep nights thinking of ways to get all these guys involved.
— I know I'm supposed to have an opinion about the Nick Saban statue. But ... I ... I just can't.
(One sad note: When we finally did get around to seeing the Saban statue up close, I thought to myself, "This is one of those moments we need Matt Miller. Matt Miller would know what to say about all this.")
— It looked like Maze fell pretty hard on his shoulder in the second half on a deep ball. The initial report coming out of the game was a mild concussion, which shows what I know.
— Look, it's perfectly fine if fans want to drive down to Tuscaloosa for A-Day and tailgate like it's a real game. Lord knows, that's what Stacey and I did Saturday. But is it necessary to dress for it like it's a real game? To wear, say, your decorative leather helmet? Or your ridiculous shoulder pad/Zorro mask combination outfit that looks ridiculous even during the regular season? Or the sun dresses that cannot possibly be comfortable even when it's 95 degrees? That whole practice confuses me.
(While we're here, one more bizarre Greek related note: Multiple Old Row fraternities were throwing parties in their front yards, which they had surround with opaque black material. Apparently not only were the rest of us not invited; we weren't even supposed to look.)
— Just a note before we go: Alabama right now is competing at a championship level in nearly every sport. Its gymnastics team just won another national championship; the men's basketball just won its division (and probably should've won the NIT, for whatever that's worth); the baseball team is right in the thick of things in the SEC; the softball team is ranked near the top nationally yet again. And, of course, coach Saban's football program has won 36 games, 2 division championships, an SEC championship and a national championship in three seasons.
Like I've said before, for a moment we should at least look around. It's a great time to be a 'Bama fan.
(Much better than when I was in school, I should say.)