By the time it's finally football season, we'll forget. Well, some of us will. Not you in Alabama. Not you elsewhere in the South, either. You'll never forget that April day when a tornado storm played hopscotch from hell, jumping here and there and killing at least 337, injuring many more, destroying thousands of homes.
|Tornadoes left swaths of Tuscaloosa and the South in ruins. (Getty Images)|
Not me. I don't want to forget what happened Wednesday in Alabama, and in other states in the South. And this column will help me with that, because Google doesn't forget. This column will be here when it's football season and lots of us -- those of us who grieved from afar for Alabama -- have moved on from the second-deadliest tornado storm in U.S. history.
This column will remind me in August, if I've been tempted to turn the page, that I want the Alabama football team to win the 2011 national championship.
It's a superficial thing, I know. A football championship? Good God, man, people died. And you want Alabama to win a football title? Like that'll help?
Yes. I do. Because it will.
It won't fix what happened to that state, no. It's not a fair trade, or anything resembling a fair trade. But in some ways it's the best we can hope for, beyond hoping for rescue-and-relief magic from government agencies, insurance companies and people around the country who are giving millions. Football is a morale booster, nothing more, but no state loves its football like that one. In Alabama, football is the state's comfort food.
And we've seen what a little football magic can do for a devastated community. We saw it in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As those folks put together their ruined homes, they rallied around their hapless NFL franchise and saw the damndest thing happen. The Saints, the least successful franchise in football, went from worst to first in 2006 in the NFC South, stayed competitive for two years, then won the Super Bowl.
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And New Orleans celebrated, celebrated harder and longer than most folks celebrate a Super Bowl title, because that wasn't just a football team winning a trophy. That was a community rallying, reveling, refusing to give in. The Saints weren't just playing in New Orleans. They were New Orleans.
Now it's Alabama's turn. The Crimson Tide can do for that state what the Saints did for New Orleans. And I mean no disrespect to the folks from Auburn, who suffered just as surely as Alabama fans suffered. This wasn't a discriminating tornado. This monster went after everyone in that state, and Auburn coach Gene Chizik and more than a dozen of his players visited a shelter in mercilessly hit Pleasant Grove to distribute water and goodwill.
There is no way to rate destruction -- this town got it worse than that town -- and I'm not trying to do it here. But Tuscaloosa was hit as hard as any city in the South, and it is the home of the Crimson Tide. And let's acknowledge this fact, too: Alabama is the state university. Auburn is impossibly big there, but Alabama is somehow bigger, which means a title for the University of Alabama would mean more, state-wide, than a repeat title for Auburn. That's just a theory, but it feels right.
And I'd like the people in Tuscaloosa, people all over that state, to feel something special next season. While the rest of us have moved on, they'll still be digging out of this tragedy. And what happened to Tuscaloosa in particular was astoundingly tragic. More than one out of every 80 folks in that college town of 83,000 was killed (36) or injured (990).
"Tuscaloosa will never be the same," Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters.
Saban commissioned his players to do something about it. Get out in the community, he told them. Be a presence. Hand out water. Give away clothing. Listen to people, the same people who cheered for Alabama last season and will no doubt do it again this season. Saban used his platform at the NFL Draft to urge any Alabama players watching on TV to lift up the people in that state as the people in that state have lifted up the Crimson Tide over the years. Saban wasn't just talking, either. In the storm's immediate aftermath, when a report surfaced that volunteers were needed at a local community center, hundreds showed up to help. One of them was Nick Saban.
Five Alabama students are dead. One of them, Ashley Harrison, was the girlfriend of Alabama football player Carson Tinker, who suffered a broken wrist in the storm. The daughter of former Alabama player Shannon Brown, an All-SEC defensive tackle in 1995, was killed in Tuscaloosa. Loryn Brown was 21.
A national championship won't bring anyone back. And it won't rebuild a single home. But there are people in Alabama who don't have much more today than the shirt on their back. Those folks love their football team in ways you and I can't even imagine. So I'm asking the Alabama football team to do two things for those people: Keep showing up with water or clothes or a listening ear.
And bring home the 2011 national championship.