Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I haven't posted much.

Sorry. And this is a long one.

I met Dale 23 years ago when I was 13. His step son Joe was my best friend and I was over at their house a lot. Dale scared me when I first met him because he yelled a lot. But I guess I eventually grew on Dale. He was is an Alabama fan and I am an Alabama fan so we had that in common. I also really liked the music he grew up listening to (Beatles, Bad Company, Pink Floyd, etc).

Dale was an usher at Legion Field. When I was 17 he invited me to come and usher with him. Joe was not that much into football. The first two games I had to usher up in the section (which was really boring). Dale promoted me to the tunnel with him for the Tennessee game. This was the 1991 season. This was the first Tennessee game I had ever seen live. It was magic. There is something that stirs within me when I see the leaves starting to turn in the fall. All of the crimson and orange in the hills makes me think of this game (which is supposed to be on the 3rd Saturday in October). Danny Woodsen got hurt and a freshman named Jay Barker took over and never gave up that spot.

I ushered Legion Field games with Dale from 1991 to 1999. I saw the first SEC Championship game in 1992. It was cold and windy. I remember clearly (which is amazing considering the "anti-freeze" I had imbibed throughout the game) Antonio Langham returning an interception 21 yards for the winning touchdown. I remember screaming at him to come to poppa as he ran toward our end zone. The sections that we ushered were always the visiting section so we got to hang out with the fans of others schools. Tennessee fans were always cordial (believe it or not). Auburn fans were always good to us. Auburn students on the other hand are animals who should be locked up on game day. They were sit where ever they wanted and I spent most of the game ushering them from seats they commandeered from other people. One time this little old lady asked me to remove a student from her seat. The little punk started yelling at me about what a dump this was and how bad his seats were.

Little Punk: My seats are (expletive) horrible.
Me: I don't care.
Little Punk: This isn't (expletive) fair.
Me: See that little old lady over there? She has to stand up because you are in her seat.

He said some other stuff but I ended the conversation with a promise that I would have his little butt thrown out of the stadium if I had to deal with him again. I couldn't enjoy the game because those animals didn't think the rules of seating applied to them. Much to Kara's dismay and frustration I say every time we watch an Auburn game together and I see the students, "Get in your freaking seat." Kara is not pleased.

I have watched almost every Alabama game on TV (and in many cases live) since 1991 with Dale.

I found out July 10 of this year that Dale had a Stage 3 brain tumor. Inoperable and terminal. When I found out I tried to wrangle some Va Tech/Alabama tickets in the Georgia Dome. I found out a little later that he would not be able to make the trip even if I could have gotten tickets. Dale bought tickets to the 1999 SEC Championship in Atlanta. It was a great time. The guy sitting next to me had been drinking since early that morning. When he got to the game he traded beer for hot dogs and ate the entire time. Every time Alabama would score he would turn to me, scream Roll Tide, and spray partially chewed hot dog all over me. I felt as if I had know the guy my entire life.

I went to watch the Va Tech game over at Dale's that night. He wasn't loud at all. His hair is still growing back from the surgery to remove as much as they safely could. He was so sweet and tender to the people around him (which anyone who knows Dale would know is uncharacteristic). Later that night Lynn (Dale's wife) asked me to speak at Dale's memorial service. I am honored and humbled by this request.

Dale and I were talking during the game and he was puzzled by why he still cares so much about Alabama. The only answer he could come up with was it must be in his blood. I guess that is about right. It is in my blood too. I have worn the same jersey (#81) to most Alabama games (live or on TV). I have worn the same hat all that time. I'm afraid football will not be the same when Dale goes.

I expressed this to Kara as we were walking up the ramp into the upper deck this past weekend in Tuscaloosa. She said I have to pass this tradition down to my boys. Alabama Football is about more than football to me. It is about family. And family ain't always about blood. Dale is more a part of my family than some of my family.

If you pray, please pray for Dale, Lynn, Ryan, and Joe. Pray that Alabama can win another championship if only for the sake of a man that has followed them as long as he can remember.

Roll Tide. Calm down Dale.


Chris Barnette said...

I think a lot of people go a lifetime without making a friend like you have in Dale. I pray that the Lord lets him stick around a little bit longer and lets him see Bama when another National Title. Good post

Benita said...

Great post! Will definitely keep him in our prayers. He will get 2 honors when he leaves this world behind...seeing Jesus and talking to "the Bear". Roll Tide!