What a difference a year makes!

Published 6:50 pm Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A year ago I was on my way to Scottsdale, Ariz., to watch my beloved Auburn Tigers play and eventually win the National Championship. What an extraordinary time that was.

This year, I am flying to California on the same day. Thanks to modern technology I listened to ESPN on the satellite television on the plane the entire way across the county. Eighty-five percent of the content was about the BCS game between Alabama and LSU.

When I arrived in Los Angeles and rented a car, I picked up the Paul Finebaum Show on the radio. As a reluctant listener to Finebaum, I nevertheless felt at home listening to the Alabama-based radio commentator while in California. Granted, he makes me furious with his Alabama leanings versus Auburn, but he was still a friendly voice across the country.

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I was struck by the extraordinary prices when we went to the BCS Championship Game last year. This year was not any better with the tickets ranging from a low of $1,750 to a high of over $4,500. Let me make this clear. It almost cost as much for a couple to attend the game in the end zone as it would be to send a child to the university for a semester.

Once you got tickets to the game, you had to figure out where to stay. Between the Championship Game and the Saints game there were literally no rooms in the inn. Restaurants were booked completely all over New Orleans.

One of my favorite restaurants in all of New Orleans, Commander’s Palace, was so full that the owner turned down a request for a table for four from his own mother. Brennan’s, an institution in the French Quarter, known for its Bananas Foster and many other dishes, was rented for the entire day by LSU followers.

Remembering the price of our last visit there, I am aware that these LSU supporters shelved out a chunk for the privilege of eating on Bourbon Street. Having been in their position as a frenzied supporter a year ago, I totally understand their lack of common sense.

By the time I arrived in Santa Barbara, I was excited about the game. Still, I understood that I wasn’t watching in the heartland of the SEC. No one was wearing team colors of any kind. Sports bars did not advertise anything about the game. The only hat I saw of either team was an LSU hat, being worn by a waitress that really didn’t support either team.

Our dinner reservations were changed, partially at my insistence, to include a place that had a television to broadcast the game. The people around me clearly didn’t know the tension and enthusiasm I had about the game.

I finally asked them what teams they supported and they replied with a long laundry list of teams across the country. They included Washington, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Appalachian State, Purdue, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Notre Dame, University of Southern California, and Florida.

With the exception of Florida, there were no people to understand the proud tradition of Southeastern Football Conference football. There were two supporters of Missouri, a soon to be member of the SEC, but they really don’t yet understand what they are getting into.

Of all these friends of mine from about the country, they voted for LSU versus Alabama by a vote of 12 to 8. Clearly they were disappointed as Alabama slowly and methodically dismantled the No. 1 team in the country.

This leads me to the most difficult part of this column. As a lifelong Auburn supporter it is hard to pull for Alabama. Anyone that grew up in that state knows what I am talking about.

When Alabama lost to LSU during the regular season, I told my wife that several things had to happen for Alabama to get back into the title hunt. Indeed, all those things did happen, much to the disappointment of other one-loss teams.

Watching the game tonight, in Santa Barbara, Calif., in a mixture of non-SEC fans I came to realize just how special college football is in the Southeast. It is part of our culture and tradition.

I couldn’t bring myself to yell “Roll Tide” during the game, but I had pride nevertheless. I was proud that the SEC had won the national championship for the sixth time in a row. I was proud that a team from my home state of Alabama had won the national championship for the third time in a row.

Two teams from the SEC were fighting for the title as the best team in the country. I’ll only say it here and don’t intend for it to become a habit, but for this year the Alabama Crimson Tide is the best team in the country. Roll Tide.

Wait until next year!

Dan Ponder can be reached at dan@donalsonvillenews.com.