The No.1 Fan
Published 8:23 pm Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Go ahead and ask Robert Williams if there’s a bigger Bearcats fan than him living in Bainbridge.
“If there is, I’d like to meet him,” he’ll say with a laugh.
His answer makes clear who holds that title, and he doesn’t take it for granted.Williams, 70, has been going to Bearcat football and basketball games since 1975. After moving to Bainbridge four years earlier, he had only listened to games on the radio. One day he finally took a chance and went with some friends from church.
“After that, I just got hooked,” he said.
It snowballed from there. He was traveling to both home and away games, chipping i for gas with friends and driving as far as Columbus or Milledgeville to watch the Bearcats.
His wife, Katie, timed him every time he would leave.
“Every time I went off to a game, she timed me,” Williams said. “She said, ‘That’s my three hours.’ I wanted her to go places, too. Her and her friends went shopping and walking and stuff. They would go to yard sales. She didn’t like sports. I can understand that. If you don’t like sports, you don’t want to be around them.”
If a big game came on TV, Williams would have to switch to another room to watch it. His wife couldn’t stand sitting in the same room with it on. But she never got in the way of Williams and his growing passion for the Bearcats.
Every game, Kate would shoo her husband out the door. She knew he loved spending time with his friends, watching sports.
“She’d say, ‘Go on, then,’ because she knew I liked it,” Williams said. “She would rather see me go on than sit around the house and be grumpy. She knew I was going with good people.”
Katie died two-and-a-half years ago. Williams thinks of her everyday. He likes to believe she’s finally watching the Bearcats with him from heaven.
Williams was born in Donalsonville
and moved to Phoenix City, Ala., six months later. It didn’t matter Auburn was only 35 miles away from him. Williams is a Crimson Tide fan. He always has been and he always will be.
Inside his closet hangs a line of crimson and purple T-shirts, sweatshirts and collared shirts. Each one has a different memory.
“This one was from the state championship year,” he said about one shirt as he pulled it down and laid it on the bed. Its purple dye is faded, but the gold letters still shine.
The year was 1982, and the Bearcats had a perfect season under Coach Ralph Jones. The state championship game in Gainseville against the Gainseville High School Red Elephants was a rainy mud bath. The Bearcats played through the elements and won 7-6.
Sure enough, Williams was in the stands.
“That was amazing,” he said. “You couldn’t even see the field out there, but we went. I loved it. That’s my favorite Bearcat memory.”
Williams continued going to games for the next decade. In 1993, he retired from Amaco Fabrics and Fibers due to a muscle disability in his back. During his rehab, he listened to the Bearcats on the radio, just like the early days. When he recovered, he had all the time in the world to watch Bainbridge sports.
“My wife said I can go to all of them now,” Williams said. “I said I guess I could.”
These days, he travels to games with Pete Stewart, a good friend from church. Williams invited Stewart to join him for a Bearcat basketball game two years ago. They’ve gone to every game together since.
“He loves to watch them whether they win or lose,” Stewart said.
The atmosphere of Bearcat basketball and football games keeps Williams feeling calm. It’s his favorite way to unwind with friends.
“It relaxes you,” Williams said. “You feel good, and relax and have a good time. We just go and have fun cutting up and laughing. I go in there and buy me a bag of popcorn and I’m good to go.”