The title above undoubtedly sounds like a paradox. 

It’s not like The GOAT made the last 17 years of my house-divided marriage easy. My husband and I do pretty well … until the Friday after Thanksgiving. Once the Iron Bowl begins, we traditionally watch in separate rooms – sometimes separate levels of the house. 

During Saban’s tenure, Alabama won 12 of 17 Iron Bowls – sending me to drown my sorrows in café mochas at Starbucks several times at halftime. In 2022, it was so tense in our house during the game that my husband and I decided not to speak until the next morning on the way to church. We’re seriously devoted to our teams – more so than each other on one day out of the year. 

So, why my gratitude toward this man who made Iron Bowls, SEC championships, and National Championships utterly painful for nearly two decades? Like many mamas, it comes down to a little boy who grew up to love the Crimson Tide. But this little boy had a different start. 

My firstborn had beautiful blond hair and the bluest eyes – but he stopped meeting developmental milestones around 12 months old. A nervous first-time mom, I watched him closely as he failed to start speaking, waving, or pointing. My concerns were brushed off by a former pediatrician but were valid to a friend at church, who got us an appointment with the best speech pathologist in Birmingham. The latter encouraged us to get my son evaluated by Mitchell’s Place, where he was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). This is generally a precursor to Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. 

To make a long story not as long, he went to preschool at Mitchell’s Place, receiving the best early intervention possible. He learned how to talk. He learned how to play. He LEARNED. 

As he learned, we noticed that he had a proclivity for numbers. He liked writing them down repetitively. He learned to tell time early. He learned to count easily. Addition and subtraction came naturally to him. So my husband and I resigned ourselves to the probability that sports and athletics would never really interest him. 

But we failed to recognize how visible numbers are in football. One day, our roughly 7-year-old son began writing in a notebook while sitting in front of the television watching the game. I didn’t think much about it until the game was over when I picked up the notebook and saw multiple numbers divided into sections. I noticed players’ numbers, numbers of downs, stats, and various scores as the game progressed. I showed it to my husband. We were stunned! We liked football and our son liked numbers. Now we could watch football guilt-free! But that’s all we thought would develop. Boy, were we wrong. 

My husband bought our son some Alabama shirts and paraphernalia – who was I to deny this joy to a father? At first, that was all it was – something sporty to wear. But in 2012 when our oldest was eight and Alabama won back-to-back Nattys, he asked for a new Alabama jersey.

Speechless does not even begin to describe our reactions. He got the jersey – as well as a hoodie, pajama pants, a football helmet, a poster, and some Alabama sheets. Thanks to the WINNING and the fun that comes with winning, he was all in. 

Over the years, my husband took our son to fan days, games, and autograph signings. One year, the lines were so long that our son got the signatures of a few freshmen players on his football. A few years later, he excitedly showed me that those guys were seniors named Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith, who helped the Crimson Tide win yet another National Championship and a Heisman trophy.

Our son is now 19 and an incredible blessing to us. By the grace of God, he graduated high school, is taking college classes, has worked a part-time job, was a high school Cross Country runner, and ran XC his first semester of college as well. And he is still a HUGE Crimson Tide fan.

Thus, he was a bit disappointed on Jan. 10 when the coach who unknowingly recruited his allegiance retired. But he’s a faithful fan and looks forward with hope to the DeBoer years. 

So, a personal thank you to Coach Saban for doing more than just winning games and creating a dynasty. Thank you for giving a young boy with a tough start a sincere love of football and the Crimson Tide. Thank you for the joy I watched him experience for years as he watched the Tide win. Though it depressed the heck out of me, it certainly was worth it. 

By the way, he has a younger brother who is an AUBURN fan, so another BIG thanks to Coach Bruce Pearl! 

C’mon Coach Freeze!

Kristin Landers is a substitute teacher and freelance writer. Landers’ previous work includes serving as Communications Director for the Alabama Policy Institute and working for Citizens Against a Legalized Lottery (CALL) to defeat legalized gambling in the state of Alabama.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].

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