That old saw remains true: In the days before ESPN and the Bowl Championship Series, the hardscrabble Southern boys in crimson put a happy face on what was a divided, often-ridiculed state. Birmingham was renamed “Bombingham. Bull Connor and George Wallace made headlines with police dogs and “segregation forever” spiels. Selma and Montgomery and other locales – including Anniston – kept Alabama in the news, and not for reasons we’d like to recall.
To the rest of the nation, Alabama and its Deep South neighbors were American outposts beset with racism and all sorts of poverty. Yet, Bear’s boys, in brief glimpses on gameday, told the nation a different story about our uniquely Southern state.
History is repeating itself.
Tonight, Nick Saban’s Alabama team is in search of its second straight BCS national title and third overall in his Tuscaloosa tenure. For days, Alabama and its opponent, Notre Dame, has been a near-constant on television. ESPN expects tonight’s broadcast from Miami to set cable-television viewership records.
Alabama – the state and university – can’t buy that much airtime. And all of it, barring some unforeseen occurrence, will cast the school, its players and the state in a positive light.
We’ll take it, gladly.
The irony is that the state could use a dollop of positive publicity, just as it needed during Bear’s first decade as the Tide’s coach. Despite recent gains in employment and job creation, Alabama’s fiscal, educational and social woes are entrenched. There’s too much poverty, too much political dysfunction, too many health-related problems and too much reluctance to better ourselves through sweeping tax reform.
There’s also that little thing called the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, the state’s mean-spirited and over-reaching illegal-immigration law. That single act of the state Legislature, signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley, has brought the state an avalanche of nationwide negative attention. It has described Alabama as a xenophobic place that apparently learned little, if anything, from its segregationist past.
Repealing it would help rehabilitate that part of the state’s image.
That, we admit, has nothing to do with Saban’s Tide – nor should it. Saban’s teams have been a godsend; they’ve restored the university’s hallowed football program to national prominence, and they’ve publicized the Alabama brand as something laden with quality and class.
You don’t have to be an Alabama fan to cheer that. It’s good when our state does well. It reminds us of what we can be when we excel.