Skip to main content
Publish date:

After Chaotic 2020 Season, Alabama Fans, Team Ready for Sense of Normalcy

Crimson Tide plays Mercer in its home opener Saturday with full stadium capacity, tailgating.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Last November, Tommy Ray of Huntsville was standing outside Bryant-Denny Stadium chatting with a man selling programs for the Iron Bowl.

Ray attended every Alabama game in 2020, but as he glanced around the outside of the stadium he was stunned.

“I turned to the guy and said, ‘would you believe we are less than two hours from kickoff for and Alabama-Auburn game and there is just one person standing out here?’” Ray said.

How to watch Alabama vs. Mercer

There were several of those type moments for Ray and other Crimson Tide fans in 2020. COVID-19 put restrictions on fans with no tailgating, limited stadium capacity of around 20,000 and mask mandates; players were routinely tested and had limited practice time in the preseason.

It was a year unlike any other, and Ray should know. He’s attended 645 Alabama football games and 619 straight since 1972.

“It was a season to write home about and a different experience for sure,” Ray said.

Ray was amazed that a season was completed.

“I walked out of the national championship game with such a relief,” he said. “I walked out of the stadium and just exhaled, just thinking about what all we went through with Covid, playing 13 games and the national championship game. I just felt blessed we were able to have a season and win another championship.”

Alabama fan Tommy Ray

Alabama fan Tommy Ray of Huntsville has attended 619 straight Crimson Tide football games, dating to 1972. He will be in town Saturday for Alabama vs. Mercer.

Ray knew it was going to be a crazy football season in Week 1 when Alabama visited Missouri. Ray and his wife were in the upper deck and arrived early. No one was within 20 feet of the couple and Ray lowered his mask.

“The usher swooped down and got in my face,” Ray said. “He didn’t ask me, he told me, ‘put that mask on.’ He stood the whole game watching me. They were the most relentless ushers I have ever seen in my life.”

It’s going to be a different fan experience this season. Stadium capacity is back to full, tailgating returns and the Crimson Tide will be cheered as they arrive at the stadium at the Walk of Champions.

Read More

"I'm really excited about being able to play at home this week," Alabama coach Nick Saban said in a press conference this week. "It's great to be back in Bryant-Denny Stadium and have the fans back. It's great for our players, it's great for our fans."

The Million Dollar Band is also back. The Alabama band did perform in the stands last season, but not at halftime.

“The most important thing for my wife was she really missed the band and having them march on the field,” Ray said.

Ray has never been one for tailgating, so its return for 2021 doesn’t affect him. For Andy Saab of Birmingham, tailgating and the college football atmosphere were always something special.

“We usually set up and have a TV and everything,” said Saab, who has been a season ticket holder since Mike Shula was head coach. “I missed the tailgating. They said no tailgating (last year) and I didn’t abuse it, but a buddy and me would sit in a chair and have a sandwich and a cold beer.”

The unique season was not too upsetting for Saab, who attended the Georgia and Texas A&M games. He did enjoy the easy access to parking and the elbow room that came with limited capacity. And even though college football will have a sense of normalcy this season, it won’t be different for Saab.

His 90-year-old mother-in-law lives with him and his wife, which makes life difficult in this Covid era. With the Delta variant lingering, attending Alabama football games is not a guarantee for Saab.

At Alabama, Wide Receiver Jameson Williams Already Part of the Family

“I’m vaccinated, and if I get it, it will just be a mild case, but I don’t know if she would be able to handle it,” Saab said. “So, I am still up in the air about how I’m going to do this season."

Saab’s situation is a reminder that just because college football is back, the risk is not gone. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin tested positive for Covid before the Rebels’ season opener with Louisville and stayed home.

Earlier this week, Georgia coach Kirby Smart reported several of his players contracted Covid and won’t play in Saturday’s home opener with UAB.

Saab won’t be in Tuscaloosa on Saturday for the home opener with Mercer, but wants to attend as many home games as possible, and is ‘definitely’ going to Gainesville for Alabama vs. Florida. But he’s not taking any chances.

“Probably what will happen is I will go to the games and my wife will not,” he said. “When I get home, I’ll get tested and keep my distance. I’m glad the rest of the world is getting back to normal, but it’s still not free and clear for us.”