By Andy Staples
January 08, 2010

PASADENA, Calif. -- Dear Mom,

Greetings from the Rose Bowl. I sure wish you could see it here. I know the view from where you are is supposed to be spectacular, but this has got to be pretty close. I always dreamed that you'd get to read one of my stories in Sports Illustrated someday, but that didn't happen. So this little note will have to suffice. I hope the Internet connection is good up there.

Maybe you and the other members of the University of Alabama Alumni Association's Pearly Gates Chapter assembled at Coach Bryant's place to watch the BCS title game, but in case you didn't, your Crimson Tide won. I tried to keep my mind on the game, but I couldn't stop thinking about how much you would have loved tonight.

It would have made you sad when Texas quarterback Colt McCoy injured his shoulder, because you would have wanted your team to win against an opponent at full strength. But you would have loved Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus, whose first-quarter hit knocked McCoy from the game and whose interception -- and spin-dried return for a touchdown -- sealed the win before halftime. You always had a soft spot for the big guys. Maybe that's because you spent almost every dollar you earned in the mid-90s trying to feed an offensive lineman.

The preacher at your funeral in December 2006 nailed it when he spent a hefty chunk of the service explaining your love for college football. You watched every game, every night. You adopted South Carolina, your husband's alma mater, except when the Gamecocks played Alabama. You adopted Florida, your son's alma mater, except when the Gators played Alabama. (And, tough as it must have been, you even pulled for Florida over Alabama in the 1996 SEC Championship game because you knew it would get me an SEC title ring.) You even adopted Toledo as your favorite weeknight team because you loved the Rocket on the helmet.

But -- and I wish I could write this as eloquently as that preacher boomed it -- your love for those adopted programs paled in comparison to the love for the program that made your blood run Crimson. I understand why, too.

A lot happened in Selma, Ala., in the 1960s. You watched history unfold before you. But no one expected much from you in the future. Mechanic's daughters from Selma weren't supposed to go to college. They were supposed to find a husband and start popping out babies. You wanted more.

So you went to work. You sold shoes, and you socked away the cash. You scratched and clawed for every available penny of scholarship money. And by God, when Ann Cook graduated from Albert G. Parrish High school in 1967, she was Tuscaloosa-bound. You never put on airs, and you were always kidding when you said it, but you couldn't hide that tinge of pride when you referred to Alabama as THE University -- a phrase coined by some of your snobbier classmates to differentiate the Capstone from that agricultural school in the Loveliest Village on the Plains.

While you received an excellent education at Alabama's College of Education, you didn't have a chance to enjoy the extracurricular experience that other Alabama students of your era did. Coach Bryant's Tide went 11-0 and won the SEC title the year before you arrived and 11-0 the season after you graduated, but the Bear went 8-2-1, 8-3, 6-5 and 6-5-1 during your undergraduate years. At least you shared a Folk and Square Dance class with Kenny Stabler your freshman year. Of course, a spotty attendance record on his part assured you wouldn't get to Do-Si-Do with the Snake.

In fact, Alabama wouldn't win another national title until the 1978 season. I imagine you would have enjoyed the Tide's Sugar Bowl win against Penn State that season if not for the colicky newborn who wouldn't stop screaming. Sorry about that.

I made it up to you, though. You always wanted to go to a Sugar Bowl, and I got you into the 1997 Sugar Bowl with a player's parent ticket. I've rarely smiled wider than when I saw you wearing my jersey in New Orleans.

I'll also never forget your last Alabama game. I got tickets for you, my dad, my aunt and two uncles to the 2005 Alabama-Florida game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Florida had a hotshot new coach, and Alabama finally had climbed out of an NCAA sanction-induced hole. One team was going to take a giant leap forward. The forecast called for sun that day, and you hadn't grown back all the hair the chemotherapy took, so I bought you a houndstooth hat the day before the game. You had a tough time getting up to your seat, but once you got there, you saw something amazing. The Tide rose that day. Alabama won, 31-3, and that win planted a seed of hope that a night like tonight might happen again.

We had a glimmer of hope that day, too. We thought the cancer had quit. Unfortunately, it still lurked in your cells.

You fought so hard. You never quit. In those final months in 2006, when that devil had spread through your entire body, we still sat together and talked football. You wondered if Mike Shula would make it through the season. (He didn't.) If I recall, you weren't particularly fond of the idea of replacing him with Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban.

OK, so even angels can't get everything right. Saban did take over, and he was the catapult that launched Alabama back into the nation's elite. You would have grown to like him, too. You smiled and laughed a lot more than he does, but he would have reminded you of yourself every time I brought home a B on my report card. You were sweet as cherry pie, but you demanded excellence just like he does.

You would have loved tonight, mom. You would have loved seeing sorority girls in houndstooth dresses flirting with wannabe cowboys in burnt orange cowboy hats in the concourses. You would have loved to hear the Million Dollar Band crank up the woodwind-and-brass version of a herd of charging elephants. As a child of the Bryant era, you would have loved to watch a young man in a Crimson jersey with a number on his helmet plow through the Texas defense.

But I know you're in a better place now. And I know what you're saying, too.

Rammer Jammer, Yellow Hammer, We're in heaven, Alabama!

Have fun up there tonight.

I love you,


P.S. Something else amazing happened this football season. You have a grandson. His name is Will, and he's beautiful.

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