At the University of Alabama, an institution dependent upon intellectual transformation, it is possible to observe the mechanics of generational change. There was the day George Wallace walked away from the schoolhouse door at Foster Auditorium in 1963, or the night the FBI helped burn Dressler Hall in 1970. Then there was the afternoon they played C-Murder at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Probably several of you reading this are unfamiliar with the oeuvre of Corey Miller, known to the rap world as C-Murder, which is why we know some sort of cultural shift in underway. His was just one of the songs on a playlist literally rocking the joint lately at the newer, louder International House of Football in Tuscaloosa.
Time was, at a Crimson Tide home game, there was only one kind of music to be heard, and that was the music of the Million Dollar Band (not adjusted for inflation). Given the run of the field for halftime, the band was tucked away for the other parts of the game in the student section, playing “Yea Alabama” on demand and providing a soundtrack for the cheerleaders’ earnest efforts to rouse the crowd. This was congruent with the behavior of every other marching band in football, except perhaps one.
On the Left Coast in the 1960s, “The One, The Only, Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band,” as the public address announcer would have it, began subverting the staid tradition of halftime entertainment by wearing red blazers and white fishing hats instead of uniforms and replacing the Sousa marches with contemporary rock and roll tunes. Alabama never altered its basic martial attire, but the dread sounds of modern pop began creeping slowly into its repertory, to the point that Green Day’s “Basket Case” has now become a golden oldie.
Pre-recorded music took a step up, in volume at least, after the seventh expansion of Bryant-Denny since its opening in 1929 brought its capacity to 101,821. Once the south end zone was tarted up, the facility was fully enclosed, making it ideal for creating decibel levels equivalent to those of jet planes landing. A gigantic sound system installed by Austin’s BAi firm made it possible to hear Tony Giles’ peerless PA announcing in Sulligent, let alone the roar of the crowd when “Sweet Home Alabama” played during the pre-game videos.
Some time before the crucial Mississippi State game this year, a secretive brain trust assembled to map a sound scheme to dominate the Bulldogs. While I am not privy to their deliberations, I’ll bet the discussion began in the weight room, where hot hype music powers the conditioning sessions. Perhaps a particularly imaginative offensive linesman mused, “What if we could hear some zesty tempos such as these out on the field while we’re playing?” Inquiries were made, technicians alerted, and at game time, the already raucous atmosphere was augmented by a new and thunderous flow of dope beats in da house.
Clips from songs such as “No-Fly Zone”, “Stand Up and Get Crunk” and C-Murder’s “Down for my N—z” blasted whenever the Tide made a good play; a decided change from “Tusk” and “Hell’s Bells” in the old days. There was dancing on the sideline and dancing in the stands. It was not your daddy’s Alabama football game, let alone your granddaddy’s.
However, the soundtrack wasn’t exclusively Worldstar. During a TV timeout, Tony hit the mic, asking the crowd to select, with its applause, its choice of songs to hear: “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, Alabama’s “Dixieland Delight” or the iconic “Sweet Home Alabama”. The folks must have been feeling countrypolitan as well as crunk, for they passed up Skynyrd to go with the boys from Fort Payne.
As if that weren’t enough, I believe some clever techie even put a brace of microphones on the Million Dollar Band, to bring its volume up to that of Wiz Khalifa.
In retrospect, Mississippi State never really had a chance.
Despite the stadium’s high-tech audio sweetening and Coach Saban’s coldly scientific approach to gridiron world domination, a fan’s first allegiance is to the actual human beings who play the game of football. Alabama is lucky to have a lot of them who are learning to play the game well.
I got to watch the Mississippi State game sitting next to a couple of little girls, Alexa and Emma by name, who had an interesting experience that day. They were like a lot of kids, getting more out of a t-shirt shopping trip to the SUPe(CQ) Store than sitting in the stands to watch a whole game, with its inexplicable pauses and fitful bursts of activity. On this day, though, they came into the stadium to find red and white shakers on their seats, and on this day, surrounded by more than 100,000 fans invested in the moment, they watched, really watched, what was happening down on the field.
Alexa and Emma seemed to get it. They followed the course of the contest, from offense to defense and back again, seeking out the numbers of the athletes who made the big plays, watching the video screens for the close-ups, learning about arcane plays such as the safety and, near the end of the game, the onside kick. There was no petulance at halftime, no sidelong glances at the clock. They couldn’t wait for the second half to get started and they were elated when the Tide held on for the win, though a bit too young to sing “Rammer Jammer”.
They won’t be in the stadium when Auburn comes to Bryant-Denny this Saturday night, but I bet they’ll be in front of televisions, waving the shakers they saved and wearing their SUPe(CQ) Store football jerseys. Alexa and Emma have taken their rightful places in the endless line of fans who love that eccentric, heroic game called football, the way it gets played by the University of Alabama.