Had Rick Bragg had any interest, or any certainty that he would not have been promptly dismissed by his employer—and yes, they do roll like that— the Pulitzer Prize-winning interpreter of all things southern, and current University of Alabama professor of writing could have had his wordsmithin’ way with this year’s Iron Bowl. The “Son of a Preacher Man” shenanigans during warm ups? The never-say-die lunge of a player named Hot Boy? The biggest comeback in one school’s history, the biggest blown lead in another’s? That’s pure Dixie drama. But he wasn’t there.
He just doesn’t do that any more.
“I covered football for a long time,” says Bragg, author of the best-selling memoir and All Over But The Shoutin’ and Somebody Told Me, a collection of his award-winning newspaper stories. “Now I just watch it on the TV with a root beer and a grin.”
Of course, he admits that for a lot of folks up in Tuscaloosa, November 26 was much more Jack Daniels and a frown, and that for some of them the same held true on January 10 while their arch rivals dispatched the Oregon Ducks to claim their first national championship in 53 years and the state’s second in a row.
“I’m not going to lie to you — there’s been some dismay,” Bragg told me Friday night, en route to the bar at Ariccia in the Hotel at Auburn University & Dixon Conference Center. “Dinner with Rick Bragg” capped off the first day of “Becoming Alabama: Who, What, When, Where, and Why“, which the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities billed as “a public symposium on the past, present and future of the press in Alabama.” He had just spent an hour spinning yarns about his childhood and career that underscored the night’s theme: remaining relevant. It was a good time. Next door was a banquet hall full of Auburn recruits. The eagle — Nova —was out in the hall, flapping her wings. “There are many Alabama fans who are also SEC fans and they love the fact that the national championship is owned by the SEC and they are willing even to allow that Auburn winning one is a good thing. But there are some Alabama fans who don’t want anything good to happen to Auburn and those fans, you know, are in the dumps right now.”
“But you know how football is, they’re already thinking about next November. They’re already strategizing.”
Bragg certainly knows how it is, how they are; when Sports Illustrated wanted to ultrasound the first pre-season palpitations of The Process, they turned to Bragg, who captured the baby-naming expectations Alabama fans had for their $4 million dollar coach in a 2007 cover story titled “Raising Alabama.”
“I think that [Nick] Saban’s arrival was seen as a salvation of sorts for our football program.” Bragg said, putting it mildly —Saban coaching the Crimson Tide to a national championship in just three seasons was seen as divine right (and two seasons too late).
That Gene Chizik did it for Auburn in just two? It seems safe to say that dreams of a state-dominating dynasty have never been so soundly and quickly pinched.
“I don’t think anybody with even a little commonsense would assume that we would just year after a year bulldoze through the Southeastern Conference, including Auburn,” Bragg said. “I don’t think anybody expected that to happen, except the most rabid fan.”
Bragg says he isn’t rabid.
“You know, Auburn’s got a football program with traditions that go back to Methuselah, and they obviously proved things on the football field,” he said, eying the bar for a root beer or two. “I think the bottom line is that we’ve got two national champions in the same state and two Heisman Trophies, back to back… and I think that’s grand.”
Rick Bragg’s latest book is The Prince of Frogtown.
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Big A says
Great writer. I highly recommend ‘All Over but the Shoutin” An outstanding book.
surprised it wasn’t “dinner with rick bragg’s team of stringers and interns.”
Dinner with Rick Bragg? Don’t get between him and the gravy boat.
We’re gonna need a bigger boat.
Bragg and his fake datelines can both smoke my pole. Hey, fat boy: Bear is dead, worms have eaten his stupid hat, and the NYT was a discredited liberal rag long before you screwed up badly enough to get fired from it.
“…we’ve got two national champions in the same state and two Heisman Trophies, back to back…”
yup. And as a dear friend of mine, who happens to be of the bleeds crimson Bammer variety, said to me the other day, “Trees & Tornados” are what we need to remember, to keep things in perspective for this year’s Iron Bowl.
War Damn Eagle!!!