"Other than Tim Tebow, no one has drawn a bigger crowd of fans at SEC Media Days than Nick Saban, but one fan probably wishes he'd worn something else to the lobby of the Winfrey Hotel" - Mike Dubberly, Fox 6
Actually, Mike, you would be incorrect.
In case you didn't watch the news Friday, or read any internet message boards, or get on twitter, I will fill you in on the day that I had at SEC Media Days in Hoover, the shirt I chose to wear, and fans, media, and even Nick Saban's response to it.
The shirt in question is a white cotton shirt, with large crimson letters across the front with a simple message: I Hate Auburn.
I bought the shirt online several months ago. In fact, it came in the mail exactly a week before the tornado hit Tuscaloosa. At that time, I didn't feel like it was appropriate to wear the shirt. For awhile I didn't want to say anything negative about anyone or wear a shirt that would obviously be taken negatively. Too much was going on and I wanted to be respectful. I thought SEC Media Days would be a fun environment to wear the shirt, knowing that the lobby would be filled with almost nothing but Alabama fans, and I figured people would get a kick out of it. I was more than correct in that assumption, but I think I got a little more attention than I bargained for.
In the elevator up to the lobby, I was standing next to ESPN Radio's Sean Fox, and 3 or 4 other various radio guys. Fox joked, "I take it you're not an Auburn fan"
As soon as I entered the lobby, a guy came up and asked if he could take a picture of my shirt, told me he thought it was awesome, and said, "Roll Tide"
This was basically the reaction that I expected. I knew that other Alabama fans would enjoy it. I thought that maybe a few members of the media would see it and get a laugh. I had no idea that by the end of the day, I would have been interviewed by almost everyone there, including Huntsville's 97.7 The Zone, The Tuscaloosa News, The Auburn-Opelika News, ESPN Radio, CSS, SEC Network, Atlanta's 680 The Fan, The Knoxville News Sentinel, The Birmingham News, CBS 42, The Orlando Sentinel, The L.A. Times, Huntsville's WHNT 19, and at least 15 others that I can't even remember. There was about an hour there, where nobody passed without wanting to put a microphone in my face and ask me a few questions. I spent about 10 minutes talking to Paul Finebaum, and had several conversations with Jon Solomon and Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News. I can say right now that I am definitely a fan of Scarbinsky's. He was really nice to me.
I don't even know who all I talked to, and there's no telling how many different places around the country my story has been written.
I know when they first saw the shirt, they rushed up to me thinking they had another Harvey Updyke. It was easy to assume that I would say something stupid and hilarious and it would make for a great story. I was actually pretty happy with the fact that I was able to hold intelligent conversations with all these guys, and that I was much more informed than they were expecting me to be.
I caused such a frenzy that one reporter even saw fit to tell Nick Saban about me. Coach Saban was asked if he could take me aside and say anything to me, what would he say? Coach responded, "I would tell him that it's not personal. It really isn't personal. That is not really the way that we should respect the opponents that we have."
The reporter who asked the question couldn't wait to rush back down to the lobby and tell me what Coach had said and get my response. At the time, I felt a little discouraged. I was really disappointed for a second that the humor of the moment seemed to be lost on the one man I respected more than anyone else in that building. So I gave my response to that reporter, and repeated it to about 7 other guys who rushed down to see what I thought about Coach's words: It was all in fun. It really was. I didn't think that anyone would see it as a negative thing, and other than Coach Saban's response, it wasn't a negative thing. It got a lot of positive attention. I was pretty much the life of the party. At least a dozen people wanted pictures of the shirt, and I posed with several fans
After I left the hotel, I talked to some fans who supported me. That included one of the main members of the Sons Of Saban, who found me on facebook and told me to call him. This guy was PISSED that Coach Saban said what he said. His opinion was that Saban was throwing a fan under the bus. That he may be the main man, but he can't control what us fans say and do and how we support our team. It was our team before it was his team, and fans like me pay his bills. Fans who never set foot in a classroom at the University of Alabama, but pack out that stadium every Saturday in the fall. These were the opinions of someone, who was a member of a group called the SONS OF SABAN. I would've thought anyone in a group with that name would unconditionally support anything Nick Saban said or did, but I was clearly wrong.
I turned on the Paul Finebaum Show on the way home, and I was immediately the first topic of conversation. One guy said something bad about me for not having ever been a student at Alabama, to which several other callers called in and blasted him, saying that they were 110% behind me and that they loved my shirt and how I supported my team. I've been a long time listener of the Finebaum Show, and it was strange to suddenly be a part of the show like that.
Predictably, Auburn fans are having a field day with this. I have read enough of the Auburn message boards and the twitter accounts of several Auburn people I know, to know that they are lumping me in with Harvey Updyke. "We had Harvey Updyke, now we have Eric Blackerby" was one of the first things I read from them. Of course, I didn't expect any intelligent response from that side. But again, it's all in fun, and they will have theirs. I could care less what Auburn fans think of me. It's the Alabama fan opinion that matters to me.
So I will share a few responses from them:
"Remember if a blank envelope comes in the mail with Season Tickets, you still have to pay the taxes on those!!!!"
"If Coach Saban could take Eric out behind the woodshed and tell him how he really felt, I'd bet he'd say that he hates those so-and-so's even more."
"I got a real kick out of this! You don't look like "a hatin" kind of guy!!! I have an I hate Auburn sticker from last year that I've been saving for the Clemson - Auburn game."
And my favorite:
"Lord, save me from holier-than-thou people whose underwear are obviously way too tight. Eric Blackerby you are our hero!"
So I thought about what the guy from Sons Of Saban said, and I thought about what some of the callers on the radio said, and I have come to a conclusion that I never thought I would reach. I actually disagree with Nick Saban. And I can't believe that. While I feel that he was just responding to a question and giving a politically correct answer, like most any of the coaches would do on the spot, I kinda wish he had been a little more honest. I don't expect him to say something like, "Well Hell yeah, I hate Auburn too". Of course not. But ever since he has come to Alabama, he has gone out of his way to say that he loves the fans, he loves our passion for our team, and yes, our craziness. As far as having class, I would think that my shirt pales in comparison to some of the things he was overheard yelling at his players during the Iron Bowl in 2008. Let's just say he didn't have any glowing praise of Auburn that day.
As far back as anyone can recall the sport has been filled with fans like me. Far worse fans than me. Fans that would poison trees and destroy property. I hardly think that wearing a shirt saying I hate the team that is my team's bitter rival constitutes a hate crime. It's what college football is all about. Passion and anger. Intense love and respect for your own team, while despising everything that the other team stands for. It's Bear Bryant referring to Auburn as the Cow College, or that school down the road. It's Woody Hayes pushing his car across the state line when it ran out of gas because he wasn't going to buy "Michigan gas". These rivalries, and our emotions around them, are what makes college football so awesome. It's not a church social. It's absolute WAR to some people.
I like what Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower had to say about it:
"At times things do get out of hand when it comes to the Iron Bowl rivalry. Sometimes you just kind of think, 'This is going to be because of a football game? Y'all are really going to do this?' At the same time, I love it. Whenever they come together, you never know what's going to happen."
I would like for Coach Saban to have said something like, "Well I haven't seen the shirt, and I can't really comment about someone's intentions when I don't know them."
That would've been very simple, and it would have been a non story, and I wouldn't have felt about an inch tall