“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
— George Burns
Sure, the dateline coupled with the headline of this column may confuse some. Quite frankly, many would expect to see MIAMI atop this piece.
But after I explain, it will become clear both my location and reasons for being here.
Let me preface this column with probably the truest statement I can muster. I love God; I love my family, and I love Alabama football, in that order. Those may be the only true loves in my life.
No. Tennessee is not a popular place to say the latter. I know that. Remember, it will all make sense in the end.
Consider this, remember the feeling Tennessee fans had when Peyton Manning led the Vols to defeat Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl in 1998 to finish the season 13-0 and win the first Bowl Championship Series title?
What about the feeling Commodores fans had just Monday when Vanderbilt defeated NC State in the Music City Bowl to garner the most victories in one season during a lifetime?
It’s like that.
It’s like when, as a child, hiding under a chair, hoping beyond hope, Van Tiffin makes a 52-yard field goal with seven seconds left in the 1982 Iron Bowl to beat Auburn. I still regret not seeing that kick, and having to watch it via replay.
It’s suffering through Gene Stallings’ departure during sophomore year while attending the University of Alabama and suffering through the remaining college years with Mike DuBose at the helm.
It’s crying during the 2009 Heisman Trophy presentation after Alabama’s only winner – Mark Ingram – gave his acceptance speech. Hey, he was crying, too.
It’s also crying when Cam Newton comes back from like 100 points down to win the Iron Bowl and eventually a Heisman and a national championship. Now that’s worth a few tears from everyone who faced Auburn that fluke year.
It’s smiling every time the ESPN commercial airs. You know the one where everyone says, “Roll Tide.” It’s really like that living in Alabama.
It’s naming your only son Bryant.
And it’s swelling with pride and wearing that collection of red elephant ties your favorite brother-in-law keeps sending during the past few years.
It’s nice to be a fan of a team considered to be one of the best in college football history.
But my trip this weekend means even more than all that. Remember my order of loves in my life? Family ranks above Alabama football, and that’s why we’re in Vernon, Ala.
It’s a little town in the northwest part of the state. In fact, the closest large city is Columbus, Miss. But it’s where my wife, Mary was born and raised, and it’s the place where her mother died just about this time a year ago.
Mary’s mom had her later in life. Her dad, Alton, is kind of like a grandfather figure as far as I’m concerned. He’s a lot like my grandfather was when he was living.
And he’s what brings us to Vernon this weekend. On Monday, just as we did a year before, we will gather around the television and root Alabama on to hopefully another national championship.
Last year, after what seemed like a week’s worth of preparation, visitation, funeral, burial and lots of loved ones bringing food, the game was an appropriate distraction to an otherwise solemn occasion.
It was the first time we saw Alton smile since the passing of his wife and best friend. Maybe that’s the power of Alabama football. I don’t know, but I have a feeling Alton’s loves rank similarly to my own.
And this year, there’s no place I’d rather be, not even if someone gave me tickets, an airplane ride and a hotel room.
Why? It’s because I know my loves are in order.
Jared Felkins is The Lebanon Democrat’s director of content. He may be reached at 615-444-3952, ext. 13 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @paperboyfelkins.