By Chris DePew
Nov. 27, 2018
“So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
— Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Sometime close to the moment I snapped this picture a thought occurred to me. There will never be this many people at an Iron Bowl again.
Next year’s game is in Auburn, where the stadium capacity is around 87,000. By the time it returns to Tuscaloosa, Bryant-Denny will be in the middle of a renovation that will add more bells and whistles and expensive hangouts for those with the cash and inclination to enjoy such. It will also lop off a few thousand seats, seats that have often been vacant outside of the biennial visits from the arch rivals in orange and blue. Everything in this world has a saturation point and even for a dynasty like Alabama, that point is somewhere a bit south of 101,821.
You might think the adjustment in capacity might inspire a little humility from the office suites behind this athletic empire, but it isn’t so. There’s more money to be made off this empire, and the university intends to leave no nickel behind. Regular seats will be turned into “open air club seats” and a “student terrace” and a new press box to replace the old one because the old one will be new luxury boxes and isn’t all of this great?
Just don’t look at the letter explaining how much more you’ll be donating next year and don’t forget that regretfully, the donation will no longer be tax deductible. If the doctor’s family from Andalusia or the middle managers from Huntsville who have been the backbone of this fan base find this all a little too rich for their blood, there’s always the end zone benches upstairs with the hoi polloi. There’s always the big bank in Birmingham or the monopoly power company or the branch office of some faceless Yankee conglomerate that needs to entertain clients and will barely notice the line item until the next big crash. What could possibly go wrong?
After all, this is a big business. Want a hotel room for Bama-UT weekend next October? The Hotel Indigo is available for a mere $850 per night, or you could slum it at LaQuinta out by the interstate for $439. But act fast, because Hotels.com says rooms in Tuscaloosa are 67 percent booked already.
Parking within a couple of blocks of the stadium sold for more Saturday than I paid for my student season ticket package a quarter-century ago. Want to tailgate on the Quad, a patch of lawn that by deed and spirit ultimately belongs to the taxpayers of Alabama? The university sold those rights years ago. You’ll need to contract with a company that sets up tents and chairs for you and charges just a few thousand dollars for the season-long privilege. If you want something to eat or a TV to watch other games, that will be extra of course. A few thousand dollars only stretches so far.
If you’ve ever wondered why Alabama fans have a win-at-all-costs, transactional relationship with their team, just know that we’ve been conditioned by an athletic department that never takes its eye off the business ledger.
None of that really mattered in the moment you see pictured of course. It was a beautiful day for football after an overcast, uncertain morning. The bands played, the jets flew over pregame, the favorite tunes blared over the PA system and the home team won big again, extending a perfect record in what may well turn out to be the all-time greatest season. For those of us who bleed crimson and white, you can’t inject or smoke that pure a high. It’s a magical feeling.
You might say it felt like a wave cresting.