At the Pre-Council meeting on November 24, 2020, Tuscaloosa‘s Mayor Walt Maddox said that Tuscaloosa has had the highest seven day average of cases since Covid-19 began. He said that there were increases in the numbers of hospitalizations as well. Maddox said that the Iron Bowl football game between Alabama and Auburn was a “very dangerous time” for the city.
Naming the annual football match up between the University of Alabama and Auburn University the Iron Bowl came as the result of the game having been played at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama for forty years. Birmingham was at one time a major producer of iron and steel, as explained in the Bham Wiki. It was considered a neutral site for the heated interstate football rivalry. But since 2000 the Iron Bowl has been played in both Tuscaloosa and Auburn, in alternating years.
The Iron Bowl was of such significance that ESPN‘s College Gameday was for the second time in 2020 broadcast from Tuscaloosa, even though the game had been televised on CBS-TV. The Crimson Tide was ranked as the number one team in college football. The annual Iron Bowl game had traditionally been a hard fought contest, where a top ranked team had been sometimes beaten by its lesser rival. The fact that Alabama‘s head coach Nick Saban would not preside over the team, after he had tested positive for COVID-19, only added another level of interest to the game.
There had been a concern that large numbers of fans would visit T-Town again, as in the case of the Mississippi State game on October 31st. Many people who had come to town were not among the relatively few who had tickets to the game. The 20% capacity for Bryant-Denny Stadium and the ban on tailgating on campus did not deter fans from returning to their football Mecca on Halloween. Many fans did not wear masks or socially distance as they flocked to the bars after the game on University Boulevard. And Halloween parties went on in T-Town until the early morning hours.
A week after the October 31st game, from November 4th to the 10th, the numbers of new Covid-19 patients in Tuscaloosa rose dramatically. A major spike in the student non-academic misconduct citations (SNAM) issued by the University of Alabama’s Police Department occurred on October 31st, largely due to off-campus partying.
Mayor Maddox asked, “How will Thanksgiving and the Iron Bowl impact the spread of the Coronavirus?”
He was not alone in showing concern over how the Thanksgiving holiday might spread the Covid-19 virus.
CNN‘s Christina Maxouris reported that Thanksgiving could be the “the mother of all superspreader events.” She wrote:
With small gatherings already helping drive the surge in many places, leading public health officials have warned against traditional Thanksgiving celebrations this week, instead urging Americans to stay home and celebrate only with members of the same household. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommended last week Americans should not travel for Thanksgiving.
Many doctors in Alabama had pleaded for its residents to wear masks, as reported by Al.com‘s Amy Yurkanin. She quoted Dr. Monica Williams, an emergency room doctor in Huntsville, as having said, “This has been through the mill a thousand times. It’s just wear your freaking mask and wash your hands. That’s really the best you can do. Don’t go to parties.”
As a double whammy, Thanksgiving in 2020 was closely followed by the Iron Bowl in T-Town. It would have been expected, judging by the behavior of fans in the past, that fans would not wear masks and would certainly party in large groups in bars or at off-campus parties.
November came to an end in T-Town in a very dangerous way.