Alabama football coach Nick Saban said, as reported by Al.com‘s Joseph Goodman, that this year’s Crimson Tide was the “ultimate team.” The team’s victory over Ohio State in the College Football Playoff was an extraordinary accomplishment. But that wasn’t why Saban set this team apart from all others. After all, Alabama now has won 18 National Championships. Saban said that the perseverance of the team during the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic put this team in a category all of its own.
More than one ESPN commentator, during its coverage of the playoff, emphasized that the Crimson Tide had exhibited an uncommon discipline during this year’s season. Players had a daily regimen of studying for classes and game preparation, while isolatiing themselves from others. They were tested on a daily basis with a six inch nasopharyngeal swab. Players did not participate in a traditional social life on or off campus. Saban trusted his players and their families enough to allow them to spend Christmas at home.
Crimson Tide players maintained discipline while studying at a school that has had high rates of Coronavirus infections. Many students who are not athletes have had cavalier attitudes about the pandemic. This was evident on the day of the January 11, 2021 playoff.
BroBible‘s Grayson Weir wrote about the student activity on gameday that occurred on The Strip:
It is 42 degrees and damp in Tuscaloosa, Ala. but that didn’t stop University of Alabama students from securing a spot in line at their favorite bars ahead of Monday’s National Championship game. The kickoff between the Crimson Tide and the Ohio State Buckeyes was scheduled for 7:00 p.m. CST, but the city’s main downtown area, called “The Strip,” started opening its doors at 11:00 a.m. to lines that were already hundreds of students deep.
Twelve 25 and Gallettes are the two most popular bars in the city and each bar took advantage of the high-demand and charged massive prices just to get in. The cover charge at Gallettes reached $100 by four o’clock in the afternoon while Twelve 25 was heard to have been charging upward of $250 for entry. To make things even more exclusive and lucrative, neither bar was “pre-banding,” which is the act of getting an entry wristband, leaving and coming back to that same bar later on. If you’re in, you’re in — if you’re out, you’re out.
WRBL.com‘s Malique Rankin reported on the atmosphere on The Strip:
“Yeah it’s going to be worth the wait,” said one Alabama student who would not share his name. “The whole street is going to be packed tonight.”
When asked if he was concerned for his health, he said no.
“Not at all! Absolutely not! Focused on winning the championship,” he said.
Cooper Weingert, a senior at UA said the pandemic takes a backseat to a national championship game.
“COVID is one thing, but it’s the national championship,” said Weingert. “I hate to say I’m not concerned, but it’s the natty.”
The University of Alabama, in anticipation of large numbers of students returning and celebrating a victory in the playoff, Tweeted a message with a photograph of the University’s mascot. In it Big Al was holding a championship trophy. The tweet said that students should avoid large gatherings, wear masks and maintain six foot social distancing. It included a link to a special championship site. A YouTube video featuring Coach Capstone made suggestions about Watch Parties. Needless to say, the parties that the captain referred to would not have taken place in bars and included few people.
The University’s Vice President for Student Life Dr. Myron L. Pope also Tweeted a message on the day of the playoff:
We are very proud of our football program as it prepares to play in the National Championship this evening. Our players + coaches have remained dedicated to the process and have overcome many adversities with class and passion.
Whether cheering on the team live in Miami, in Tuscaloosa or elsewhere, please remember:- Wear your mask.- Avoid parties or any large gatherings and stay 6 feet away from others.“- Make smart decisions before, during and after the game. Any unlawful behavior and/or violations of our health and safety protocols will result in disciplinary action.- Be a good neighbor and respect the impact your actions may have on those around you.
At UA, we are fortunate to have many successes to celebrate, and we expect our students to do so responsibly and safely. Please set the example with safety, passion and class. Roll Tide!
No venue that would allow students to view the game in a safe environment was suggested or provided by the University.
Just days before the game, an article by Patch‘s Ryan Phillips included a statement that was posted on Facebook by DCH Health System Vice President of Marketing and Communication Andy North. North posted:
DCH is focused on doing everything it can to maintain the needed care for the community and has continually advised leaders about the circumstances, including the current strain, so that they can make informed decisions about public policy. We are not in a position, nor is it our role, to make policy decisions for them.
Tuscaloosa’s Mayor Maddox had repeatedly claimed that the city was hamstrung and could not take independent steps without a request from DCH.
The announcement did appear to come as some surprise to Tuscaloosa City Hall, which has maintained that while case numbers have risen to new highs in recent weeks due to the holidays, the hospital system has not requested any additional mandates or restrictions on local businesses to this point other than maintaining those currently in place.
Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said he was made aware of the Facebook post shortly after it was published and immediately reached out to DCH leadership.
The mayor then said DCH reaffirmed its position that it would notify community leaders if its internal options for capacity, staffing and personal protective equipment were in danger of becoming compromised. He also said he spoke with Tuscaloosa County Commission Chair and Probate Judge Rob Robertson and would be in communication with Northport Mayor Bobby Herndon as the situation develops.
One thing that Maddox has stressed is that few local hospitalizations have involved university students. People in that age range tend to, if infected with the Coronavirus, have milder symptoms. Therefore increased case numbers of University students would be less likely to impact the hospital system. Since the city’s decision on any Covid-19 measures are largely contingent on hospital capacity, the number of infected students is not considered by him to be a major issue. However, in other communities, according to a recent CDC report, there has been a significant community rise in Covid-19 cases when in-person University classes have commenced.
On January 5th, 2021, Jason Morton reported in The Tuscaloosa News that Council member Sonya McKinstry had expressed concern over the city not having considered using the same kind of measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 that had earlier been put into place.
Of particular concern is how residents and college students will celebrate next week should the University of Alabama defeat the Ohio State University in the College Football Playoff national championship game.
Maddox said the measures imposed by City Hall last year came before state regulatory bodies adopted similar, if not more stringent, actions regarding mask usage and bar occupancy.
And while he noted that the recent rise in COVID-19 cases has come while college students have been out-of-town on winter break, he did say that the Tuscaloosa Police Department and University of Alabama Police Department would be working in tandem to limit gatherings Monday night before, during and after the Crimson Tide’s final football game.
On January 8th, 2021, Mayor Maddox Tweeted a message saying:
In the upcoming days around the National Championship Game, we all have a role to play in keeping our community safe. Please continue to follow @ALPublicHealth guidelines including wearing a mask and limiting gathering size as you cheer on the Tide. Thank you and Roll Tide!
On the day of the playoff, on Tuscaloosa Police Department‘s Facebook page, Chief Brent Blankley posted:
The City of Tuscaloosa has something very special to celebrate this evening as Crimson Tide fans cheer on the team in the College Football Playoff National Championship. TPD, UAPD and the ABC Board are working together to ensure the safety of our community members. Cheer, celebrate, and enjoy the success of our team, but please do so responsibly and safely. Roll Tide!
There was a continual police presence on The Strip on the day of the game. They observed the activity that began before noon but did nothing to disperse crowds and did not issue citations for mask infractions. After Alabama’s victory, people swarmed out from the bars and nearby student apartments to fill University Boulevard.
USA Today‘s Chris Thomas wrote:
Videos and photos captured on social media showed hundreds, if not thousands, of people on The Strip celebrating the Crimson Tide’s 52- 24 victory over Ohio State in the College Football Playoff on Monday night. Tuscaloosa Police quickly were dispatched to clear a path through town, according to social media reports. The celebration comes as COVID-19 cases are spiking around the country.
Images posted by Operations Support Specialist Lt. Andy Norris on Twitter show before and after shots of the crowd, when police vehicles drove down University Boulevard.
Emily Enfinger in The Tuscaloosa News wrote:
Fourteen people were arrested and two injuries were reported in Tuscaloosa after Alabama football fans flooded The Strip in celebration of the team’s 18th national championship victory late Monday, officials said Tuesday.
Those arrested faced charges ranging from drug paraphernalia, public intoxication, driving under the influence, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing governmental operations, according to officials.
“I think it goes without saying that we are disappointed in seeing the large number of people flood into The Strip area itself,” said Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox in a news conference Tuesday morning.
Although he did not have an exact estimate of the crowd, he stated it could have been “thousands upon thousands” of people and that the crowd is believed to be “larger than any celebration that we’ve seen in recent memory.”
Tuscaloosa Police Chief Brent Blankley said that the police department backed up to let the crowd celebrate but after 15 minutes, “something shifted.” People began to climb trees, hang from light poles, property was beginning to be damaged and fights were begging to break out, he said.
Two people were reportedly hit with either beer cans or bottles, leaving cuts on their face, Blankley said.
“We used as little force as possible to disperse that crowd, but people were starting to get hurt inside the crowd. We asked multiple times for people to disperse but they wouldn’t,” he said.
Police units were also used to divide the crowd. Blankley said bottles were thrown at TPD officers and their vehicles as they were trying to divide the crowd.
Had a curfew been declared prior to the game none of the crowd control problems would likely have existed. (In Ohio where there’s a Covid related 10pm statewide curfew, has Ohio State won, there would in all likelihood not have been a similar situation.) But more ominously, will the championship celebration on The Strip in T-Town turn out be a super-spreader event? It is unfortunate that an incredible sports victory could be marred by the behavior of fans on The Strip.
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