Rose in the Stadium

This installation of the Franklin Stove Blog is a departure from the usual format.

It’s fictional, based on accounts of actual events.

It might even be considered a ghost writ post.

This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.

Photo by Cole Keister on Pexels.com

Now that I’m haunting Bryant-Denny Stadium, a lot of my thoughts have revolved around football.

I got the name “Rose” because my parents were such fanatical Alabama Football followers. You see, after the Alabama football team won the Rose Bowl in 1926, that’s when the Crimson Tide began its storied rise to become the greatest of all football teams. My parents actually named me Rose because of that unlikely victory.

The battle song of the Confederacy was played in a championship parade on the streets of Tuscaloosa after the Rose Bowl victory against the Washington Huskies. After the South had lost the Battle of the States it had had a chip on its shoulder. The process of Reconstruction just rubbed salt in the bloody wounds of defeat. The success of the football team in California seemed to many in the Heart of Dixie as kind of a redemption. It was considered by many to be “The Game That Changed The South.”

The Alabama fight song “Yea Alabama” alludes to the Rose Bowl victory:

Remember the Rose Bowl, we’ll win then.
Go, roll to victory,
Hit your stride,
You’re Dixie’s football pride,
Crimson Tide, Roll Tide, Roll Tide!!

The football team was first described as “The Crimson Tide” by a sports writer in Birmingham who gave the team that nickname after a 1907 game in Birmingham’s Legion Field against its instate rival the Auburn Tigers. The writer thought that the red mud on the field that was exposed in the soggy contest stained the white Alabama uniforms a crimson color. He said that the game was played in a sea of crimson.

Many of the girls on my floor in Tutwiler Hall, began to experience what one professor called the McClintock effect, where the onset of our menstrual cycles were synchronized. We began to refer to this phenomenon as our Crimson Tide. My “home after life” for over 50 years was in the residence dorm. It was brand new when I’d moved in. I really had only a short stay in the hall before I returned to haunt it, after I’d committed suicide.

The blood splotches that were all over the walls of my parents’ bedroom after I blew my brains out on Christmas Day in 1968 resembled red rose petals. I’ve always wondered if my parents saw them in that way.

The stadium that is now my earthly abode has gone through some changes since it opened in 1929. It was initially named Denny Stadium in honor of George H. Denny, the school’s president from 1912 to 1932. In addition to promoting the University’s football program, he was largely responsible for establishing the school’s dominant Greek culture. Denny had, as a student in Virginia, been a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. As the University’s president in 1914, he had pulled strings to have Sigma Chi rechartered after its involvement in a campus underground society. Stories about one of Denny’s daughters had been told throughout the years. She was reputedly involved in drinking, partying and skinny dipping in Hurricane Creek. She must have been ahead of her time.

Denny Stadium had expanded by the time I’d enrolled to become a bowl shaped stadium with both end zones being fully enclosed. It had a capacity of about 60,000. The success of Alabama football was largely due to the arrival of Paul “Bear” Bryant who became the head coach in 1958. He had won three National Championships by the time I became a ghost only ten years later. He went on to win six in all. The stadium was renamed in 1975 as Bryant-Denny Stadium.  

When I enrolled at the University, the air in Tuscaloosa frequently smelled like a rotten egg. A large paper mill that had been operating since 1928 was the cause of the stench. I heard that Coach Bryant had worked out an agreement that the mill would curtail its operation on the Saturdays that the football team played in town. The mill closed down for good in the seventies. The gentrification and expansion of the University that has occurred in the last couple of decades would’ve doubtlessly not have occurred if the campus had still had a smell redolent of rotten eggs. Some locals always said that the paper mill smelled like bacon, because it created so many jobs. I bet that the University’s expansion has created far more jobs though.

During the football season when I first was at the University, not far away from where George Denny’s segregated Sigma Chi fraternity house was located, a huge Confederate flag was draped over the front of Kappa Alpha house. Standing in front were its members who wore gray Confederate uniforms along with co-eds who were wearing  hoop skirts. It looked like a scene out of “Gone With The Wind.” In spite of fact that the Greeks who were wearing Rebel outfits were all lily white, I‘m sure many of them screamed in joy at football games after a black player scored a touchdown in the stadium.

“Bear” Bryant’s success as a head coach was doubtlessly due to his recruitment of black players. The University had been integrated in 1963 after Alabama’s Governor George Wallace had made his “Stand In The School House Door.” President John F. Kennedy had federalized the Alabama National Guard to expedite the enrollment of two black students. Four years later, when I had enrolled, there still weren’t many black students at the University and no black football players. Wallace’s promise of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” was broken in any event.

The story of how Coach Bryant arranged for the Alabama football team to play an integrated University of Southern California football team in 1970 is part of Crimson Tide football lore. The talent and athleticism of the black players on the California team was largely responsible for the Tide’s humiliating defeat. After that black football players were recruited by Alabama.

But it was still “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” for the Greek system at Alabama.

It won’t be long before my new home at the stadium is packed with rabid football fans. I don’t know whether to look forward to their arrival or to feel dread.

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