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In defense of Alabama football fans: We all want to win everything

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Are Tide supporters crazy for insisting on national championships every single year? No. You would act the same way.

More is better.
More is better.
Butch Dill

It has become common to rip on Alabama fans. College football writers will generally agree that the Bama fan base is among the most likely to produce angry e-mails in response to critical columns.* There's the criticism of Tide fans for a sense of entitlement and their allegedly dismissive view of every other team in college football. And after three national titles in four years, the adjectives "arrogant" and "ungrateful" have come back into currency.

* - I still have an e-mail folder entitled "Bama Fans" containing the angry responses to an article that I wrote in 2001 stating that I personally believed that Logan Young had paid Albert Means, as well as the "you're the best!" e-mails that I received for writing a year later that the NCAA's sanctions -- and specifically the threat that the NCAA could have given the death penalty to the Tide -- were excessive.

It's natural for fans of programs other than Alabama to feel jealous of the success that the Tide have had under Nick Saban. It's also natural to ask the question, "how can these fans keep wanting to win national titles when they already have three in four years?" Wouldn't Oregon fans appreciate their first national title more than Bama fans collecting a fourth in five years? Or couldn't we say the same about Texas A&M fans, who have been waiting for a national title since 1939? An economist would tell us that another title for Bama would be an inefficient allocation of resources. A kindergartner would tell the Tide to stop hogging all of the toys.

Surprisingly enough, I have some experience with how Bama fans are feeling. It's not from being an Atlanta sports fan (one championship in 99 collective seasons for the Hawks, Falcons, Braves, and Thrashers since my family moved to Georgia in 1984) or a Michigan fan (one national title combined in football and basketball since enrolling in 1993, although I was a casual Michigan fan when they won the hoops title in 1989). No, it's from being a fan of F.C. Barcelona.

I became a Barca fan in 1997 after backpacking in Europe and falling in love with the city. Rooting for Barca appealed to me as a Southerner (living in a region with a stronger regional identity than national identity), as a Michigan fan (Barca plays in the largest stadium in Europe, it has a reputation for Progressive politics, and the team is noted for coming close, but not winning the big one), and as a passionate soccer fan who did not want to root for an English team.

At the time I became a fan, Barca had won the European Cup/Champions League only once, which was a mark against one of the elite clubs in Europe. By comparison, at that time, Bayern Munich had won the European title three times, Liverpool had won it four times, AC MIlan had won it five times, and Barca's arch-rival Real Madrid had won six. Put it this way: at the time I became a fan, Barca had won one fewer European title than Nottingham Forest, the flagship club for the ninth-largest urban area in the United Kingdom.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to rooting for the European version of the Chicago Bears: Barca started winning everything. They won the Champions League in 2006, 2009, and 2011, along with a bevy of Spanish domestic titles.* Tack on Barca supplying the nucleus for the Spanish National Team -- a team that became the first international side to win three straight continental/global titles -- and you have a collective that has laid a claim to being the greatest ever.

* - Domestic league titles in soccer are analogous to conference titles in college football. Given the massive financial advantages that Barca and Real Madrid have over everyone else in Spain (and those advantages have been exacerbated by the Spanish Depression, which affects the other clubs in Spain far more than Real and Barca), the league resembles the Big Ten in the 1970s, so winning La Liga really just means that Barca out-dueled Real Madrid.

After having the good fortune to see in-person one of the great teams of history win its third European title in six seasons, you would think that I would be magnanimous in future seasons. And yet, I was a crestfallen as ever when Chelsea knocked Barca out in the 2012 Champions League semifinal and ready to make major changes after Bayern wiped with floor with Barca in the 2013 semis. ("I don't think Tito is the man for the job, PABLOOOOOOOOO!!!")

So why do Bama fans want to keep winning just as much as they did before they went on this current run? Why are they reasonable to be worried about the offense after a 25-point win over a name opponent at a neutral site? Why are they right to view Saturday's trip to College Station as another life-or-death encounter? Why is it not selfish to want to keep winning over and over again?

1. History

Most fans of major programs have a championship t-shirt of some form in their dressers. Bama fans have their national championship mugs, but so do fans of Tennessee, Florida, LSU, and Auburn. (Ole Miss, Georgia, and Arkansas fans have the vintage Coke bottles.)

But a shirt that touts a dynasty? Sports fans all want something that rival fans don't have. Lots of teams can be the best in one season; very few can claim to be the best of all-time over an extended period of time. Barca is competing with Real Madrid of the '50s and Ajax and Bayern of the '70s. Bama is competing with Miami of the '80s and Nebraska of the '90s. Quien es mas macho?

2. Maximize the opportunity

Why are Barca fans annoyed at the club's failure to add a central defender in the summer despite the fact that the position is a crying need for the club? Because you only get so many opportunities to go into a season with one of the best players of all time in his prime. So why would Tide fans take a loss harder than the average fan base?

Because they know that they aren't going to have Nick Saban forever. Eventually, Saban is going to have the (possibly apocryphal) Alexander the Great realization that he has no more college football worlds to conquer. Perhaps he'll head to the NFL to prove that he can win on that level (provided he does not have doctors giving him advice along the lines of "Daunte Culpepper is less of a health risk than Drew Brees").

When your team has the perfect situation, you want it to maximize, because you don't know when the stars are going to align again. Bama fans need only look at USC's current travails to see an example of what can happen after a dynasty ends.

3. The end is coming

The end of UCLA's 88-game winning streak was not fun for Bill Walton:

The demise of the Batista regime was not fun for Fulgencio Batista:

The fall of the Berlin Wall was not fun for Erich Honecker:

When Alabama's dynasty eventually ends, Tide fans will be confronted with the equivalent of David Hasselhoff singing while thousands of Germans dance around a collapsing wall.* All the more reason to hold on for dear life, cherishing what you have right now.

Winning is fun, and the more you do it, the more pent-up desire exists on the part of the vanquished. Eventually, some team from outside of the SEC is going to win a national title. Some team in the SEC is going to win two in a row against Alabama. Hell, it's even possible that Tennessee will someday beat Alabama. Knowing the excitement that will be unleashed when those days come to pass ought to make Bama fans root for delaying the day of reckoning as long as possible.

* - I highly recommend this piece from Roll Bama Roll and this piece from C.J. Schexnayder about the end of the Bear's second dynasty in 1980. Bama fans (at least the rational ones) know that the end will come eventually and they have started to think about what it will look like. The second trip to Jackson in 1980 is as good a place as any to peer into the abyss.

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