The second day of January became a day of unforgettable firsts for at least one diehard football fan. For starters, I attended my first bowl game — the 2006 Cotton Bowl Classic — because my alma mater’s football team was playing there for the first time since the Paul “Bear” Bryant era ended more than 20 years ago. To do otherwise would have been inhospitable.

Friends warned me about traffic jams and limited parking in the Fair Park area, so I rode to the stadium on the DFW Alabama Alumni Club’s bus. My party of four arrived first at the loading site and took our seats among other fans, friends and alumni clad in the usual Bama caps, T-shirts and other game-day garb.

The driver greeted his patrons, then settled into his seat and wheeled the bus onto the freeway as choruses of “Roll Tide, Roll Tide, Roll Tide” reverberated throughout the bus. The cheerful shouts and laughter settled into a muffled roar that harmonized with the hum of a diesel cruising comfortably toward downtown.

As we approached the mixmaster, the shrill squeal of brakes shifted our attention from gameday chatter toward the endless sea of red taillights ahead. The parking lot effect continued for an eternity, and an ominous chill ran through our bones. Would we arrive at the Cotton Bowl in time for the kickoff? Would we get there at all?

Our bus driver seemed determined to wait for his chosen lane to thaw, so some of the more vocal of our number campaigned for an alternate route — to no avail. Then, in a rare moment of creativity, I uttered a modified version of Alabama’s Roll Tide: “Roooooll … Bus, Roll!”

As if subliminally inspired, the bus driver spun his steering wheel like a riverboat roulette wheel, gunned the diesel and darted past oncoming traffic in a game-changing performance equal to injured playmaker Tyrone Prothro’s award-winning catch against Southern Miss. Before long, we departed the bus and trekked along rows of RVs, live oaks and port-a-johns. As we neared the front gate, a roar arose from the other side of the concrete edifice directly ahead. They just kicked off! I missed the kickoff for the first time in 40-plus years of attending Alabama football games.

We instinctively picked up the pace, presented our tickets at the gate and zig-zagged up the concrete ramps leading to the west upper deck. I juked past the patrons meandering along the walkways and passed through the portal at Section 108. The first thing I saw was a huddle of crimson jerseys with white numerals glistening against a field of green beneath a crystal-blue Texas sky. I imbibed that familiar game-day swoon until the referee’s whistle broke my euphoria.

Quarterback Brodie Croyle, my son Jonathan’s look-alike, led his team up to the line of scrimmage, took the snap and zipped a rifle shot to rangy wide-out Keith Brown. Brown secured the pigskin and turned a humble slip-screen into a 76-yard touchdown.

With Alabama leading 7-3 at halftime, Texas Tech probably considered Alabama’s defense the most formidable obstacle at the Cotton Bowl. They should have been standing in line for the restroom. At least the Red Raiders eventually scored a touchdown. I spent the entire halftime stonewalled a full 30 yards from the men’s restroom without even a first down — much less an opportunity to flush.

That late Tech touchdown knotted the game at 10-10 with time running out. Brodie rallied the Tide in a fashion reminiscent of other Bama No. 12s — Pat Trammel, Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler. Croyle’s march ended at the Tech 28. With five ticks left on the clock, the outcome rested on the foot of placekicker Jamie “Money” Christiansen.

As a rule, I don’t pray over football games, but on this day of firsts, I made an exception: “Lord, please help Jamie to make that kick!” Christiansen stepped forward, cocked his right leg, and pulled the trigger. The pigskin rose feebly and fluttered like a wounded dove.

My chin dropped. In disgust, I peeked at the official standing in the goalpost shadow expecting to see a “no good” signal. Instead, the man in the striped shirt thrust his arms skyward. Bama 13, Tech 10.

In the post-game afterglow, our jubilant throng of Bama-Texans posed for a group picture, exchanged high-fives and took our respective seats on the bus. As the bus exited Gate 7, I felt compelled to utter that new Cotton Bowl cheer one more time: “Roooooll … Bus, Roll!” And it did.

Bart Cannon is a guest

columnist. He can be reached at

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