TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — On face value, it was difficult to say who had it rougher at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, those watching and baking in the stands, or the players running around all day in the sun.
Even the Million Dollar Band ditched the jackets and had everyone wear white T-shirts when not on the field.
Yes, it was hot. Like insanely hot for a September college football game, as the National Weather Service said the heat index in Tuscaloosa was 107 during warmups, and 105 at kickoff.
Remember Sweatin' to the Oldies, the workout videos by Richard Simmons? Well this was the college football equivalent as anyone who stuck around for the second half probably lost at least five pounds of water weight.
Make that 25 for those inside a Big Al costume.
Alabama never took down the medical tent because the training staff was that concerned for everyone’s safety.
Dripping to the Tide was a blowout of course, 62-10, yet the Crimson Tide faithful showed up for the most part. Attendance was announced as just shy of a sellout at 100,710, and there were empty seats in every section.
Considering the situation, though, it was a really good turnout.
Granted, the Walk of Champions had a sparse turnout, maybe the smallest since it became a tradition. It also went off 10 minutes earlier than anyone expected.
When all the details are arranged the planners have to account for traffic slowing the buses down. There was none.
The lots normally full of RVs were nearly empty. Hotels had rooms. Tickets were being given away.
Most fans didn’t stick around for the end, of course, which wasn’t surprising, but one really couldn’t blame them. The students who stuck around were rewarded with “Dixieland Delight” (and its colorful inserted lyrics), "Lady Marmalade” by the Million Dollar Band (which has even racier lyrics), and freshman kicker Will Reichard making two field goals, from 48 and 49 yards.
If you follow Alabama football, you know what kind of reaction those kicks brought.
Similarly, you know what kind of response Nick Saban gave when asked about the empty seats.
Alabama vs. New Mexico State was terrible pairing, but in Alabama’s defense there aren’t too many opponents eager to make the trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium these days just to get annihilated. The Aggies, who are cashing in this season by also playing Washington State and Ole Miss, got a payout of $1.7 million for the experience.
Duke got $4.5 million to play in last week’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. Organizers couldn’t land a better matchup and it’s pretty obvious why.
“We try and schedule the best teams that we can schedule,” an annoyed Saban said. “We’re trying to do that in the future as well. But we can only play the people who are willing to play us.”
Saban is on the record as wanting a 12-game schedule against only Power Five opponents. Fans obviously love the idea, only the SEC won’t go for it because too many schools fear risking losing a bowl-game payday. It’s also a huge reason why the league won’t play a nine-game conference schedule.
“My own people don’t agree with that,” Saban added during his postgame press conference. “Why don’t you start calling around and see if you can get someone to play us. We’ll play them. We’ll play anyone you can get to play us.”
But getting some changes in the next television contract is something that Alabama is going to push for in the very near future.
Director of Athletics Greg Byrne doesn’t see why every other major sport can have game times announced before the start of the season while college football does not. Meanwhile, he’d like to see some flexibility in altering kickoff times when the conditions may be dangerous for either players or fans.
There may not have been a hurricane in the area, yet this definitely qualified.
The 3 p.m. start was totally a TV thing that Alabama had no direct control over even though CBS, which will have first choice of every SEC game from here on in, has yet to begin its broadcast schedule.
“When I was out west, Arizona and Arizona State were not contractually obligated to play days in games in September in Arizona,” Byrne said. “It’s too hot of an environment.
“Here, it’s hot everywhere in the Southeastern Conference.”
Meanwhile, Alabama has agreed to numerous home-and-home series with the likes of Notre Dame, Texas and Wisconsin, which will begin in a couple of years.
Even so, filling out the schedule remains an enormous challenge. It’s why Alabama ended up with an upcoming two-for-one deal with South Florida and is flying in teams from places like New Mexico State.
Actually, the heat was easier on one group in particular Saturday, the guys who notched the lopsided win.
“We practice in it all the time,” senior linebacker Anfernee Jennings said.