Ask Andy Turner why he didn’t keep his Crimson Tide-themed man-cave to himself and it’s obvious he’d never even thought to do that.
Sitting in a chair on the fenced, roofed patio of his shed-turned-shrine, hidden away on a back road southeast of Heflin, the 44-year-old Anniston Army Depot employee blinked and considered an answer to the question: Why do you let anywhere from 20 to 70 people come hang out at your house every weekend to watch Alabama football games? Why share decades of sports memorabilia, three flat-screen televisions, cold beer and cheese dip worth talking about on the ride home? Some folks would keep that to themselves, after all.
“It’s just enjoyment,” Turner finally said, flanked by his fiancee, Bridgette Newman, engaged just these last few weeks, and his friend Chris McKnight. “I just love it.”
Turner took his departed father’s old workshop and brought it across the road from where it once sat, put it on a concrete pad and filled it with treasured possessions from Alabama football history sometime around 2007 (he isn’t immediately sure of the year, but he measures the time in Alabama milestones; it was around the time Nick Saban took his job as head coach). Inside the converted workshop, there’s a deed to Bryant-Denny Stadium framed in the corner, and a lamp built with a small statue of Bear Bryant leaning against its base. Souvenirs and the like line a few shelves, and a cardboard standee of Big Al, the team’s elephant mascot, looms beside the television. Two other screens flank the double-door entrance on the outside, where Turner keeps a mini-fridge stocked with beer and soda.
On a cool day — maybe a bit cooler than Saturday’s 89 degrees when Alabama’s season kicked off around 2:30 p.m., with the Crimson Tide facing off against Duke University — the little shack, covered in license plates of local football teams and big banners featuring Saban’s determined mug, turns into a football fan’s oasis.
“Oh, I love this,” McKnight said, watching the kickoff. He’s been to Turner’s place every year since the man-cave was built. “It’s better than going to the game. I only live five minutes away, so it’s a no-brainer for me to get by here.”
Once you’re invited, you’re in, Turner said. Folks show up to see the game every weekend. He has some he calls his regulars. The other day he got a call while he was shopping from his friend, a police officer, who confessed he was checking on Turner’s whereabouts from the man-cave’s patio, watching TV.
“When it comes to football, for some reason, it’s ‘the more the merrier’ for me,” Turner said.
It’s ten or fifteen minutes later when Newman confides that one of Turner’s notable qualities is his drive to help people find some happiness for a few hours every weekend. It’s admirable of her to be so admiring of him, too; she’s an Auburn fan.
“He’s got just about everyone on his side except for me and my son,” Newman quipped.
Newman tried to keep from watching the Iron Bowl with Turner when they started dating, just to save them both the heartache of rooting for each other’s sworn enemies. She visited him on the day of the game and didn’t end up leaving, though. Turner had to talk her into sitting down and seeing the game, and in spite of expectations, things turned out fine (Alabama won). Newman said she kept a cool head about the loss.
“I will say, the next year, when we beat y’all, when Auburn won — that was a much different story,” Newman said, grinning.
But team loyalty didn’t seem to override Newman’s support for Turner. A little after the game started, she unfolded a table inside the cave proper and loaded it with chips and salsa and cheese and boiled peanuts. Come and get it. The shrine to the Tide in her own yard doesn’t really bother her, she said.
“Because it makes him happy, it makes me happy,” Newman said. “But a few years ago I would have told you ‘Roll Tide’ will never come out of my mouth.”
Turner said his parents weren’t wild football fans; he picked up his love of the game and his team on his own. Just like the decision to share his football setup, though, it seemed that loving another team had never occurred to him.
As far as he’s concerned, Alabama is “the only team.”