Brad Connell wasn’t always wrapped up in the battling cries of “Roll Tide” and “War Eagle” that he now hears regularly, and even participates in.
Connell grew up away from the Deep South, away from the rabid fans in orange and blue or crimson and white that gather Thanksgiving weekend each year to support Auburn or Alabama, the good guys or the bad, depending on what color your ball cap is.
Connell watched the Iron Bowl, the annual matchup between the football teams at Auburn University and the University of Alabama, at The Gridiron at the Oxford Exchange on Saturday. Every television in the packed restaurant and bar showed the showdown.
“I grew up up North where the NFL is more popular,” said Connell, who moved to Alabama five years ago, where of course there isn’t a pro football team — just two universities and fan bases that force a choice between the two sides. He chose a side, and found an appreciation for the sport.
“I started following Alabama, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Connell sat at the end of the bar, wearing blue rather than crimson despite his new allegiance to his adopted team, sipping a beer after watching a back and forth period right before halftime of the game, with 38 points scored between the teams in the final six minutes.
Dueling yells of protest, whoops of excitement, fist bumps and battle cries broke out throughout the restaurant and its outdoor patio. The crimson contingent complained as Auburn kicked a field goal to make the score 31-27, still in favor of Alabama, at halftime.
Several stepped out at halftime, as pickup orders came and went. The less boisterous of the fans snacked on chicken wings at tables away from the bar, with jersey-wearing servers weaving their way through watchers to refill drinks.
A cavalcade of crimson-clad supporters took the break in the action as an opportunity to snap a few group photos.
There were suspenseful segments throughout the second half, but ultimately Connell’s team lost its most important traditional game 48-45.
“It’s been a back and forth game, and it’s just been fun to watch,” Connell said at halftime.