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Accompanied by Alabama state troopers, new Alabama head coach Nick Saban views the north end of Bryant-Denny Stadium as he takes the Walk of Champions on Saturday in Tuscaloosa prior to the start of the Crimson Tide’s game against Western Carolina.  Alabama beat the Catamounts 52-6 in Saban’s debut.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Accompanied by Alabama state troopers, new Alabama head coach Nick Saban views the north end of Bryant-Denny Stadium as he takes the Walk of Champions on Saturday in Tuscaloosa prior to the start of the Crimson Tide’s game against Western Carolina. Alabama beat the Catamounts 52-6 in Saban’s debut.

Bama fans join ‘Saban Nation’
New coach has Tide faithful holding heads higher; has new era begun?

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — Al Garner easily recalls the first time he saw Alabama’s football team play live.

With his eyes wide with excitement, he recounted the anticipation of when he was 6 and going to see his idol, then-star running back Johnny Musso, and his Crimson Tide take on Vanderbilt.

On Saturday, before Alabama beat Western Carolina 52-6 in the first game of Nick Saban’s coaching career with the Crimson Tide, Garner said he felt the same kind of buildup.

“I’ve been a season-ticket holder since I was in the 10th grade, and I’m 42,” said Garner, a Birmingham native. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. That Vanderbilt game — that’s what it feels like to me.”

After spending two seasons coaching the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, Saban is back in college football, where he won a national title and two Southeastern Conference championships at LSU.

Fans wore T-shirts with slogans such as “Got Nick?,” “Member of the Saban Nation” and “Never Fear, Saban Is Here!” as they socialized on the University of Alabama’s Quad and various other tailgating locales before the game.

In the hours before a sell-out crowd of 92,138 watched Saban’s Alabama debut, the atmosphere seemed more festive than what you might expect for a normal Tide game against Western Carolina.

Ward Harder, a resident of Lynchburg, Tenn., and a self-proclaimed Alabama fan since 1958, compared the atmosphere to 2005, when unbeaten Alabama beat unbeaten Florida 31-3.

“There is that kind of buildup,” Harder said. “There are more people today than I have ever seen. The parking is at a premium. It’s just a great game-day excitement.”

David Erwin, 42-year-old native of Gardendale, compared the atmosphere to the Iron Bowl.

Erwin bought the game on pay-per-view television and was videotaping the broadcast, just to make sure he didn’t miss anything while he was cheering from the stands.

The focus of the excitement entered the stadium about two hours before kickoff. Wearing a coat and tie, Saban surveyed the field as a few hundred fans already in the stands stood up and cheered.

For the various tailgaters and fans, the hiring of Saban could bring back the days when Alabama won consistently.

Garner observed that people held their heads a little higher and puffed out their chests a little more as they prepared for the beginning of the new era.

“Coach Saban is going to instill the winning tradition back at Alabama,” Garner said. “It is going to take two or three years to get his players here. But just the excitement — it makes you want to come to Alabama.”

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