Alabama game days are back

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Sports Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way sports fans around the world watched their favorite teams and athletes play. That included game days at Alabama. 

Last season, the typical hot, early September start was pushed back to Oct. 4. Masks were required inside the stadium. The Quad was unusually quiet, as tailgating was not allowed. Bryant-Denny Stadium was limited to 20% capacity, and the 20,000 fans and students who snagged tickets had to socially distance themselves. 

Still, fans and students wandered around the Walk of Fame, honoring players of the past. Eager fans still made their way to Houndstooth and Gallettes to cheer on the Crimson Tide. Families walked around the Walk of Champions, reminiscing on the game days of old. 

Some fans embraced the new normal at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Trent Aldrich, a senior majoring in finance, found the perks of attending home games. 

“I was still able to sit with my friends and be near them,” Aldrich said. “I was still able to interact with the people all around me, dance, yell. I thought it was still a good time.”

This year, fans may not have to work as hard to keep the energy up in Bryant-Denny. 

Tailgating is now allowed. The Quad will be covered in tents, and fans will mill around, enjoying food, drinks and conversation. The local bars and restaurants will accept patrons clamoring for the best view of the television screen. 

Per the UA fall return plan, masks are required indoors where social distancing is not possible. The University reinstated its mask mandate on Aug. 6. 

Last season, 20,000 spectators were allowed for each game, but the University hopes to open the stadium to its full capacity of more than 100,000 fans, which would excite the team. 

“The players that went out early for the draft all had very sad eyes when they said, ‘The thing that I regret most is playing my last season and we didn’t have 100% capacity,’” head coach Nick Saban said to reporters during SEC Media Days. “So, from a player’s perspective, I know how important it is for players to feel the energy, feel the passion because it is a great atmosphere and environment.” 

Last season, that atmosphere Saban described during Media Days was not at the same level as in years past. Fans like Alabama alumna Abby Lofton would agree. 

“It was different, but it wasn’t terrible,” Lofton said. “It was pretty fun. It wasn’t the most fun game I’ve been to, but it was good.”

Much to Lofton’s delight, steps have been taken to ensure a safe and fun return to Bryant-Denny. 

On Aug. 5, Saban announced that the program will return to 2020 COVID-19 protocols. Alabama is trying to become the second SEC program — behind Ole Miss — to reach full vaccination, all in an effort to have fans return in full force. 

“I’m hoping more and more people will get vaccinated so we’ll have the opportunity to do that,” Saban said. “I know it means a lot to our players.” 

According to the Mayo Clinic, Tuscaloosa County is averaging 91 cases of COVID-19 a day. About 40% of people in Tuscaloosa County have received at least one dose of the vaccine. 

The University has also released incentives in order to motivate students to get vaccinated. Students who choose to “Protect Our Herd” will receive $40 in Bama Cash. Students will also be entered in raffles to win several grand prizes, including housing scholarships, parking passes and tickets to an away game for Alabama football. Students have until Aug. 28 — two weeks before the home opener against Mercer — to receive at least the first dose. 

The path back to the energetic, enthusiastic game days of old is paved. The team is ready. Fans are ready. Game days are back.