With no real training or practice reports that are making newsworthy events, the past two weeks seemed a great time for a couple of weeks off to tour China.
Many of us have a preconceived notion of what to expect on a long and hop-scotching journey across this country. You expect to see the city lights of Shanghai, the Terracotta Warriors in Xian, the gorges along the Yangtze River, the Great Wall and the Forbidden City and Summer Palace in Beijing, but you wouldn’t expect to meet regular Chinese citizens, as well as tourists from Australia, Germany and Japan greet you with a hearty Roll Tide! Or at least their version of it.
My first experience was a local citizen reacting to my Alabama shirt in Shanghai with an excited and vocal Row Tie! It took me a few seconds to realize he was pointing at me, my shirt and that Row Tie! was his way of trying to say Roll Tide! When I waived and back and returned the Roll Tide, he was full of teeth and a big grin and then said, “Halabama Number One!” His English left much to be desired, but I did get “ESPN”, “Nickie Saban” and “Champions” out of what he was saying.
He picked me as a Bama fan just by the crimson shirt with a script A on it. That alone stunned me. How could this local, a man apparently in his 50’s like me, in a country with limited and very censored television know that script A stood for Alabama, much less know to say Roll Tide?
As my days in China progressed, there was hardly a day when I had something Alabama on that I did not get comments from young, old, locals or tourists from parts all over the world that didn’t recognize either the script A or whatever Alabama symbol that was on my clothing.
We shared a river cruise with 64 passengers from Australia who almost all knew that Alabama had “one of their own” on the team the last two years, Jesse Williams and many wanted to hear a story about him or wanted to know if I’d met him. They were thrilled with any story I told them and many told me that they had adopted Alabama as their favorite college football team and watched faithfully on ESPN or any method they could.
Europeans, who have had a taste of American football for many years now, were especially cued in on all things Alabama. Two German men greeted me with a Roll Tide! and then asked me the same kinds of questions a fan in Alabama might ask. What are the chances of a three peat? Will the departed players be too big a hurdle to overcome this year?
But the Europeans and Australians weren’t as big a shock as the Chinese.
They crave anything Western and what’s big in the US is apparently big in the land of the Great Wall. The Chinese people want a winner of their own and at least two of them said that they wished they could have Nick Saban for just one season to coach their soccer team. They lamented how they were over privileged and under preforming and that Nick Saban could surely whip them into shape in a year or two.
It made me wonder how hungry they were for a winner. Could we trade Nick Saban for say, a retirement of our national debt to China? I think at least a few of the Chinese I spoke to might go for it, though I wonder how much Saban knows about soccer.
What is apparent, is that the lore, legacy and greatness of the University of Alabama extend far beyond the borders of the Yellowhammer State.
As one worker in a restaurant in the airport in Beijing told me during my last few moments in that country, China was a land built on warrior mentality and warlord rule and that they admire the warrior mentality of both Nick Saban and the Alabama players.
Yao Ming, a Chinese basketball player who made the country proud by making it into the NBA and becoming not only a champion, but an All Star, may have made the country sit up and take notice of sports in the US, but now, it’s other sports that keep them watching and one of them is obviously Alabama.
While I spent the last two weeks admiring the treasures of China and getting to know and also admire many of the warm people I encountered, it was nice to have something in common, something in Crimson. And no matter how you say it, Row Tie! or Roll Tide!, it was nice to find that even half way around the world, the Bama Nation seems to have members everywhere.
Larry is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in almost every college football venue. Now he primarily writes for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow Larry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter