George Will

Alabama's obsession with football began, in a sense, on Jan. 1, 1926, five months after the Scopes trial ? about teaching evolution ? gave the South's despisers fresh ammunition. On that day Alabama's Crimson Tide became the first team from the South to play in the Rose Bowl. The Tide won, 20-19. The South really would rise again.

But in every region, sport can produce a collective mind, or sometimes a collective setting aside of mind. In 1895 a French psychologist published "The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind," pioneering the study of the mental unity of crowds ? people in the same frame of mind. "Freud," writes St. John, "disparaged crowds as neurotic on the grounds that, like neurotics, crowds 'demand illusions, and in fact can't live without them' and 'are guided not by ordinary objective reality but psychological reality.' "

However, St. John believes in using Ockham's Razor ? that is, in first trying the simplest explanation of a phenomenon: "We can't paint our faces and scream like maniacs at our desks, in the classroom or at the dinner tables with our fam- ilies, so. . . ."

Well, then, why does St. John care about the Tide? "I chose Alabama the way a baby bird chooses its mother: It was the first thing I saw." We all acquire such allegiances, but there also is a regional twist to this. For Southerners, the myth of the Lost Cause is all very well, but winning is nice, too.

So try to think anthropologically about those 'Bama fans who fire up their RVs, break out their radar detectors and sing "Rammer Jammer Yellowhammer! Give 'em hell, Alabama!" They are not just emulating the RVer who said: "We can't be young, but we can be immature." They are pursuing what sportswriter Frank Deford called "that curious Southern combination of eternal knighthood and childhood." Roll Tide.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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