By Nick BeJeaux and Cody Worsham
“Every time LSU and Bama play, there’s an understanding…we don’t speak. I haven’t talked to him this week, and I don’t plan on talking to him the rest of the week.” – LSU fan and Tuscaloosa resident Micah Willis, referring to his brother-in-law, an Alabama fan.
Micah Willis and his brother-in-law haven’t spoken this week – and they don’t plan on breaking the silence any time soon.
Don’t worry; it’s only temporary. Their friendship has stood the test of time – they grew up together and later married sisters. It’s simply an unspoken (pardon the pun) family tradition that goes back as far as the two can remember: When LSU and Alabama face off, their face-to-face shuts down.
“He is the equivalent fan to Bama as I am to LSU —which is pretty obnoxious and way overboard,” said Willis, a Tiger fan in Tuscaloosa who just so happens to work for the University of Alabama as a Wildlife Technician. “Every time LSU and Bama play, there’s an understanding…we don’t speak. I haven’t talked to him this week, and I don’t plan on talking to him the rest of the week.”
Willis and his brother-in-law are just two of the many examples who prove that in college football, fandom is not limited by geography. In fact, there are many LSU fans in Alabama, just as there are many Tide fans in Tiger Town. And though their allegiances may differ, their perspectives are quite similar.
The Crimson Stick
It may be surprising to learn that there are actually many Bama fans living in Baton Rouge – the heart of Tiger Country. That’s because local fans of the Crimson Tide, wisely, tend to keep their loyalties to themselves. Still, they occasionally – and surprisingly – get an earful from folks in purple and gold, especially when they don their crimson on game day.
Torrence and Thurman Thomas front the band ASKTHETHOMASBROS, which is known for consistently drawing a crowd to Downtown venues. The brothers have also started their own creative agency that helps big name companies like Bacardi, Lincoln Motor Company, and Street Etiquette “look cool.” While both have studied at Southern and LSU, their strong roots in Tuscaloosa have held fast their loyalty.
“It starts from birth, really,” said Torrence. “Our mom graduated from [Alabama], we have two aunts that graduated from there, and our uncle is Jeff Torrence, who was a linebacker on the 1992 Championship team that won in the Sugar Bowl – that was the first football game that we ever went to.”
The brothers have a lot of friends in Baton Rouge, and, obviously, just about all of them cheer for LSU. That doesn’t hold them back from wearing their true colors on game day, but they’re both more tactful when it comes to business.
“In professional settings we mostly have to pick and choose when to open our mouths about it,” said Thurman. “We had a meeting the other day and the guy just wanted to talk about LSU stuff, and we were thinking, ‘I don’t care about LSU, I’m an Alabama fan!’ And when we’re playing shows, we can’t just walk up into the Varsity and yell, ‘Roll Tide’ – I can’t do that!”
Passions and loyalties aside, both brothers agree that the tribalism that dominates sports fandom has grown to be a little more than ridiculous.
“To me, at the end of the day, it’s just a game,” said Torrence. “If you’re going to let one moment ruin your week, maybe you’ve come to that point where you need to realize you may be taking the game a little too seriously. You’re letting someone else dictate the way that you feel and you’re giving that power over you to someone else. I think people take it out of perspective and make it everything and it shouldn’t be like that – it’s entertainment, that’s all.”
Bayou Bengals in Birmingham
Willis is the counter to the Thomas brothers. He grew up in Anniston, Ala. – about an hour east of Birmingham. Both parents, Louisiana natives, were Tiger fans, and so Willis was born with purple and gold blood coursing through his veins.
“I was raised to be an LSU fan,” he said. “I’ve never really done anything but cheer for them.”
Even when he was an undergrad – first at Alabama, then at Auburn – Willis was a proud Tiger, decorating his dorm room accordingly and donning the LSU colors whenever he could. Not even marriage could sway him.
“I’ve converted my wife to LSU,” he said, “because she says she doesn’t care as much as I do. She used to be Alabama fan, and she doesn’t understand. Before, she could cheer for LSU in any game, as long as they weren’t playing Alabama, but I could never do that. I could never cheer for them in any game. I always wanted Auburn to lose and Alabama to lose.”
Another Tiger fan in Alabama, Ashley Turner, completed her undergraduate at LSU in 2010 and received her graduate degree three semesters later in 2011. Today, she works as an elementary school teacher in Birmingham and sits on the board of the LSU Alumni Association’s Birmingham chapter, and she’s grown accustomed to being a stranger in a strange land – though LSU losses are easier for her to deal with than victories.
“It’s annoying to hear ‘Roll Tide’ all the time, but I’ve learned to deal with that,” she said. “When LSU loses to Alabama, they joke and tell me, ‘Good game,’ but if LSU does well, things get a lot harsher.”
Take, for example, 2011, when LSU went into Tuscaloosa and left with a dramatic 9-6 victory. The win looked to put LSU on course for a national championship run, with Alabama on the outside looking in. Though the two would meet for the title in January – a game Alabama won 21-0 – the view from Birmingham in November was fairly hostile.
“I had my flags on my car when I went to the store,” Turner said, “and when I came back to it, someone keyed it pretty bad.”
That was the worst incident Turner has been through so far, and while she thinks passion is all well and good, taking it too far is not.
“Some of the insults and pranks are all in good fun, but people sometimes take it too far,” she said. “There’s people at LSU who do the exact same things to Bama fans that were done to me by Bama fans. Anybody who takes it that far is just ridiculous.”
The College Conundrum
Maria Hoffpauir is a 20-year-old junior at LSU who originally enrolled in and attended Alabama. A Louisiana native, Hoffpauir’s family moved to Alabama while she was in high school, and upon graduation, she decided to stay in-state.
After two years in Tuscaloosa, Hoffpauir transferred to LSU, and her friends in Alabama gave her plenty of flak.
“They called me traitor,” she said, laughing. “They were like, ‘How could you?! You’re a coonass and a corndog – what are you doing?’”
For Hoffpauir, the rivalry isn’t so heated, though. Despite having had feet in both camps, she keeps a calm perspective on things.
“I laugh to myself because I’m not a super strong LSU or Alabama fan,” she said. “I haven’t been to a game all season. For me it’s more of a cultural thing anyway. It bonds families and friends together. It gives them something to be passionate about, and that’s great. But I’ve heard about the terrible things that fans to each other. I personally feel that hurting someone emotionally or physically because they support another team goes way too far. Football is a sport; it’s something to enjoy. Passion is great and everything, but no one should ever hurt someone else – that’s never okay.”
Willis, meanwhile, will continue to hold up his end of the silent deal he’s agreed upon with his brother-in-law. That means no bragging, no boasting, and even no consoling. Win or lose, he’ll keep quiet – for his family’s sake, and his own.
“We give each other a two-week period – the week before, and the week after – where the other doesn’t call, out of respect,” Willis said. “Even a call that says, ‘Hey ya’ll played a good game,’ that pisses you off more than anything. So we give each other some breathing room. That’s the key.”