Hannah Saad | @hannah_saad21
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
This year’s football season at The University of Alabama looked different than usual. Tailgating was not allowed on campus. Gameday street traffic was almost non-existent and Bryant-Denny Stadium was operating at one-fifth of its normal fan capacity. However, the Crimson Tide was still welcomed to the field with the roar of the 20,000 fans who snagged a ticket for the first home game in the shortened 2020 season.
Despite all the challenges this season presented—the spread of COVID-19 throughout athletic departments and teams, the cancelations and un-cancelations of football throughout the NCAA and safely bringing students back to campus—game day at The University of Alabama was back.
Addy Lofton, a senior majoring in public relations, had a seat in the lower bowl.
“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.”
While grassy areas on both sides next to the Walk of Champions were roped off, fans still lined up along the gates and sidewalks around the Walk of Champions to witness Nick Saban lead the Crimson Tide down the newly added tunnel to the field.
Even though no tailgating tents were pitched on the Quad this year, families still milled around the Quad and Denny Chimes, where some explored the Walk of Fame and compared their handprints and footprints to the football team captains of years past.
Even the process to enter the stadium had to adapt to the times. All fans were required to wear a face mask or face shield to enter the stadium, and all the stadium staff were required to wear the items throughout the game. In addition, all tickets apart from student tickets were only issued digitally. Fans had to hold up their phones to a staff member behind a clear plastic barrier for the staff member to scan their tickets. Students could still scan their physical ACT cards to enter the game.
Fans sat in cushion-back seats, as opposed to sitting on the metal bleachers. Seats were put together in groups of two to six seats, and the groups were six feet apart from other groups of seats to promote social distancing.
Once inside, fans were advised to wear their masks throughout the stadium except when eating or drinking. Staff at the bottom of the stands walked around carrying signs that read “please keep your mask on.” Most students in the lower bowl wore masks when walking around and in line for the concession stands. When seated, about half of the students kept their masks on, while the other half took their masks off.
With the athletics staff at Bryant-Denny trying its best to maintain normalcy, one fan took it upon himself to maintain another legacy.
Trent Aldrich, a junior majoring in finance, took up the mantle of “Shaker Skirt Guy” from former UA student Nick Ebel and walked into the student section wearing a skirt made of crimson and white shakers, a red Script A painted on his chest and boxer shorts to save himself from any wardrobe malfunctions.
“I knew he was graduating, so I was just like, ‘you know, I like the ‘fit, I think I’ll take it over.’ Just one day, I felt like doing it,” Aldrich said.
Per SEC guidelines, field access is restricted to essential personnel, which kept the Million Dollar Band, Crimsonettes and cheerleaders in the stands for the entire game with no on-field performances. Not even Big Al could score sideline access.
In addition to these restrictions, the Million Dollar Band was limited to only bringing 96 members from the band to each game. To help bring some of the typical gameday experience to the reduced crowd, a video of a previous on-field performance by the MBD of “Yea Alabama!” and the B-A-M-A spell out were played over the new-and-improved monitors in each corner of the stadium.
Trevor Burton, a freshman majoring in operations management, said he has been attending Alabama games all his life and was attending his first game as a student. Burton said the energy levels at the game did not compare to his past experiences at Bryant-Denny.
“They played it on the Jumbotron and did the whole pregame band thing, but there was just no one on the field, and the runout wasn’t as fun,” Burton said. “It was a good game, but it’s just not as hype as it usually is.”
While fans could not stand together in one mass, their cheers and jeers all came together when it mattered. Despite the restrictions on the crowd sizes and extra hoops fans had to jump through to enter the game, some fans were still overall happy with their unique gameday experience.
“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.”