Big Al is the costumed mascot of the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide. His origin dates back to 1930 when an Atlanta Journal sportswriter wrote about the previous weekend’s AL-Ole Miss football game ……. “At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble, thee was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming!’ and out stamped this Alabama varsity.” Despite the nickname, it would be nearly five decades before Alabama recognized the animal as it official mascot.
The “Big Al” mascot officially debuted at the 1980 Sugar Bowl, with a victory over Arkansas. He celebrated his first year with Bear Bryant’s 300th win against the Kentucky Wildcats and a victory against the Baylor Bears in the 1981 Cotton Bowl. As the Crimson Tide does not feature a prominent logo on their helmets or uniforms, Big Al’s likeness appears on much of the merchandise.
While allowed to do some planned photo-ops with other mascots such a Aubie from AU, Big Al is generally not allowed to interact on the field with opponent mascots. This is due to an incident in 2002 that took place between Big Al and Seymour from Southern Miss during a game in Tuscaloosa. The scripted fight, planned before the game, turned unscripted after Seymour deviated from the set of rules, and a raucous fight ensued between the two.
“ROLL TIDE” is the official rally chant of the Crimson Tide, and AL fans greet one another with the two-word catch phrase throughout the NCAA football season. Legend has it that the name “Crimson Tide” was originally used by Hugh Roberts, former sports editor of the Birmingham Age-Herald, during the 1907 Auburn-Alabama game. The game, played in a sea of crimson mud, was the last game played between the two rivals until 1948 when the series resumed. The term coined because the red mud stained the AL white jerseys crimson. Alabama held Auburn, the favorite, to a 6-6 tie, gaining the name the “Crimson Tide.” “ROLL TIDE ” was said to illustrate the Alabama varsity running on the field looking like the tide rolling in.
When asked about the Alabama football program, my friend, Roy Munson, an Alabama fan extraordinaire, told me the following: “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.” That says it all when it comes to Alabama football, Roy.