‘Roll Tide’ takes on new meaning in Tuscaloosa

Football can’t rebuild homes and families, not even in a
football-mad state like Alabama. But the game can provide
inspiration and hope.

Especially in the aftermath of the devastating tornados that
ripped through the state.

Since the storms on April 27 – which killed 42 people and
damaged or destroyed more than 5,000 homes in Tuscaloosa alone –
”Roll Tide” has taken on new meaning. The saying, which usually
stands for greetings and goodbyes and many things in between, now
sends the message, ”We can do this.”

Alabamians from all over the state and people from around the
country have descended on the state to help. And ”Roll Tide”
supplies a quick pick-me-up for ‘Bama fans, said Keith Avery, a
lifelong Tuscaloosa resident.

”It instills a ray of hope,” he said. ”It reminds people you
can’t take that from us. You can take material things, but you
can’t take that. We’re from Tuscaloosa.

”You’ll never take that from us.”

Crimson Tide offensive lineman Barrett Jones says he and his
teammates feel Tuscaloosa is their town, too. So they are trying to
do their part.

Jones, who went out with others from the football complex to
pass out drinks and later helped clear debris in the Forest Lakes
neighborhood with a chain saw, said it’s important for athletes to
embrace the city.

”Football is a big part of the Alabama community,” he said,
adding, ”Obviously it is our city.”

Alabama coach Nick Saban has taken it a step further. His
charity, Nick’s Kids, has adopted a community in Holt as part of a
project to rebuild every home there.

”I’ve never seen devastation like this and I don’t think you
can get the full impact by watching on TV,” Saban said Tuesday at
the Southeastern Conference’s spring meetings in Destin, Fla. ”You
get the physical impact of the destruction. But you really don’t
get the personal pain of meeting the people who lost their home and
lost all their belongings and people who lost loved ones and had to
make calls to tell people that.

”The personal pain is not apparent as it is when you’re right
there witnessing it.”

Saban’ charity has embraced ”Project Team Up,” a concept Saban
hopes others will follow. Architects, lumber companies, builders
and other groups are donating time, energy and supplies to help
rebuild Holt.

Together, they’re trying to reconstruct each of the 60 homes
destroyed.

”The people are going to have ownership because they’re going
to buy the home and pay $600 a month,” Saban said. ”And then
we’re taking that $600 and putting it in the foundation to build
the next home and the next home and the next home and the next
home. That’s what we’re trying to do.

”But bigger than what we’re doing is we’re trying to promote
the concept to people all over Alabama and all over the southeast
that got affected by these tornados to team up a small group, pick
some place and help build it.”

Saban hopes that ”Roll Tide” spirit takes hold.

Tide long-snapper Carson Tinker has experienced the power of it
firsthand.

He was injured in a tornado that killed his girlfriend, Ashley
Harrison – a sorority sister of Saban’s daughter Kristen – and is
still recovering mentally and physically. He is going through
physical therapy with a broken wrist and preparing for a skin graft
on his ankle, which looks ”like they took a divot out of my leg
with a golf club.”

Still, he gets a boost whenever he hears ”Roll Tide” and from
the numerous fans – both Auburn and Alabama – who have told him
they’re praying for him.

The first time Tinker heard it was from a woman at the hospital
in Tuscaloosa.

”When that lady said, ‘Roll Tide’ to me in the hospital, I’ll
never forget that,” Tinker said. ”It really does give me a lot to
look forward to in the fall. It really means a lot to me.

”Every time I hear it, I smile. And I kind of choke up a little
bit.”

Despite the tragedy, the anticipation of the fall continues to
lift spirits.

Preseason magazines fill a shelf next to the front door at the
local Barnes & Noble, one with a cover wondering: ”Another BCS
banner for Title Town?” The display window at Bama Fever, where
you might catch a reflection of the destroyed shopping center
across the street, features a crimson and white T-shirt with ”We
Are Alabama. April, 27, 2011” on the front.

”You talk football 24-7-365 when you live here,” Avery said.
”I’ve been living here 52 years and it’s always been that way. It
still is. It’ll never change. There’s too much tradition,
especially when it comes to the University of Alabama.”

Auburn coach Gene Chizik says everyone wants to see Tuscaloosa
rise again.

”It’s not about an Alabama or Auburn thing. It’s a state that’s
been devastated,” Chizik said. ”This is real life, this is
real-life stuff … that happened to real people in the state of
Alabama. So it doesn’t matter what colors you wear, it doesn’t
matter who you root for.

”The goal is to get the state of Alabama back to where it was
before the tornados came through.”

Saban knows the work will continue for a long time.

”Sometimes when I speak now I actually say, ‘I’m going to speak
to you for a minute and I’m not the head coach at Alabama,”’ he
said.

With maybe a ”Roll Tide” thrown in.

AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Destin, Fla., contributed to this
report.