Troll Tide

The 2021 Alabama Football team is trolling us.

This, of course, relies upon your definition of “trolling”—I will allow those who have extensive coursework in composition and rhetoric and digital space fields, such as my cool wife, to really dive deep into social media dissent and digital counterpublics, but for this particular instance, we will stick with the merry prankster concept of the term: a playful ribbing and hyper self-awareness of existing communities, provoking emotional responses from an unsuspecting public. Cool? Cool.

A controversial statement in the defining of trolling is that trolling is something that is always done with intent: more often than not, we are the ones that troll ourselves, by reacting to something with disdain or anger in an almost immediate way. We see this happen a lot online where we see an innocuous (or clearly satirical) statement & we immediately wish to react to it, getting ourselves all riled up and providing a response that is more often than not diffused by the original poster: “I didn’t mean it that way/you read this wrong,” before we skulk away embarrassed. Of course, this way of posting has been completely weaponized by folks spreading mis-information: dog whistles posted by people in bad faith who then pretend that they didn’t mean anything by it, then smirking all the way to the bank and/or massive amounts of clout and internet engagement. There are reasons why “never tweet” is quite possibly the best advice I can give anyone—but then again, where is the fun in that?

The bottom line is, we are all a little bit of a troll. I am a generally affable person. People hold me in high regard, more often than not. But man, do I ever love it when folks take the bait on things. This is something that I have reeled in over the years—I was forged in terrible message board culture: toxic college football boards, pre-facebook hot or not ranking sites, bodybuilding dot com forums, not being skinny enough for the makeoutclub dot com wars but participating anyway, fighting like hell on a different messageboard after Dubya shut down the RATM message boards after 9/11. I know a little something about knowing what grinds someone’s gears and needling at it—I’m grateful that something shifted in my brain that I use these powers for good (it’s mostly because I have a wonderful and patient support system consisting of strong women, plus a handful of race and gender study classes in undergrad, look it up!), that you are much better served getting to know what brings joy to people you love rather than what brings misery to people you hate. It’s something that I see act itself out in the middle of large debates on the internet & it makes me more than a little sad.

I’ve been thinking a lot of Cecil Hurt this week, as I imagine most Bama fans have been—Cecil was a perfect Internet Troll: deeply knowledgeable of himself as well as his fanbase, as well as a little devilish in his tweets. One of those quick-witted souls that would get a jab in & you wouldn’t even realize you had been jabbed until twenty minutes later. Could out-scheme everyone. Both prince and jester.

This team has been toying with the emotions of Alabama fans all year long. From the wildly inconsistent defensive play that plagued us in games at the beginning of the season, allowing Florida to get within a failed two-point conversion of taking us into overtime, to boat racing Ole Miss in a game where every person I ran into that week was pleading for absent Daddy Lane to take it easy on us & tell us we’ve been really good, to sleep walking through a TAMU game before waking up, only to fall apart along the stretch, to the second half of the season, which has been nothing but a series of greatest hits of the ghosts of SEC past. Heading into Starkville expecting the absolute worst house of horrors and holding the Air Raid to three field goals. Gaining 33 first downs against Tennessee, only to be up only 7 points in the 4th quarter before Dixieland Delight gave us the power to rattle off 21 unanswered. That LSU game, where we got to see the 2011 Game of the Century from the perspective of an SEC hater. A back and forth dog fight that would’ve cracked a painful smile from a neck-braced road-rashed Bobby Petrino.

Even before the Iron Bowl, we got a classic Nick Saban rant, blaming the fans for the otherworldly expectations placed upon this year’s team. He’s right, of course, but if we’ve learned anything about Nick Saban’s media outbursts, they’re not for us—they’re for his players. Nick Saban, this year, who has been downright CHILL VIBES—laughing, joking around, not taking things so deathly serious. It seems deeply apparent that the team is wound ridiculously tight, and so Saban is providing a need: going the opposite direction and becoming some Earth-2 version of himself that is dancing in post-game celebrations and actually enjoying himself, rather than a ball of pure misery as he does the Wobble at some 5-star grandma’s birthday luncheon. We, of course, think he must be trolling us too: is he retiring? Who is this guy? WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON!?!?

And thus, the absolute perfect troll job at the perfect time. There is not an Alabama fan alive that if you told them on Friday afternoon that the score of the game would’ve been 24-22 in quadruple overtime, they wouldn’t have responded with “well, shit. did a hobby lobby long-backed co-ed at least turn an ankle while they tried to plow through those hedges?”

Instead, Alabama wins a football game where:

  • Auburn is playing a back-up QB, who plays the final minutes of regulation and all of overtime on one leg
  • Our offensive coordinator does the Mike Shula special and calls Darby up the middle when every person on the planet knows Darby up the middle is coming, including on multiple 4th and shorts
  • We have eleven penalties for 129 yards, including what seemed like eight thousand personal fouls/face masks
  • Our best offensive player gets ejected for a targeting call on a special teams play where he wouldn’t have even needed to make a tackle, but the punt was partially blocked
  • Auburn has a lame duck coach because he won’t get vaccinated like a goddamn grown-up, but he’ll be able to have “1-0 against Nick Saban” on his resume until he gains access to The Bridge to Total Freedom
  • There’s a bad hold by Bear Bryant’s grandson that takes three points off the board
  • After improbably getting the game to overtime, our super-saiyan defense gives up a one-handed touchdown to a back-up tight end
  • We need to make a field goal to extend the game

Instead we win a game thanks to the internet’s least favorite West Monroe citizen since Bradie James making a touchdown grab in the first overtime, and win it on a play where a top ten CB who has destroyed our shit all night gets COOKED on an NCAA 14 route. And THEN Nick Saban has the nerve to tell us the secret to winning the game was he told his guys at half-time to go have fun out there.

Sure. Fine. Whatever.

Cecil Hurt, famously after Alabama won the national championship in 2020 after going undefeated against a grueling SEC schedule during an on-going pandemic called the 2020 team the “best-loved”. This 2021 team is not very well loved. They know it. And you know what? They don’t care. This team is the “best-lulz”d. The 2020 team could’ve went down to the Plains and blown out a .500 Auburn team who got worked by South Carolina seven days prior—but if that team had every possible thing go wrong & found themselves down 7 with less than two minutes to play and had to survive four overtimes in that concrete slaughter house of a stadium, the outcome might’ve been different. Instead, this is the team that managed to out-Auburn Auburn in front of a Jordan-Hare crowd that had already started to crowd the lower rows in anticipation of rushing the field. Who co-opted our signature Crane Kick celebration like 87,000 whiskey-drunk Rural Sociology Major Daniel LaRussos. We did it with a quarterback who has a Subway endorsement meal that he has probably never eaten in his life, who has a mustache he grew meticulously over three years back in middle school & seemingly can’t let go of. Our all-galaxy outside linebacker throws 360 lb men into the sun with one arm while singing a series of early 2000s R&B hits: I wouldn’t put it past him singing Tank while tackling Tank.  

This team isn’t intentionally trolling—not necessarily because of the intention vs reaction theory—but because a true troll doesn’t believe in what they’re actually doing, because believing in something shows weakness—something that a “true” troll can exploit. This team put themselves in the worst possible situation and fought like absolute hell to get out of it. Now that we knew the outcome, we can laugh about it—rewatching the game became deeply comedic—executing the long con, the same way that when we read an internet thread that makes us furious the first time we read it before we realized that it was satire. This team is Rick Roll Tiding the entire Alabama fanbase all the way into the SEC Championship game against a former version of ourselves who very-well might dox the shit out of us, take away our Gateway 2000s, and make us clean up our act. But for one glorious night, we were in on the joke.

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