Unified Flag Football: Tuscaloosa Style

The eyes of the college football world will be on Tuscaloosa, AL Saturday night. More specifically, those eyes will be fixed on Bryant-Denny Stadium as the two-time defending National Champion #1 Alabama Crimson Tide take on the rival #13 LSU Tigers, a team that is built to and has given the Crimson Tide problems in recent seasons. The game is being televised nationally on CBS and is sure to draw a large audience given the potential implications on the SEC and BCS races. Few games on the schedule capture the amount of attention that Alabama-LSU does, over the last five years in particular. Each team is a perennial powerhouse nationally, features two of the game’s best minds in Nick Saban (Alabama) and Les Miles (LSU) along with a number of players that will soon be spending their time playing on Sunday afternoons.

However, there is a certain other event taking place in Tuscaloosa on Saturday that is not garnering nearly as much attention or publicity. That said event is a unified game of flag football featuring students from both Alabama and LSU as well as Special Olympic athletes from the Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge areas. College football is king in the south and for those Special Olympic athletes that have grown up surrounded by Saturday afternoon SEC football and tailgate parties, but never got to play the real thing, this could be a dream come true to do so on the campus of the favorite team of the Special Olympic participants from Tuscaloosa. No disrespect to Auburn, but if you live in or around Tuscaloosa, I’m not sure it’s acceptable to say anything other than “Roll Tide”, as cringe worthy as it may sound (Sorry, still a little bitter about Notre Dame’s loss to those same Crimson Tide in the national title game last season). Anyways, back to the task at hand and the amazing opportunity that is there for the taking for Special Olympic athletes in the surrounding area of both schools. It’s going to be a big deal too, the Special Olympic participants will get a taste of what it’s like to play in front of a large crowd. Alabama governor Robert Bentley along with members of the Million Dollar Band are expected to be on hand for the Unified Flag Football game as well as about 1,000 or so other spectators.

The game will be held at 9:30 a.m. at the University of Alabama recreation center. It will be early on a Saturday morning, but the atmosphere will feel like anything but. A lot of these Special Olympic athlete have probably grown up watching sports and in particular, their favorite players and team giving it their all in front of roaring crowds. This may sound cliche, but these type of stories are why we love sports. 50 years ago, perhaps even 40, the concept of college students taking the same field and playing on the same teams as Special Olympic athlete was nothing more than a mere afterthought and many would have immediately dismissed it upon hearing the idea. Saturday should be a special day in more ways than one as the Special Olympic participants take to the field alongside people who they can look up to as role models, as a guiding light and above all else, as a friend.


-Joe Fitzhenry