Yeah, I’m crying. In the middle of a tornado warning. After my team lost a game.
But this Alabama loss in the Sweet Sixteen is more than just a loss by my favorite basketball team – it’s the fraying of a thread to my dad.
Dad passed away Jan. 15. And Bama basketball has been one of the few bright spots since.
Alabama sports is one of my connections to Daddy. We watched football, basketball, and even softball together. This basketball season was looking like something special and we were loving it early on.
We texted about the four-overtime win against North Carolina. Then the amazing comeback at Houston on Dec. 10.
“Roll Tide. They didn’t give up. Looks like a good team,” he texted me.
The Alabama-Memphis game on Dec. 13 was an 8 p.m. tip and Dad was tired so he wasn’t able to stay up to watch that win.
He had been diagnosed with lung cancer in July 2021, had part of his lung removed later that summer, had chemo, and got the “all-clear” in December. In August 2022, the cancer had returned and this time it had spread to his chest and liver. Additional chemo had tanked his immune system, sending him to the hospital twice for weeklong stays with infections – once in September and again in November.
So by December he was fatigued and in a lot of pain, but still happy to talk and/or watch Bama basketball.
On Dec. 17, my brother and my youngest nephew came in for a visit. (My sister-in-law and oldest nephew weren’t able to come.) At my parents’ we celebrated my nephew’s birthday with cake and ice cream and we watched Alabama play Gonzaga. Even though the outcome wasn’t what we wanted, unlike last season’s big win, it was nice to cheer on a good, and exciting, Bama basketball team.
On New Year’s Eve, when we walked into Mom and Dad’s house to watch Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, a home health nurse was poking and prodding Dad. After hearing Dad talk about how much back pain he had been having, she called in more meds and Mom went to pick them up.
As usual, Dad and I yelled and cussed at the refs (just a little) and enjoyed the 45-20 win over Kansas State, high-fiving and woo-hooing. Because it had been an early kickoff and we didn’t want to tire Mom and Dad too much, Riley and I came home and chilled the rest of the day.
I texted Dad about the wild College Football Playoff game between Georgia and Ohio State and he texted back: “Good one. Go Dogs”. That would be his last text to me.
Dad’s bloodwork from New Year’s Eve showed another infection and he was back in the emergency room as 2023 began. And he also tested positive for Covid.
After work on Jan. 3, I double-masked and went to hang out at the hospital. Dad wanted a Taco Bell soft taco and Mom needed a sweatshirt because the room was so cold. The three of us Facetimed my brother so we could listen to the recording of the doctors’ prognosis. It was not good.
Not only did Dad have sepsis, the cancer had spread to his spine and lesions were spotted on his heart and his aorta. They couldn’t do a transesophageal electrocardiogram to look at his heart until the Covid was cleared. They couldn’t do chemo because Dad’s immune system was shot. And he wasn’t a candidate for open-heart surgery because of all of his other issues. We were left with nothing but antibiotics.
Even after all that news, after I went home for the night, we texted about the Bama-Ole Miss game, an 84-62 win. My last text to Dad was about the Alabama-Kentucky game Jan. 7. I went and watched the second half with him and Mom at the hospital. Bama won, 78-52, and while he saw a bit of the romp, he slept most of the time.
Dad came home on hospice on Jan. 10, my brother’s birthday, surrounded by our family. The next day we watched Bama beat Arkansas, and I made sure to tell Dad about the game as it went on.
The final game I shared with Dad was the 40-point blowout of LSU. I hope he heard my hootin’ and hollerin’ (albeit quieter than usual) from my spot on the couch next to his hospital bed in the living room. He would have loved seeing that one.
The next day, freed from his pain, Dad passed away. Never have I felt such loss.
And I kept watching basketball and talking to Dad about it.
The photos of us at last season’s Senior Night game against South Carolina are treasures. He was so happy to be in Coleman Coliseum, even though we were practically in the rafters and it took a lot for him to make it up the stairs. The smile on his face in that blurry photo brought me comfort as Bama continued to move forward.
Tonight’s loss to San Diego State hurts. I hurt for the players. And I hurt for myself.
I was so wanting Alabama to make the Final Four and then, maybe, win it all. Every game, every win kept this thread to Dad intact. After tonight, it feels a bit frayed now that the last Alabama season we shared has come to an end.
I love you, Dad. Roll Tide always.