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Football fans make strange bedfellows

Alabama fans and Tennessee fans make strange bedfellows. And, when they cozied up together in Troy, that was mighty strange.

However, that's exactly what happened and the result was a lot of brand new fans for Troy State University athletics.

Just how it happened that 22 Alabama and Tennessee fans came together at a neutral site was the work of Bill Rice Sr., a former player for Bama and the Bear and a Trojan through and through.

Rice logs on to the University of Tennessee football Internet board, Gridscape, often and posts every now and then.

"Gridscape has an opponent's chat room and a lot of Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and Florida fans get into some good debates," Rice said. "Gridscape lets it go where other boards show bias and won't let their opponents talk. That infamous Tennessee stud, Roy Adams - the guy most Alabama fans think got us involved in the NCAA investigation - posts quite a bit, so it's an almost anything goes board."

When Rice learned that the "foe fans" were planning a preseason luncheon and looking for a site, he posted.

"They were considering Atlanta, Chattanooga and Birmingham, so I just asked, 'Why not Troy?'" Rice said. "I didn't think they would consider it, but they did and they came."

Last Saturday, 16 Alabama and Tennessee fans met in Troy for their "friends, not foes" luncheon. They came from Atlanta, Huntsville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Lenore City and other hamlets in the Volunteer state. The group included a group of female Vols fans known on the Gridscape as the Hussies.

Six locals who post on the Tennessee board joined the group as unofficial hosts for the day.

Rice was the official host and gave the group a guided tour of Troy, including historic College Street, the downtown square and Troy State University.

"Everybody had a positive comment about Troy," Rice said. "They were surprised that we have so much history here and they were very surprised at the athletic facilities at Troy State."

Rice gave the group a tour of the university's athletic facilities, including the soccer field, track, tennis courts, Trojan Arena, Riddle Pace Field and, of course the football stadium.

To a man, Hussy and child, the football fans expressed shock and awe at Movie Gallery Veterans Stadium.

"This stadium is very impressive," said David "Tidegeek" Woodall. "This is an indication that the Troy State University athletic program is moving up. I had no idea that Troy State had anything like this. Troy State will be my second favorite team. I can't wait to come back to watch a game. The old mystique of Troy State is gone. This is a different Troy State."

Ward Henniker of Chattanooga said the TSU stadium is better than the one at UT-Chattanooga.

"I'm surprised and I'm impressed," he said. "This is better than UT-Chattanooga by far. I'd like to see a game here - as long as it doesn't involve our getting beat."

The Boss of Gridscape Chuck McCullum said he, too, was impressed by the stadium.

"It's a place that I'd like to come back to," he said. "I was also impressed with the baseball field. We saw it from the press box and it's as good a facility as I've seen. We'll go back and post information about our pre-season luncheon in Troy on the board and a lot of football fans will read it. Troy State should get a lot of positive publicity out of this trip."

The Hussies were impressed with the stadium and all of TSU's facilities, but pointed out that the heat is turned up about 20 degrees on the artificial turf.

"How will those players stand it out here with pads and helmets?" Iris "Tin Flower" Garrett asked. "Boy, is it hot."

Garrett was anxious to get off the field and under a shade tree to talk about the friendships that have developed between Alabama and Tennessee fans.

"I'm Tin Flower," she said, explaining that the iris is Tennessee's state flower. "Ten-flower."

Garrett has been a regular on the Tennessee message board for about eight years and is an original Hussy.

"Most everyone who posts on Gridscape is a fan of SEC football," she said. "We all have our favorite teams, but we all love football, especially SEC football. And, we've learned that friendship are more important than any football game."

Garrett said many of those who post became board friendly over time, but last year those friendships became binding during a dark day in Tennessee.

The Vol fans invited the Bama fans to a "tailgating before the whupping" Tennessee had planned for the Crimson kids. However, the Tide rolled and the Big Orange got squeezed.

"The loss would have been unbearable if it had not been for the friendships that had developed," Garrett said, with a smile. "And, too, it had been so long since Bama had won that we had to be elated for them."

Clint and Amy Thompson and their two daughters said the Bama Gridscape fans will return the favor of the tailgate party when Tennessee travels to Tuscaloosa this fall, but it will be a dark day in Alabama for Vol fans.

"Everybody gets together for the tailgate party and we get a lot of strange looks," Amy Thompson said. "It's unusual to see Tennessee and Alabama fans on friendly terms, but we are because we've all become friends. Friendship takes the edge off a loss — or a win."

The fans will bring their favorite tailgate dishes to share and, no matter who wins, a good time will be had by all.

Rice said he's not much for tailgating but he just might make the Gridscape party.

And, if he does, the crowd is sure to ask for more of his tales of Bama and the Bear.

Rice played for the Bear from 1985-62 and was on the 1959 team when Bear passed out cigars to his team for the first time.

Even though the Bear often said a tie is like kissing your sister, he passed out cigars after Bama and the Vols tied.

"We had whipped them physically and he was pleased with the effort," Rice said. "But, he didn't pass out cigars after the 1960 game against Tennessee.'

All of the Vols fans grinned from ear-to-ear as Rice told the story of the Tide's 20-7 loss to the Big Orange.

Rice went in for an injured lineman and, not being used to the position, he was flagged with three 15-yard penalties.

"We fumble three times and made a lot of other mistakes, but on Monday, I was the only one on the practice field wearing an orange jersey," Rice said, laughing. "I don't know why Coach Bryant blamed me for the loss."

The Tennessee fans laughed, too. They like stories that end with the Vols in the win column and a big L on the Bama side.

But, it's friendly laughter now and football seems to be a little more fun these days in the Tennessee chat room. And, Alabama and Tennessee have moved over to make a little room for TSU among the strange bedfellows.