Dick Coffee saw his first Alabama Crimson Tide game on Sept. 20, 1946, a 26-7 win over Furman. Yesterday, Coffee passed away at the age of 91.
In the 24,381 days between that first game and his passing on Friday, he didn’t miss a single game. In eight different decades, through 67 seasons, over 781 games–home and away–the one true constant for Alabama football was Dick Coffee.
When Paul Bryant lost his first game at Alabama against LSU in Mobile in 1958, Dick Coffee was there. He probably felt a twinge of uncertainty over the future of this man they called “Bear”.
By the time Jan 1, 1962 had rolled around, the uncertainty had long-since disappeared as Coffee watched on from the stands in Tulane Stadium as Bear Bryant led the Alabama Crimson Tide to a national championship, beating the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Sugar Bowl 10-3.
In ’64, ’65, ’73, ’78 and ’79–the first two in Miami at the Orange Bowl and the latter three back in New Orleans–he saw the Bear win national championships two through six, with the jubilation of each title pushing the memory of that opening day loss in 1958 further and further into his memory.
By the time Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2006, Dick Coffee was well into his 80s. He was hard of hearing, and by the start of the 2012 season he had been relegated to a wheelchair, which he wheeled–or, more often, was pushed–into whatever stadium the Crimson Tide were playing in on that given day. He made it to all 14 games, including the 42-14 waxing of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the 2013 BCS National Championship.
As AL.com’s Don Kausler, Jr.’s described in his eulogy of Coffee late Friday night, it was a special victory for him, as he had seen his beloved Crimson Tide fall to the Irish in five of their previous six meetings. It was also the 10th Alabama national championship Dick Coffee witnessed in person.
But for all that Alabama football gave to Dick Coffee, he gave it right back.
In the late 40s, Coffee and his friend Oakley Melton were integral parts of the revival of the Auburn Rivalry. From 1946 to 1948, Coffee and Melton worked relentlessly to reopen lines of communication between Auburn and Alabama administrators, and in 1948 a handshake deal was struck, and the Iron Bowl resumed that fall with Dick Coffee proudly in attendance.
He attended 65 Iron Bowls in total.
Amid all the contentiousness that we’ve associated with that rivalry, highlighted by the heinous acts of Harvey Updyke in 2010, there was Dick Coffee, a man who toiled just to renew the rivalry in the first place.
With recent news of Howard’s Rock–the treasured landmark of the Clemson Tigers–being desecrated by vandals coupled with Updyke’s crimes, die-hard college football fans (particularly in the South) have been cast in a negative light recently. But, for every Harvey Updyke there’s a Dick Coffee and, while not as dedicated, another thousand passionate, wonderful college football fans out there.
Dick Coffee got complete and absolute enjoyment out of Alabama football. That’s the way it should be.
One of the great things about sports is that it can be what we need it to be.
Sometimes it’s just a game–an outlet we’ve designed to take our minds off something more pressing, more important. Other times, it’s something more.
There are parallels that run between sport and life. It’s important to neither overvalue or undervalue that fact. To neglect the good sports can do is just as tragic as it is to over-embellish their importance.
Whether it’s little Jack Hoffman living out a dream while he’s fighting for his life or a father and a son building a bond over three hours and a common interest on a random Saturday, sports are supposed to be good. Folks like Dick Coffee exemplified that to the fullest.
When Dick Coffee bought that ticket in 1946, he wasn’t seeking recognition. Eventually, he’d get it, when ESPN.com named him the No. 1 college football superfan in the country in 2010, but all he was looking for was three hours of fun.
781 games later, I’d say he got his fill.
Dick Coffee, gone but not forgotten.