Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron will play his final college game tonight when the Crimson Tide meet Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. (Reuters)
NEW ORLEANS — The number of autograph seekers outside the University of Alabama’s team hotel is about the same as two years ago when the Crimson Tide played LSU in the Superdome for the national championship.
But the wave of Crimson supporters on Canal and Bourbon streets is considerably less.
“I just can’t seem to care anything about this game,” said Blaine Terry, of Moulton, Ala. “That Auburn game is still on my mind.”
Third-ranked Alabama plays Oklahoma tonight at 8:30 in the 80th annual Sugar Bowl.
It will be the Tide’s first game since its Iron Bowl defeat on Nov. 30 when Auburn’s Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 100 yards for a touchdown on the game’s final play.
“It’s the way we lost,” Terry said. “I just have a bitter taste in my mouth that just won’t go away.”
Sugar Bowl officials are expecting about 100,000 crimson-wearing football fans from Oklahoma and Alabama to descend on the Big Easy. If Tuesday’s fan fest in the French Quarter and foot traffic on the streets are any indication of what’s to come, most of the fans will be with the Sooner nation.
“I’ve never seen it like this,” said Alabama supporter Crimson Rogers, of Madison, Ala. “I was down here two years ago, and you couldn’t take a step without someone saying ‘Roll Tide.’”
Rogers, 15, has attended every Alabama bowl game during the Nick Saban era.
“Maybe if we beat Oklahoma, people will move past the Auburn game,” she said.
Businesses are also feeling the lack of Alabama fans.
“When Alabama is in town, it’s always a wait,” said Jerome Johnson, of LeBayou Restaurant on Bourbon Street, on Tuesday. “We haven’t had that problem today.”
The last time Alabama played in the Superdome and the game wasn’t for a national championship was Jan. 2, 2009, when undefeated Utah upset the Crimson Tide.
Joe and Melody Mazza flew from California to see their freshman son, Cole Mazza, who is Alabama’s long snapper.
They acknowledge the mood around the team is different since Auburn derailed Alabama’s chance for a third straight national championship.
“But I think they are going to be ready,” Joe Mazza said.
Alabama’s players also have responded to questions about their motivation for playing in the Sugar Bowl.
“If we come out there and dominate in this game, we can still be looked at as the best team in the country, and that is what motivates me,” wide receiver Amari Cooper said.
Responding to questions about whether he is treating this like a business trip, starting quarterback AJ McCarron said: “Of course, it’s nothing other than a business trip. We definitely need to focus everything on getting ready to play and finish the season like we are supposed to.”
McCarron and receiver Kevin Norwood are both fifth-year seniors and played significant roles in Alabama’s win over LSU two years ago.
“It’s really important for us to go out with a bang,” Norwood said. “Me and AJ came in together. We’ve spent five long, hard years here. It’s just important to us to go out with a bang and finish our year strong.”
Self-described “diehard fans” Tracey Clement and Deidria Alexander, of Moulton, Ala., are attending their first Alabama game in New Orleans.
“We need to get rid of this Auburn demon by beating Oklahoma,” Alexander said.
For some Tide fans, however, a win over the Sooners will not be enough.
“I’m looking forward to the Auburn and Florida State game,” Terry said. “I need the Seminoles to win.”