The victorious flight home from Glendale began innocently enough, crammed between two older gentlemen, head down reading a lame attempt at fiction from one of the seatback magazines. The story was “The Best Breakfast I Ever Had” — something about two made-up brothers and some crabcakes.
But my seatmates changed everything, when they would have none of my silence and instead regaled me with tales of true brotherhood for five hours. After three hours next to Jimmy, from Phoenix to St. Louis, I sought out his brother Gary for the second leg to New Orleans. When we landed, my claim to Tide fandom (of which I am pretty proud) seemed small.
Jimmy and Gary Lambert, both retired educators from Monroeville, Ala., can’t remember how it all happened — how “the streak” began. At the end of the 1993 football season, a 9-3-1 effort from Gene Stallings’ Crimson Tide, Jimmy looked over at Gary and said, “Joe, it looks like we went to ‘em all.” (Now seems the appropriate time to point out that Gary goes by “Joe.” Jimmy is “Pro.” I didn’t ask why.)
After the next season, I guess the same thing happened. And it kept happening, and happening and happening, because here Joe and Pro found themselves returning from Glendale, Ariz., and their 295th consecutive Crimson Tide game together.
Somewhere between Game 1 and Game 295, the brothers’ wives gave up the ghost of keeping up with them and were content to stay home. I suspect they partly feared for their safety. “We have been lost in every major American city,” Joe said. After a wrong turn in Jacksonville brought them into a less-than-desirable neighborhood, one of the wives piped up from the back seat. “Where are y’all taking us?” she asked. “I think we’re already there,” Pro answered, nervously.
Or perhaps the wives now stay home to look after the dog, Saban, or one of their three grandchildren: Paul, William and Bryant, a trio so famous the New York Times wrote about them last year. But that was back when Pro and Joe were only on game 283 of the streak.
I couldn’t help but ask what their most memorable trips have been. For Pro (i.e., Jimmy), his first answer was Memphis. Refer back to “being lost in every major American city,” conjure up those parts of Memphis you generally try to avoid, and you get the picture. For Joe (Gary), though, it was going to Hawaii for two straight years during the Dubose-wrought bowl ban. The first year, Pro and Joe stayed on the north shore of Oahu, but found the scenery lacking. The next year, Shula’s first (“He just tried not to lose too bad”), they stayed on Waikiki Beach. I tried to ask about their time in Hawaii, curious for details of the paradise I’ve never visited. “Hell, I don’t know,” Joe said. “The time change had us in bed by 7 o’clock.”
Pro said he wasn’t sure what would stop the streak but another trip like that might do the trick.
Both brothers agreed on their worst experience: Mizzou. Personally, I’d had an outstanding experience in Columbia, once we got there. Like my group, however, Pro and Joe found the trip a tad lengthy. “Just when you think you’re almost there, you’ve got hours left. And there ain’t a damn thing to look at in south Missouri,” he said. (Preach, Joe, preach.)
Additionally, Joe didn’t take kindly to a Mizzou co-ed flipping his Tide cap off his head, unprovoked. But they endured the travel and the torrential deluge, to witness Alabama’s virgin voyage to its newest conference member.
Sitting there, drenched in the stands, the brothers looked at each other and grinned.
“Don’t everybody get to do this.”