Farewell to my favorite Alabamian, everyone else

For the 3,347th and final time, here’s my final act as Alabama beat writer. This didn’t run in print, but here’s my farewell column. It’s only fitting to publish it here. Thanks for everything. You guys can always reach me at michael.casagrande@gmail.com. Good day. Good luck.

Dear Ava Grace Whitlock:

Yeah, I know. You’re 3. Literacy is still a year or two off, so have mom or dad read this one to you.

Well, this is it. My Alabama journey began a few months after your birth in 2009. You, of course, belong to my favorite former co-worker, Cody Whitlock. I was an outsider hired to cover Alabama athletics that spring. Quickly your birthplace became my home.

The football team was supposed to be good that fall. Starting on A-Day was only the appetizer for the jolt your state was about to give me. You folks love your football. I knew that before spending an afternoon with 84,050 or so of your fellow Alabamians, but each gave me an idea what the next few years would mean.

Turns out that football team was good. That coach named Saban knows what he’s doing. He might come off a little scary when my questions weren’t welcomed, but he’s an alright fella. Only you could get away with asking about comparisons, expectations or sacks. Trust me, kid.

I’m heading to the place he once called home. Sometimes big kids have to make tough decisions. When the South Florida Sun Sentinel (of Fort Lauderdale) offered me the job covering the University of Miami, I had to take it. Wednesday was my last day.

But as I bang out the last words on this beat up laptop, the memories come flooding back. I reflect upon my eventful 1,166 days of Alabama citizenship through your young, but maturing eyes. Your folks thankfully welcomed this Yankee with strange political beliefs into your home.

You had me at “PSSSTSSSSTTSSS.”

That first fall was quite a trip. Most of the people who’ll also read this won’t forget it. Alabama ended 17 years of championship-free football in Pasadena, Calif., in January. My head never stopped spinning. Covering high schools in Indiana for almost two years could never fully prepare you for SEC football. Standing on the field as Terrence Cody blocked that kick against Tennessee was surreal. Tim Tebow’s tears almost stained my shirt in Atlanta and I sent you that picture of Mickey from Disneyland.

Fun stuff, huh?

Most folks thought the next fall would be a repeat, but football doesn’t follow a script. Sports are funny that way.

Subconsciously, you learned a little about managing expectations. Some grown ups have yet to master that skill, but dad can tell you about that Harvey guy some other day. Again, Alabama finished the year near Mickey’s other house and your toy collection reflected that fact.

You were almost old enough to digest that last football season. I hope you forgot what happened a few months earlier, though. You’ll hear stories about the horror of April 27, 2011, but please take something positive from the ultimate negative. Do a Google search for Carson Tinker some day. Your iPad 12 will teach you what heroism is, though the stories you won’t read are the most striking.

Then, Alabama went on to win another championship in January. The season was more of a Picasso than a da Vinci, but it still counted.

I wish you could’ve stepped inside Bryant-Denny Stadium on the evening of Nov. 5. No game — not even the two national championship games I covered — had an atmosphere quite like that Alabama-LSU first draft. Nothing will top the intensity that night. I count myself lucky to remember it. Watch the HD 4D replay some day.

Everything else is a blur as I pack up the gear and look south. All my junk and a few bottles of barbecue sauce will make the drive to the end of America in a few days. Hard to believe, really.

I’ll also carry the nickname you gave me for as long as I live. Come on down and see Mickey and stop through Miami while you’re in the neighborhood.

These have been three of the craziest years of my life, but you were always there to remind me what’s good in the world. I’ll miss that the most.

Your pal,

The Weird Guy

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