Alabama and QB John Parker Wilson will face Georgia on Saturday at 7:45 p.m. ET.
(Marc Serota/Getty Images)
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His mother was an Alabama cheerleader, so it stands to reason John Parker Wilson was a Crimson Tide fan before he was born.
Susan Wilson had her own Bama street cred even before her son became the current starting quarterback. In Tuscaloosa's Paul W. Bryant Museum there's reportedly a picture of her, Joe Namath, Bob Hope and the Bear himself. That's big stuff in Bama.
As for John Parker, he can't recall the first Crimson Tide game he went to as a kid because, not surprisingly, he was always going to them.
He does remember a composite of all those days. There was the look of the crimson uniforms, the helmets with the numbers on the side, the crowd screaming "Roll Tide" as he stood alongside his father and brother. He can still smell the smoke at the tailgates and appreciate the time with his aunts and uncles and recall how each game seemed to mean so much to so many.
"Growing up, you either choose Alabama or Auburn because there are no other sports teams," the suburban Birmingham native said. "There's nothing else to pull for.
"My family was all Alabama. I just kind of got used to it."
Saturday night he'll lead a bunch of Alabama guys like himself against a bunch of Georgia guys also like himself. The only difference is a geographic line that defined their boyhood dreams, their parents' legacies and their state institutions' incredible life-long appeal.
Both Alabama and Georgia are in the top 10 and both are unbeaten. And while both hold national championships dreams, this is about local rivalries made up of neighborhood players who always wanted just this opportunity to represent their state.
As the college game gets bigger and bigger, as the coaches are paid in the millions and conferences in the billions, as 90,000-plus stadiums are packed for the spring game, the simple stories like Wilson and all the others who will take the field can be so easily forgotten.
John Parker Wilson's stats
Players who back in the day got sucked into college football fandom and dreamed of what they've become, in Wilson's case the star quarterback of his family's beloved Crimson Tide.
Actually, when he was a star-struck kid, hustling up to Alabama players at public autograph sessions, he says he hardly remembers even daring to dream it.
Running the Tide offense wasn't the obvious plan anyway. He was a better baseball player and was drafted by the Florida Marlins while he was in high school.
Football was mostly just fun, even as he led Hoover (Ala.) High to consecutive state championships and such powerhouse status that MTV showed up and did a reality show on it. John Parker was graduated by them, but his younger brother Ross was one of the stars of "Two A Days."
Then 'Bama offered a full ride and a shot at the QB position. The baseball situation faded a bit. And with that, what was a guy like him to do? When you boast a name such as John Parker Wilson you either become a star on the CW or the Alabama quarterback.
"Once I had the chance to come here to play football there wasn't any other place I really considered," he said. "I was recruited by some other schools but they knew as well as I did that I was going to Alabama. There really wasn't a question."
There would be. There would be a lot of questions. For Wilson, the four years in Tuscaloosa have been anything but smooth, the cruel reality of big-time college sports. He's been through two head coaches, three offensive coordinators and as a starter his sophomore and junior seasons as many losses as wins.
Along the way he had good games and bad, great wins and rough defeats, roaring cheers and brutal boos.
"They are going to love you when you're doing well and hate you when you're not," he said.
He isn't complaining. He's Bama through and through. His time in Tuscaloosa has exceeded his hopes, he says. The only downside is its speeding by so fast. Not just the games, the simple times with his buddies, the big dinners, the jokes, the laughs.
"Just being in college and not really having too much to worry about."
This year the eighth-ranked Tide (4-0) are better, in part because the offense is balanced. Wilson, who took so much of the past blame only to keep shouldering on, isn't asked to save every series. There's a running game to keep defenses honest and an offensive coordinator, Jim McElwain, who's worked wonders.
Now Wilson has what he wants – a team to lead. He knows his college career isn't a fairy tale. He isn't going to win the Heisman. He isn't anyone's sure-bet NFL player. At this point it's just about winning games for Alabama. It's more than enough.
"I think the biggest thing is we have a good group of guys in the locker room," he said.
Bama guys, mostly. There are 57 in-state players on the roster. Saturday they'll meet a Georgia team with 82 of its own in-state players. Most on both sides are just like Wilson, players proudly representing their place and their people in an age-old battle in the Deep South.
This is what being a home-grown quarterback is about. This is what growing up in Bama to play for Bama feels like.
"I love it," Wilson said.
More than he could have dreamed.