A longtime journalist for Sports Illustrated looks back at the tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and the football team that helped the town heal.
On April 27, 2011, “one of the deadliest [tornadoes] in the history of the South” touched down in the state’s fifth-largest city, destroying more than 5,700 homes and businesses, taking 7,000 jobs, killing 53, injuring thousands and leaving almost no one unaffected. Anderson (The First Star: Red Grange and the Barnstorming Tour That Launched the NFL, 2009, etc.) spends the opening chapters setting the scene for that awful day, introducing most of the people whose stories unfold at greater length as he charts the next 12 months at the University of Alabama and in this tightknit town forever altered by the whirlwind. It’s a two-pronged tale: the cleanup and rebuilding of T-town, including the slow recovery of some who lost loved ones, and the help and inspiration supplied by the Crimson Tide football team that went on to win the national championship. Players and coaches spent the summer working with citizens on relief efforts, reassuring victims, raising funds and rallying National Guard troops. In the process, they developed extraordinary team chemistry and the conviction that they were playing for something bigger than themselves. Readers understandably weary of the redemption-through-sports theme should know that it works spectacularly well here. First, in football-crazed Alabama, passion for the sport and respect for players and coaches run deep. Anderson supplies just enough explanatory material about the Tide’s history, its fabled coaches and honored traditions to demonstrate how Nick Saban and his players were perfectly poised to assume an important leadership role. Second, the author wisely touches only lightly on the games, focusing instead on the team’s bond with the community and the genuine solace offered in the face of inexplicable tragedy.
A deeply reported, sensitively rendered story that avoids cliché and persuades us that there might indeed be such a thing as “football therapy.”