Local Bama fans make trek to Pasadena

January 3, 2010 

John Martin is going to see the Crimson Tide play.


The Eufaula, Ala., insurance executive is one of many Chattahoochee Valley fans planning to make the 2,000-mile trip to Southern California to see Alabama face Texas on Thursday in the BCS National Championship game.

Many are making a long weekend out of the Crimson Tide’s first trip to Pasadena in more than 60 years. Not the 62-year-old Martin, a 1969 Alabama graduate and a past president of the national alumni association.

“I don’t care about spending two or three days in California,” he said last week.

And he won’t.

Martin is leaving Birmingham at 9 a.m. CST on game day. That’s about 12 hours before kickoff in Rose Bowl stadium. His charter flight — there are three of them leaving Birmingham about the same time — will land at Los Angeles International Airport about 11:30 a.m. Pacific time, about six hours before kickoff.

Then it is off to Pasadena via bus.

A little tailgating.

Then the main event, which Martin hopes will end with the Crimson Tide’s first national title since 1992.

Back on the bus.

Back on the charter plane.

Back home to Alabama, landing in Birmingham at 6:30 a.m. Central time Friday morning.

Across the country and back in less than 22 hours. To put that in perspective, the last time Alabama played in the Rose Bowl, it was a three-day train trip just to get there.

“All I am taking is a windbreaker and a camera,” Martin said.

Just like a road trip to Starkville, Miss., or Gainesville, Fla.

Martin has been an Alabama season ticket holder since the inception of Tide Pride in the 1980s. Through his season-ticket plan, Martin had the option to purchase two national championship tickets for $200 each.

He did.

And the plan was to sell them, stay home in Eufaula and watch the game on television, like most people will do.

That’s where Martin’s son, West, came into the game. West Martin, 28, is also an Alabama graduate.

“I had to talk him into this,” West said. “He said he could make a car payment with what he would make from selling the tickets. It just wasn’t worth it to go.”

And West will be there with his dad. A salesman, West will be at a conference in Phoenix, so his trip to Pasadena will be much shorter.

“We’re going to meet at the Rose Bowl,” John Martin said.

They are not the only ones planning to make the trip.

Phenix City attorney David Johnson, who has undergraduate and law degrees from Alabama, started planning his trip in November after the Crimson Tide beat LSU.

“My college roommate rolled the dice and went ahead and booked a room in Pasadena,” Johnson said.

But first Johnson had to convince his wife of six months, Laura, to let him go on a boys road trip.

“I am cashing in on all my future Christmases, anniversaries, Valentine Days, all of them,” he said. “I told her this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She said you are going to say that next year when Alabama is playing for the national championship.”

Johnson is not taking the same direct route to Los Angeles that Martin is. To save money, he booked a flight that has layovers in Philadelphia and Phoenix.

“Tried to make it as cheap as I could,” he said.

Columbus businessman Greg Ballard, an avid Alabama fan, said as soon as the Southeastern Conference championship was won, he started looking to the next big game.

“It wasn’t a decision,” Ballard said. “If they were going, I was going. I have been going to all the big games since 1994.”

Ballard will be traveling with his cousins and close friends.

“This is what we have all been waiting for,” Ballard said.

Last week, Alabama coach Nick Saban described the Crimson Tide’s journey west as a “business trip.”

John Martin agrees, and that’s part of the reason he is going out and back in one day.

“I think we have a better than average chance to win,” Martin said. “But if we lose, the last place I want to hang around is California.”

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