By Mark Nagi

So, I was in West Town Mall with my daughters a few weeks ago and I noticed something rather disconcerting.

No, it wasn’t the utter lack of respect for personal space from fellow patrons, nor the ludicrous number of kiosks selling gear that no one needs.

It was the number of folks wearing Alabama gear.

This wasn’t a situation in which a bus brought a bunch of Birmingham residents into Knoxville as a scientific experiment, to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.  This was random people walking around, not connected in any way except for what appears to be their support for the Crimson Tide.

They were going about their business, waiting in line to get into the Apple store or picking up a “New York slice” at Sbarro’s.

It was noticeable in numbers, and it got me thinking that this is in no means a rare occurrence in our town anymore. If you drive on I-40, you are bound to see license plates or bumper stickers promoting Alabama.

It’s as if Knoxville is being infiltrated and we just don’t know it yet.

This wasn’t happening in the 1990s and early 2000s. Back then Tennessee was dominating Alabama in football, winning ten of their twelve meetings between 1995 and 2006. Unfortunately for Vols fans, the Crimson Tide hired Nick Saban in 2007, and since then Bama hasn’t lost to UT.  Only twice in the last fourteen years has the “Third Saturday in October” even been close.

This is traditionally a streaky series, and Saban can’t coach forever (at least I don’t think so), but this is certainly the darkest of times for Tennessee fans.

And by examining this in what is admittedly a very unscientific way, it appears that some Tennesseans have jumped ship to support the flagship school at part of our southern border.  I’m not saying that these are all Tennessee fans that defected for the chance to wear championship t-shirts. The people that I take issue with are the ones that have no real connection to the University of Alabama but chose to become fans for one reason and one reason only. Because they win.

I’m assuming that some of the same folks that I saw wearing Crimson at the mall also like the New England Patriots, the Los Angeles Lakers and Manchester United.

Now, I can see where perhaps I come across as a hypocrite.  I am a Dallas Cowboys fan, yet grew up in Albany, NY in the 1970s, back when the Cowboys were winning Super Bowls and became known as “America’s Team.” But my allegiance wasn’t spawned from the success (although I’m sure that helped).

My Dad was in the Navy, and the Cowboys quarterback at the time, Roger Staubach was in the Navy. That was enough for me as a bright eyed five-year-old, making decisions that have stuck with me to this day.

Hey… maybe the folks I am seeing around town are actually huge Alabama fans, and have been for decades. But I’d be curious to know if the folks I saw could tell me the name of the Crimson Tide coach before Nick Saban. I’d bet a Chick-fil-A sandwich that some of them have no clue the answer is Mike Shula.

The only way for this trend to stop will be for Alabama to stop winning (probably not going to happen while Saban is coaching in Tuscaloosa), or for Tennessee to start winning again.

Josh Heupel… the floor is yours.