When the Game Was Afoot

While watching the Auburn vs. Alabama game with my sister Jane and niece Natalie, we segued slightly to a conversation about technology. I was telling them that I am old enough to be amazed at what an iPad can do. I can hold this device in my hands and stream a movie or TV program. It’s not plugged in, not connected to any wires. It’s just entertainment that drops down from the heavens to keep me from being unoccupied. Or something like that.

This topic came up because I had made a recent purchase. As I explained to them, I had in mind what I would buy and pushed back on every tempting offer of upgrade even before the sales clerk could finish her statements. She eventually said, “And you’re probably not going to want…” And I said, “No.”

But then, as she handed me my package, I asked a question that I quickly regretted – because it came right out of the 1990s: “Does it come with written instructions?” The salesperson looked at me oddly as my 20th Century question hung in the air. “No written instructions,” she said. “You can Google it.” Oh, yes. I had forgotten about Google. That was a helpful tip.

In any case, because Jane, Natalie and I were watching the Iron Bowl, I moved on to tell a story about a radio trivia quiz I had once answered. It was the first day of class for my sophomore year in college, and I was getting dressed in my dorm room when I heard the disc jockey ask, “What was the score of the Alabama-Auburn game in 1971?”

I knew this score. 31-7. As I explained to Natalie, my early-20s niece, there was no Google then. This score was something I remembered. My other sister’s boyfriend was an Alabama fan, and after the game, someone had given him a jacket with the words “Alabama 1 31-7” screenprinted on the back. That’s why I remembered.

But the far more notorious or delightful score (depending on your view) was the tally that occurred the next year, 1972. Alabama had led 16-0 into the fourth quarter, and two blocked punts put Auburn on top. I had listened to this game on the radio, incidentally. As I explained to Natalie, there was no ESPN, no ESPN2, no SEC Network, no live streaming. Sometimes games weren’t televised, and you had to listen on the radio.

In any case, back in 1981, I was a young college student, but I hadn’t been born yesterday, and I knew the DJ was trying to throw people off by asking the Iron Bowl score for 1971. Probably the first ten callers were rushing to their touchtone and rotary dial landlines to say, “17-16!”

Clearly, there was a game afoot. I found a coin and headed for the hallway. Again, as I described these primitive conditions to Natalie, there were no cell phones. I had to use the hall phone to call the radio station. When the DJ answered, I gave the correct score, and he said, “You’re a smart lady, aren’t you?”

I don’t know if he had been disappointed that I hadn’t been thrown off by a year. But still, I knew what I knew. He said he was going to put me on the air, and he told me to turn up my radio so I could hear the question when he asked it. Problem was, the radio was in the dorm room in a stereo case. I was in the hallway. I had to call out to my roommate, Lisa Baughn Bond, to turn up the radio. Problem was, standing in the doorway of our room, Lisa resisted this request.

As it happens, we were not supposed to turn up radios really loud, and Lisa didn’t want the dorm mothers to get upset. Lisa was always a very nice person and didn’t like to do things that were upsetting to people. Me either, you know? But there was a game afoot. I explained to Lisa that I was on the phone with the radio station, and I needed to hear the question.

Fortunately, against her better judgment and with disregard for propriety, Lisa turned up the radio volume in our dorm room so that I could hear the station while standing at the hall phone.

So the disc jockey came back to me, asked the question, and I answered, “I think everybody knows that score was 31 to 7.”

I heard a cheer or two in the dorm; others were apparently listening. Later, when I was on campus, three guys walked past me, and one asked, “What was the score?” As I told Natalie, that was a little like going viral back in my day.

She and Jane asked if I got my prize. No, I didn’t. I had won a Command Performance haircut. This was a new model for beauty salons; it was the kind of place where you could walk in to get a haircut – and you didn’t even need to make an appointment in advance. But at the time I only knew how to drive to a handful of places in Montgomery – for example, toward the two malls, the Super Foods, my other sister’s house, and which way was home. I didn’t know where the radio station was, and it’s not like we had Google Maps to guide me. I answered the question, enjoyed the moment, but skipped out on the prize.