Signs of the Time

Luke feb 15The importance of a good punch line.

By Luke Robinson


When Alabama was about to venture into Jordan Hare Stadium to play Auburn for the first time ever way back in 1989, everyone knew the significance. The sport’s greatest rivalry on Auburn’s campus for the first time ever? The Iron Bowl took on a whole new meaning that day.

Some other younger Tide fans and I decided we needed to do our early-teenaged part in helping the team get fired up for the historic game.

So we made signs. A lot of signs. A sign for every single player on Alabama’s roster, more specifically. It wasn’t nearly as easy it sounds. We pored longingly over these signs. They needed to be right, damn it!

The plan was to put said signs all along the interstate so the team could read them on their way to the stadium. (Because nothing gets college football behemoths fired up for some slobber-knockin’ like reading!) The Tide team stayed in Montgomery and drove to Auburn on game day, so we put the posters all down I-85.

The signs were meant to be motivational and were unintentionally cute on occasion. It’s hard to remember precisely what they said, but an example would be something along the lines of, “Play Like a Classic, Lassic” for running back Derrick Lassic. (I didn’t say the signs were all that creative, mind you.)

Most of the one-liners wrote themselves. “Ready for Battle!” for number 88, Marco Battle; “Give us ‘Bragg’-ing Rights!” for Bragg Rockwell. Stuff like that.

But as we worked our way down the roster, we began thinking less and less outside of the box. By the time we were in the high numbers, guys like #90 Keith Neighbors received antiseptic phrases like ‘Do Good,’ ‘Yea!’ or  ‘Try Not to Embarrass Us.’

Give us break…it was late and we were all really tired from being eighth graders all week.

Then we got to number 98 on the roster: Mr. Willie Wyatt. Wyatt was a hulk of a man from Gardendale. Just a monstrous human being. A nose guard’s nose guard. A fan favorite. The problem was, we were completely spent as a creative team that night. We knew Wyatt deserved a cool catch phrase, but we had nothing in the mental tank to give him.

That’s when my friends’ mom chimed in with the most appropriate, awesome sign yet. It was so succinct and chock full of Iron Bowl-ivity. The sign drew in your eyes and the words rolled off of your tongue: “Kick ’em in the Willie, Wyatt!”

It’s motivational, gimmicky, and just tacky enough to be memorable without being distasteful. It was perfect. To this day I don’t remember Wyatt without thinking of him being inspired to kick someone in the junk against Auburn.

The thing is, I have had no reason to give Wyatt a lot of thought since then. I am probably like many of you out there when it comes to football players of our favorite teams; they seem as important to us as family for their few years on the field, but then drift from our consciousness after their playing days are done.

It’s almost like they were never really… real. Or if they were, they were only real in the sense that they briefly played for a school we love. It’s easy to forget that the players are just people, too.

For instance, I remember playing pickup basketball about 15 years ago at  a Sports First in Birmingham. Lo and behold, as teams are being chosen, Antonio Langham walks in to shoot with us.

Antonio Langham? Just walking in to ball in Birmingham on a random Saturday morning? That guy saved a national championship for Alabama! He practically saved the SEC championship game as an event! He is a rock star! Shouldn’t he be eating peeled grapes and counting money on a throne made of beautiful women and sports cars?

Back to Wyatt for a second. I mentioned I never had reason to think of him anymore, and I didn’t. That is, until I saw a story about Gardendale’s 2014 football team by’s Jeff Sentell. Apparently Wyatt is the defensive coordinator for the Rockets. That was news to me, and I was thrilled to hear it. Not surprisingly, the Gardendale players love him, too. Just hearing that Wyatt is doing great and doing what he loves was fantastic enough for me.

However, the story Sentell wrote was more about how Wyatt had been having some potentially major health issues, which gave his family reason to believe his life was in danger. Luckily, it seems Wyatt is in the clear now, but there were some shaky moments for him. Shortly after his health scare, Gardendale won a huge playoff game against Homewood—the same Homewood that knocked Wyatt and Gardendale out of the playoffs when he was a senior in 1985. In the Gardendale locker room, the team demanded Wyatt give them a speech.

It took some convincing, but the big man reluctantly lumbered to the front of the room, looked out over his players and simply said, ‘Hit ’em in the mouth.’”

It wasn’t “Kick ’em in the Willie, Wyatt,” but it must have worked.

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