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Despite twister damage, Tuscaloosa ready for Bama football opener

August 31, 2011 |  6:52 am

Tuscaloosa
Two or three natural disasters ago, the nation turned its eyes to Tuscaloosa, Ala., one of the communities hardest hit by a late-April plague of Southeastern tornadoes.   

Within minutes, a single massive twister had mowed a diagonal stripe of ruin from the southwest corner of the college town to the northeast corner, indiscriminately wrecking upscale neighborhoods, commercial areas and public housing projects. A University of Alabama study estimated it would take $224 million to rebuild the 5,144 housing units that were damaged or destroyed, according to the Tuscaloosa News.

What the tornado did not wipe out: Tuscaloosa's ability to satiate devotees' cult-like mania for Alabama Crimson Tide football.

The Associated Press reports that the city, though still rebuilding, is ready to host the Tide's opening game Saturday morning against Kent State. A handful of storm survivors may have to move out of hotel rooms -- and a few relief workers may have to check out -- to make room for the 130,000 to 150,000 people expected for the game.    

But for the most part it will be business as usual. Depending on their route into town, fans may not even see signs of destruction, the wire service reports.

They will gather at the massive Bryant-Denny Stadium, which looms over the center of the city. The stadium holds 101,821 fans and is fronted by a wide plaza called The Walk of Champions which offers solemn tribute to the school's national championship-winning coaches -- including, naturally, the late legend locals still respectfully refer to as "Coach Bryant" -- with "Coach" as a sort of honorific, like the "Mahatma" before "Gandhi."

The stadium, on the southwestern edge of the University of Alabama campus, was not damaged by the April 27 tornado. Tide fans' relief was similar to that felt by antiquities experts when they learned that Egyptian protesters had spared Cairo's National Museum in January.

Expect Saturday's opener to be a raucous celebration of Tuscaloosa's rebirth, with visiting Kent State serving as a hapless sacrifice to the weather gods: Odds-makers have Bama as a 38-point favorite.

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 --Richard Fausset in Atlanta

Photo: A University of Alabama football jersey hangs from the rubble in the Alberta City neighborhood of Tuscaloosa in the aftermath of April's devastating tornado. Credit: David Bundy / Associated Press

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