‘Terror, Tragedy and Hope in Tuscaloosa’ and ‘The Curious Case of Rolando McClain’ Analysis

I know that my time in Lars Anderson’s classes has been worthwhile each and every semester, but I don’t know if I can fully explain all that I have learned. After all, it’s a bit of a tricky question because you aren’t really learning facts or trying to work out the solution to a problem.

But the one thing that has stuck with me from him that I can recount off the top of my head at any given time is that “losing is always more interesting than winning.” That might not be verbatim, but I think I get it. When you lose the purpose to win is bigger than it will ever be for a continuous winner. Losing builds character, while winning maintains the status quo. (I mean, which would you rather write about?)

From what I have been told by him personally, Anderson’s “Terror, Tragedy and Hope In Tuscaloosa” and “The Curious Case of Rolando McClain” stories for Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report, respectively, are two pieces that particularly give him pride. I already knew both well from previous reads, but it didn’t occur to me until re-reading them that they are strikingly similar.

Obviously, there is the Alabama theme. Tuscaloosa is the home of The University of Alabama and Rolando McClain played for the school’s football team, the Crimson Tide. But it’s much deeper than that when I realized both stories were about “losers.”

In “Terror, Tragedy and Hope In Tuscaloosa,” a devastating EF4 tornado ripped through the heart of Alabama on April 27, 2011, particularly through the University of Alabama town. Forty-one people died there alone when the story was published a month after the storm, but it eventually increased to as high as 53. Thousands of others were injured and displaced from their homes. Only 15 months earlier these same proud citizens were celebrating the figurative heart and soul of the town, the Alabama football team, winning its 13th national championship and first in 17 years.

In “The Curious Case of Rolando McClain,” a rough upbringing coupled with an unstructured system caused a downward spiral that ultimately led to an incredibly gifted football player stepping away from the game. He was a part of that 13th national championship team in 2009 and banked off the successes of that season as a top-10 selection in the NFL Draft that followed.

And as the rebuilding process in both cases began, they followed the same structure – both in how it happened and how it was written.

Both central figures – Tuscaloosa and McClain – needed help to get through their trying times and both came largely through sports.

Tuscaloosa’s athletes, the ones who represented the University of Alabama, were as active as any in the community in clearing debris, rebuilding homes and just listening to people’s stories from the storm that just had to be told.

McClain’s downfall was a culmination of all the negative issues he had endured in his life. But had he not had football, his life would have probably ruptured much sooner. Growing up, football kept him out of trouble for the most part and he saw it as his ticket out of his hometown of Decatur. It was ultimately what he needed after retiring too, albeit in the right situation.

Each piece began with a scene of an otherwise normal day and concluded with a smile. (In Tuscaloosa’s case, one of the faces of the tornado, Carson Tinker, being the smiler.)

But perhaps the most unique thing about them both is that they’re about sports, yet their “loser” aspect had nothing to do with an actual game at all like you would normally imagine. They’re about a much bigger game called life.

And for what it’s worth, they did indeed come out “winners” again.



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