When Alabama played Miami in the Sugar Bowl for the 1992 national championship, longtime Crimson Tide fan Tim Miller was funding two daughters at Girls Preparatory School.
"I just couldn't make that trip," Miller said Tuesday. "I was thinking, 'We're going to be pretty good for three or four more years, so I'll go in the next year or two.' Here it is 17 years later, and I'm going."
Miller and his wife, Kathy, were flying this morning from Chattanooga to Charlotte and then out to California for Thursday night's BCS championship contest between the No. 1 Crimson Tide and No. 2 Texas. A former Chattanooga chapter president of the Alabama Alumni & Friends Association, Miller will be joined at the game by former club presidents "Bama Jean" Adair, Bob Moss, Ron McKelvy and Terry Nida and current treasurer Amber McEachin.
Kurt Schmissrauter, who played on Alabama's offensive line from 1980-83, also is flying out today with his two sons. His younger son, Jon Bryant, is a Baylor School seventh-grader who learned of the trip on Christmas Day.
"He's been pretty pumped since," Schmissrauter said.
Jon Bryant won't be the youngest area Tide fan in Pasadena. Trevor Hart, the fourth-grade son of UTC athletic director Rick Hart and the grandson of Alabama executive AD Dave Hart, flew out with the team on New Year's Day.
How did Rick get the short end of the stick?
"That's what I would still like to know," Hart said. "This is a special trip for him to make with his grandparents, and we're glad he's out there. It's been fun hearing from him every day."
Alabama fans have reason for the excitement, and they've certainly been patient. In the 17 years that have transpired between playing for national titles, the Crimson Tide have suffered a seven-game losing streak to Tennessee (1995-2001) and a six-game losing streak to Auburn (2002-07).
Vols players changed the lyrics of "Sweet Home Alabama" to "We Own Alabama," while former Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville wore a "Fear the Thumb" T-shirt after defeating the Tide a fourth straight time in '05.
Between Gene Stallings guiding Alabama to the '92 title and Nick Saban having the Tide on the doorstep now, there were the not-as-productive coaching stints of Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione, Mike Price and Mike Shula.
"It's been a whirlwind," Schmissrauter said. "We just haven't had the total package or formula that we needed to get back here. I just thought the world of Coach Stallings and thought he was so stabilizing to the whole program. Since then, it seems like we went into an administrative spin.
"I think (athletic director) Mal Moore and some of the backers we've got down there are really from the old school, and I think they were just determined to try and get some stabilization back to the university, and they've done a good job with that."
Schmissrauter was in high school when Alabama won the 1978-79 national titles in the Sugar Bowl and did not make the trip in '92, so this will be his first time to watch the Crimson Tide play for it all. It's also the first time for Miller, who isn't taking the experience lightly.
"Most people never get a chance to see their team play for one," Miller said. "My brother loves Georgia and they haven't played for one since the early 1980s, and it doesn't look like they're going to any time soon. I tried to see if our daughters could come, but we couldn't find any tickets for under $700 or $800."
The Millers housed Victor Ellis after the former Red Bank High and Alabama linebacker was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Ellis died in March 2008, but Miller will be wearing the "A Club" ring Ellis gave him during his final days.
"We had a conversation when he was trying to give it to me," Miller said, "and I said, 'I'm not wearing that ring. Those are for the guys who went down there and lettered and graduated,' and he said, 'I want you to keep it and to wear it to the games.' I said, 'What in the world am I going to tell people?' He said, 'You tell them who you got it from.'
"I haven't worn it to every game, but I'm going to take it on this trip."