GREENFIELD — “Over the top.”
“Yells and screams.”
Those are the terms Brent Lawson’s friends use to describe the manner in which he roots for the University of Alabama football team.
And they might be understatements.
When No. 2-ranked Alabama takes on No. 1 Notre Dame Monday for the college national championship, Lawson will be hosting a party at his home in Greenfield. Since 1985, Lawson has traveled to nearly 40 games across the country to watch his beloved Tide.
But, he’ll be comfortably seated for this game on his favorite couch, with the walls of much of his home adorned with Alabama memorabilia, enjoying Dreamland Barbeque wings, chicken and pork he special ordered from Tuscaloosa. And, as long as the Nick Saban-coached squad wins its third title in four years, all will be right in Lawson’s world.
If they struggle or — perish the thought — lose, residents in the 200 block of Creek Wood Drive might be wise to take cover.
There’s a hole in a bedroom door, a product of an Alabama-Auburn game four years ago when the Tide struggled to a slow start. Although, to be exact, that hole got its start some months prior during a contentious Indianapolis-New England NFL contest.
“When the Colts fell behind 21-3 to the Patriots, I went back there and I just banged the door and kind of put a hole in it,” said Lawson, a Son of the South who now considers himself a Hoosier. “Then when Alabama went down 14-0 to Auburn in 2009, I kind of made the hole a little bit bigger.
“I’d use the word irate. That’s probably accurate.”
It would be untrue, however, to label Lawson, 40, as some sort of raving lunatic (although his fiancé has an emergency evacuation plan for when the Tide are in danger of losing and she’d rather be elsewhere). Lawson’s laugh is as boisterous as the “Roll Tide!” and occasional expletives he lets fly while cheering ’Bama.
A longtime community supporter of charitable and school endeavors, particularly around Greenfield and New Palestine, Lawson’s boiling-over passion is reserved for the mighty Alabama football team.
Lawson, an operations manager for a Greenfield electronics firm, comes by his fandom naturally. Born and raised in Memphis, Tenn., Lawson spent many a weekend at his grandparents’ home near Huntsville, Ala., which is where Lawson’s dad was raised.
When Lawson was 16, his father was transferred from his job with a fiberglass manufacturer to its plant in Shelbyville, and the family settled in New Palestine, where Lawson spent the final two years of high school, graduating a Dragon in 1990. After attending Memphis State (now known as the University of Memphis), Lawson settled back in Indiana.
His southern roots, however, are entrenched.
“In all honesty, it’s fair to say I was a Bear Bryant fan before I was an Alabama fan,” Lawson said of the iconic Tide football coach. “My dad loved John Wayne and loved Bear Bryant, and those were the two icons, I don’t want to say role models, but they were the two things as a little kid I looked up to.
“And through the years it just kind of stuck.”
Lawson’s love of all things ’Bama could cost him. He’s got bets with at least a dozen friends on the outcome of Monday’s Irish-Tide battle.
Despite its top ranking and undefeated record, Notre Dame (12-0) is a nine-point underdog to Alabama (11-1), which has been the dominant force in college football the last several seasons, compiling a 62-13 record since Saban took over in 2007. Lawson respects the Irish defense enough that he’s not giving points to any of his buddies. Only straight-up wagers are accepted.
“Let’s just say this, if Alabama wins, I’ll be happy to buy the next drink when I see ’ya,” Lawson commented. “If they lose, I might have to skip town.”
Lawson, indeed, could be difficult to contact if ’Bama falls. He has a self-imposed 72-hour moratorium on sports-related interactions following an Alabama loss.
“I don’t go online, I don’t read the sports section, I don’t go on Twitter,” Lawson said. “When they lost to Texas A&M (29-24 Nov. 10), I didn’t go online, I didn’t go to Alabama.com, I didn’t go to any of my pay accounts that I’m a member of until Wednesday.”
Kyle Gibson is one of several friends of Lawson who wouldn’t mind seeing the “Big Stud” — Lawson’s nickname — suffer. Gibson and Lawson first met while Lawson was doing public address announcing for the Greenfield-Central baseball team, a position Lawson still volunteers for, as well as P.A. for Cougars softball and football games.
“Brent Lawson is a passionate, educated sports fan,” said Gibson, a G-C and University of Missouri alum and current Minnesota Twins minor league pitcher. “That’s the dynamic duo, because he yells and screams, but they are mostly educated comments.
“When it comes to football, there may not be a more passionate fan than Big Stud. He made sure to welcome me and my Tigers into the SEC this year, but I plan on letting him have it when they meet up in basketball.”
Al Cooper and Lawson go back to Lawson’s high school days, when Cooper, now the New Palestine athletic director, was Lawson’s golf coach as well as the girls basketball coach, for which Lawson was a manager.
Lawson was just as much of an Alabama booster in high school as he is now, Cooper said.
“He is over the top, but he is a true fan in the highest sense,” according to Cooper. “He has driven many miles in support of ’Bama football.”
On one October, 1993 road trip, Lawson and Gregg Greene, a longtime New Palestine football and golf coach, drove to Birmingham to watch the Tide take on Tennessee, which is with whom Greene’s allegiance lies. The game ended in a 17-17 tie.
“Gregg and I didn’t say a word from Birmingham to Nashville,” Lawson recalled of the trip back home. “Just outside Franklin, Tennessee ... the only thing he says to me is, ‘You hungry?’ I said ‘Yes sir.’ We stopped and got something to eat. Didn’t say another word the whole trip, all the way home. It had been smack talk the whole way down.”
Greene and Lawson, of course, survived their rivals’ tie ball-game and the friendship resumed. One of Lawson’s girlfriends didn’t fare as well.
Lawson is longtime friends with Greenfield-Central athletic secretary ConnieJo Harris — she says Lawson is “beyond avid” about ‘Bama football — and her husband, Jeff. The couple, Lawson and his girlfriend at the time attended the wedding of former Cougars’ pitcher Gibson in Missouri in 2010. It was the Thanksgiving weekend of the Alabama-Auburn game — nicknamed “The Iron Bowl,” it’s the preeminent event for southern football fans — and the foursome found a sports bar at which to watch the game.
“Bama’s up 24-0, all is right in the world, had a few cocktails, I’m wearing my Joe Namath jersey,” Lawson said. “This is when Auburn and (quarterback) Cam Newton starts to make their huge comeback. ‘Bama gets beat 28-27.
“I didn’t have a girlfriend when I came home from Missouri.”
Lawson continued, “It was not pretty. I was just inconsolable and she didn’t understand why I loved football so much, and so I called her a few choice names.”
It’s with that particular story that Teresa Raimondi-Barker might consider applying for sainthood. She and Lawson started dating soon after Lawson and his former gal discombobulated over too many Cam Newton first downs. Lawson and Raimondi-Barker are to be married in June, and it was her idea to have an Alabama-themed ceremony, complete with crimson-and-white colors.
“He has his moments,” the future Mrs. Lawson said with a laugh. “I have out-plans. I have at least four people that, when I think Alabama’s going to lose or he gets a little obnoxious, I just pack my stuff up and I go hang out with for the evening.”
Raimondi-Barker, a Greenfield-Central grad, concedes that she wasn’t a sports fan in the slightest prior to meeting Lawson.
“I’ve probably watched more games in the last two years than I have probably my entire life. It’s hard not to be an Alabama fan in this house,” she said with a smile. “Now I’m like every other football fool screaming at the TV like it can hear me.”
Alabama football games only take up 12 or 13 days a year. The rest of the time, Raimondi-Barker enjoys Lawson’s softer side.
In addition to handling P.A. duties at G-C, Lawson is a former charter member of the Rotary Club of Greenfield-Sunrise (served as program director and wrote the weekly newsletter), a past board member of the Cougar Boosters (golf outing chairman for three years), helped to organize the G-C Baseball Backers golf outing for several years and currently on the Greenfield Board of Works (appointed by Mayor Dick Pasco). He’s also volunteered at various New Palestine athletic events.
His gregarious personality is welcoming to both longtime friends and new acquaintances.
Raimondi-Barker, however, has allowed herself modest goals for “adjusting” Big Stud’s outlook on his birthright pastime. For starters, Lawson is forbidden from attending an Alabama football game at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“I would never let him go to Auburn,” she says, lest Lawson be killed.
On this, Lawson is in complete agreement. During his lone trip to Auburn in 1999, “I about got in a dozen fist fights that night,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty, and I was actually trying to be well-behaved.”
In general, Raimondi-Barker wants Lawson to see the big picture in life, and on this note she might be succeeding.
“I’m passionate about Alabama football,” he said. “I love them, and I do live and die with them. But I do know at the end of the day it truly is just a game.”
His fiancé seems to know the absurdity of that statement, however, letting out another large laugh at Lawson’s “just a game” supposed sentiment.
As long as the couple makes it past Monday, it will be smooth sailing — until next fall. But, who knows, ladies. If the Notre Dame defense plays as well as it has all season, Brent Lawson might just be a single man soon.