Football. It’s the siren that calls us all. It draws us in and doesn’t let go. It grabs our heart, fills it and breaks it, over and over again, year after year.
Now, imagine you can’t actually see the game, you must listen and feel it. If you can close your eyes and imagine this, I want you to also imagine that you love the game just the same, that your fervor is no less than a person who can see.
Regardless of sight, the lessons football teaches us are the same: teamwork, togetherness, character, fortitude, perseverance and camaraderie.
Some fans of college football who are blind have seen. They can picture the verdant field as clearly as you or me. Others picture it strictly from their imagination, with the help of friends and family.
For Al Eford, football is an intimate part of his life:
“Football feels so natural to me because I have been a football fan all of my life,” Eford says. “Alabama football means to me a tradition of honor; some people would say excellence. I am proud when the team wins. I supported Alabama football when they did not do well, too. One year in the ’80s, Alabama didn’t do well and I was still a supporter, even though I was taunted by my friends.”
Eford was not born blind; he remembers and is grateful.
“I was born with glaucoma and diagnosed at 6 months old,” Eford says. “Had several operations as an infant. The last surgery I had, I lost sight in my left eye. I could see out of my right eye until I was about 12.
“In 1992, I had surgery to remove my natural eyes, and I have prosthesis now in both eyes. I did that because I was experiencing headaches from my natural eyes. I am totally blind. I have no type of light perception or anything like that. But it’s strange because I can still see in some ways. It is through my mind I can still visualize things.”
For fans unable to see, the team’s radio broadcasters take on additional importance.
“What is so special about (Alabama radio play-by-play broadcaster) Eli Gold is how he helps you understand the game,” Eford says. “He is very descriptive; he tells you everything that is on the field. Even if a piece of paper is thrown on the field, he will tell you everything!
“He is very good at telling you what yard line the ball is on. He is thorough with his play calling. I love explaining football to those who can see, but don’t follow football. I tell them what a first down is and how many tries you have to do that – how many points a touchdown is and the yardage on the field. I explain the positions.”
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