TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Football can't rebuild homes and families, not even in a football-mad state like Alabama. But the game can provide inspiration and hope.
Especially in the aftermath of the devastating tornados that ripped through the state.
Since the storms on April 27 — which killed 42 people and damaged or destroyed more than 5,000 homes in Tuscaloosa alone — "Roll Tide" has taken on new meaning. The saying, which usually stands for greetings and goodbyes and many things in between, now sends the message, "We can do this."
Alabamians from all over the state and people from around the country have descended on the state to help. And "Roll Tide" supplies a quick pick-me-up for 'Bama fans, said Keith Avery, a lifelong Tuscaloosa resident.
"It instills a ray of hope," he said. "It reminds people you can't take that from us. You can take material things, but you can't take that. We're from Tuscaloosa.
"You'll never take that from us."
Crimson Tide offensive lineman Barrett Jones says he and his teammates feel Tuscaloosa is their town, too. So they are trying to do their part.
Jones, who went out with others from the football complex to pass out drinks and later helped clear debris in the Forest Lakes neighborhood with a chain saw, said it's important for athletes to embrace the city.
"Football is a big part of the Alabama community," he said, adding, "Obviously it is our city."
Alabama coach Nick Saban has taken it a step further. His charity, Nick's Kids, has adopted a community in Holt as part of a project to rebuild every home there.
"I've never seen devastation like this and I don't think you can get the full impact by watching on TV," Saban said Tuesday at the Southeastern Conference's spring meetings in Destin, Fla. "You get the physical impact of the destruction. But you really don't get the personal pain of meeting the people who lost their home and lost all their belongings and people who lost loved ones and had to make calls to tell people that.
"The personal pain is not apparent as it is when you're right there witnessing it."
Saban' charity has embraced "Project Team Up," a concept Saban hopes others will follow. Architects, lumber companies, builders and other groups are donating time, energy and supplies to help rebuild Holt.
Together, they're trying to reconstruct each of the 60 homes destroyed.
"The people are going to have ownership because they're going to buy the home and pay $600 a month," Saban said. "And then we're taking that $600 and putting it in the foundation to build the next home and the next home and the next home and the next home. That's what we're trying to do.
"But bigger than what we're doing is we're trying to promote the concept to people all over Alabama and all over the southeast that got affected by these tornados to team up a small group, pick some place and help build it."
Saban hopes that "Roll Tide" spirit takes hold.
Tide long-snapper Carson Tinker has experienced the power of it firsthand.
He was injured in a tornado that killed his girlfriend, Ashley Harrison — a sorority sister of Saban's daughter Kristen — and is still recovering mentally and physically. He is going through physical therapy with a broken wrist and preparing for a skin graft on his ankle, which looks "like they took a divot out of my leg with a golf club."
Still, he gets a boost whenever he hears "Roll Tide" and from the numerous fans — both Auburn and Alabama — who have told him they're praying for him.
The first time Tinker heard it was from a woman at the hospital in Tuscaloosa.
"When that lady said, 'Roll Tide' to me in the hospital, I'll never forget that," Tinker said. "It really does give me a lot to look forward to in the fall. It really means a lot to me.
"Every time I hear it, I smile. And I kind of choke up a little bit."
Despite the tragedy, the anticipation of the fall continues to lift spirits.
Preseason magazines fill a shelf next to the front door at the local Barnes & Noble, one with a cover wondering: "Another BCS banner for Title Town?" The display window at Bama Fever, where you might catch a reflection of the destroyed shopping center across the street, features a crimson and white T-shirt with "We Are Alabama. April, 27, 2011" on the front.
"You talk football 24-7-365 when you live here," Avery said. "I've been living here 52 years and it's always been that way. It still is. It'll never change. There's too much tradition, especially when it comes to the University of Alabama."
Auburn coach Gene Chizik says everyone wants to see Tuscaloosa rise again.
"It's not about an Alabama or Auburn thing. It's a state that's been devastated," Chizik said. "This is real life, this is real-life stuff ... that happened to real people in the state of Alabama. So it doesn't matter what colors you wear, it doesn't matter who you root for.
"The goal is to get the state of Alabama back to where it was before the tornados came through."Comment on this story
Saban knows the work will continue for a long time.
"Sometimes when I speak now I actually say, 'I'm going to speak to you for a minute and I'm not the head coach at Alabama,'" he said.
With maybe a "Roll Tide" thrown in.
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Destin, Fla., contributed to this report.