TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Reminders of the April tornado that wiped out much of this college town and killed dozens were all around Saturday as the University of Alabama opened the football season against Kent State.
Hundreds of fans wore white T-shirts with crimson letters that said "T-Town - Never Down." City officials handed out information about their plan for rebuilding after the twister, which was blamed for 50 deaths and destroyed about 12 percent of the buildings in Tuscaloosa. The grass at Bryant-Denny Stadium was painted with a pair of hound's-tooth-patterned remembrance ribbons.
Amid thousands of tailgaters on the university Quad, fraternity members took up donations for a fund that already has raised more than $200,000 for tornado relief. One of the student volunteers, Daniel Sellers, said he was leery about coming back to school because of the devastation but was happily surprised by progress of the cleanup when he returned from his home in Mobile.
"I was honestly kind of dreading coming back," he said. "It's so much better than it was."
The school honored police, firefighters and other first responders during a pregame ceremony that included Gov. Robert Bentley and a video message from coach Nick Saban, who said student athletes were among the volunteers who helped survivors after the storm.
"I have never been more proud of Alabama than I am now," said Saban, whose team members will wear special stickers on their helmets this season.
The raucous stadium was still and quiet during a moment of silence to remember tornado victims. Six Alabama students were among the dead.
While most of the debris has been cleaned up since the tornado hit Tuscaloosa on April 27, fans didn't have to look hard to see damaged buildings and splintered trees left by the storm, which passed just south of the university campus. Fans in the upper reaches of the 101,000-seat stadium could see a sliver of the track of destruction.
The No. 2 Crimson Tide beat Kent State 48-7.