TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama's national championship football team returned home Tuesday to a state where the Crimson Tide's BCS victory over LSU had special meaning after last year's deadly tornado outbreak.
Hundreds cheered at Tuscaloosa's airport as the team arrived from New Orleans on two charter jets. Fans stood with umbrellas and red-and-white shakers in a steady rain just a few miles from neighborhoods devastated by a tornado that killed more than 50 people in the city, including several students.
"We love our Tide!" one man yelled.
Moments after the game ended, Mary Strong soaked in the scene of a raucous celebration as she stood in the middle of University Boulevard with her 12-year-old son. She said people desperately needed football as a diversion after the devastation of April 27, when more than 250 people were killed in the northern two-thirds of the state.
"This is icing on the cake," Strong said. "It's been such a great distraction."
As the first team plane rolled to a stop, a pilot held a red 'Bama flag out of a cockpit window. Coach Nick Saban walked down the stairs in the rain and walked to a fence to greet fans.
"I think the spirit of this team is something that inspires a lot of people," Saban said. On campus, transit buses carried the scrolling electronic message: "National Champions - We are proud of you."
Students, graduates and other fans celebrated in the street near campus into the wee hours after the Tide's 21-0 victory over LSU, and stores opened early so fans could snap up crimson-and-white national championship gear. Strong's brother, Danny Avery, said the pride of the state's three-in-a-row national championships gives people something to feel good about.
"It's a win for the whole state. It's Alabama, Auburn, Alabama. That's unheard of," he said.
The school held a celebration that drew thousands to Bryant-Denny Stadium after its last national championship two years ago, and officials already were making plans for an event to mark this year's title.