Carleton Tinker talks broken trophy

There but for the grace of God go I. And you. And everyone but Carleton Tinker.

Yes, this is breaking news. Tinker is the Alabama Crimson Tide football parent, that guy, the one. He is the unfortunate soul who on Saturday last touched the crystal football the Crimson Tide won for the 2011 BCS Championship before the trophy fell off its pedestal and shattered.

And all there is to say is that if one parent had to shoulder the burden of embarrassment that comes with destroying the most coveted bauble in college sports, coach Nick Saban did another good recruiting job.

Five days later, Tinker, who lives in Tennessee, can laugh about it. And once you get past the wave of nausea that hits all of us as we consider standing in his shoes, it is pretty funny.

"I'm not really sure how the thing fell off," he said.

Carleton and his son, Carson, the Tide's senior long-snapper, stood along with several other people in the second-floor lobby of the Mal Moore Athletic Facility on Saturday admiring the new trophy, the eight-pound Waterford crystal football valued at upwards of $30,000. Alabama played its A-Day Game on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, a half-mile or so down Paul W. Bryant Drive.

Carleton Tinker watched several Alabama recruits pick up the trophy to see what it felt like. How could you not? How many people have that opportunity? When the American Football Coaches Association, which awards the trophy, sends it on tour during the season, the trophy has two minders: They allow fans to ogle it, and to have their picture taken with it. But touching is not allowed.

"I didn't walk away with it," Tinker said. "I set it back down on the stand and turned to walk away, and had my back away from the trophy when I heard it tumble. So I looked back at it."

What happened next is a script for one of those old "Wanna get away?" ads that Southwest Airlines ran.

"In my mind, it was slow motion," Tinker said, "as it rolled off the top of the trophy case onto the table onto the floor. I'm not sure if I bumped the table when I turned around, or if my foot caught on the large tablecloth they had draped and puddled on the floor. That's exactly what happened."

Tinker can say that because he has seen it happen over and over again.

"At night, as I went to sleep, every time I closed my eyes," Tinker said, "I kept seeing it roll off and hit the floor. That marble floor in the trophy room -- it wasn't going to be a soft landing. It shattered. It spread out all over the place."

The recruits and other parents in the room scattered. Assistant coach Mike Groh went for help, if not a broom. Tinker, having turned away and turned back, kept saying, "I think I broke the trophy."

You can imagine how he felt.

"It's that whole sinking feeling in your stomach, then your heart up in your chest," Tinker said. "... As that thing's rolling off the top, and it only took a second, all of those thoughts go through your mind. 'Why couldn't it have been the person before me? Or the person after me?' But things happen."

You don't have to tell the Tinker family that things happen. A year ago next week, a massive tornado engulfed Tuscaloosa and took the lives of 53 people, including Carson Tinker's girlfriend, Ashley Harrison.

Carson and Ashley had been huddled in a closet in his house when the storm picked them up and flung them into a nearby field. The physical injuries that Carson suffered -- a concussion, a deep gash on his right ankle, a detached ligament in his right wrist -- paled before the loss of the woman he expected to marry.

Carson Tinker bounced back, his faith in God stronger than ever. And in the course of a year when his son suffered a low so deep and reveled in the high of winning the BCS Championship, Carleton Tinker found it easy to gain the proper perspective.

"One of the things that we said," Carleton Tinker said, referring to life after the tornado, "is that we were really going to take everything in and enjoy all of it, the good and the bad. That's what you do. Take it and go with it, because in the grand scheme of things, even Coach Saban said that, it's a glass trophy and you can replace it."

Saban spoke with Carson Tinker on Monday.

"[Saban] said, 'Look, he didn't mean to do it. Nobody was hurt. We'll get another one,' " Carleton Tinker said. "That kind of makes you feel better."

Carleton Tinker is worried that fans will blame his son. Carson Tinker is worried that fans will ostracize his father. Perhaps Alabama fans, who have been known to misapply their passion, will stop and think.

In the meantime, the new trophy already has been ordered.

"I told them, 'If you want to put me on the payroll, I can come down and work weekends. We'll work something out,' " Carleton Tinker said.

The athletic department declined his offer.

"Insurance," Carleton Tinker said, "is a good thing."