The colors orange and blue make his blood pressure rise. The words “War Eagle” make him queasy. And an Iron Bowl win by the Tigers make him question his reason for living.
Why? He’s a former University of Alabama center who played for Bill Curry and Gene Stallings. He’s a two-time All-SEC lineman, and he’s one of the most beloved Crimson Tide football players in the program’s history.
Yet the love of his life — the woman who gave him a son — the kind, smart, funny person whom he has called his wife since 2001 is… yes … an Auburn grad!
We’ve all heard of Tide and Tigers’ “mixed marriages,” as Alabama and Auburn fans often show the world that such a partnership can work. But a former Bama star football player marrying an Aubie? Oh, the horror! How did this come to be? This the story of Roger Shultz and his wife Paige: two down-to-earth, normal folks who every day remind us that love can win, even over the most heated rivalry in all of college sports.
If there is a former Bama football star who is one of us, Roger Shultz is that man. He’s not Fred Astaire but rather Fred Flintstone. Roger is not a Renaissance man but rather a restaurant man. Roger will never offer you tickets to the opera, but he will pick up the tab if you meet him at Buffalo Wild Wings for some wings and a few beers. Ask him what his favorite food is, and he will tell you, “Any Chinese Buffet.” In fact, for years, Roger has been on a Seafood diet: he sees food and he eats it. My point is that Roger is a common man with a great heart, and that heart is why he’s a Bama fan’s favorite.
So how did it happen? How did this man who bleeds Crimson fall in love with a woman who has family members who were among the first students at Auburn University?
Roger, who played at Alabama from 1986 to 1990, found himself working at a Montgomery radio station in 1999. Paige’s sister-in-law, who worked with Roger, asked Shultzy if he’d be interested in taking Paige to a cotillion. Being the romantic that he was, Roger told the woman that he wasn’t interested in paying for a tux and taking a blind date to a fancy party, but he’d love to take Paige to a high school football banquet (like I said, a real romantic). Paige agreed, and off went the couple to the banquet. Something magical then happened: Paige loved every minute of it, and better yet, Roger’s players from Sidney Lanier High School took to Paige. Cue the stars and fireworks, as an Alabama-Auburn couple was formed! Paige adored Roger’s humor, and Roger adored Paige’s smarts — in fact Paige not only had a degree from Auburn, but a Masters degree in environmental science from Samford University, a degree Roger didn’t know how to spell. And wouldn’t you figure? On that first date, Roger picked up Paige in his red Ford Probe (Roll Tide!). What did Paige drive that year? A blue Ford Probe (War Eagle!). Was this a sign?
Oh, the relationship was a process; after all, the first Alabama-Auburn sporting event Roger and Paige attended was a basketball game. Roger soon learned that his girlfriend absolutely adored those Auburn Tigers — Roger knew right then that this partnership would take some work. And you know something? Work it did, as Paige began to learn that her boyfriend’s kind heart and sense of humor were something to behold. Wasn’t Roger the same Bama player who, after his Crimson Tide beat Tennessee for a fifth straight time, told the media in Knoxville back in 1990, “We should have to pay taxes up here because we own the place!”? Yep, that was Roger. And Roger’s adventures were just warming up.
The year was 2008, and Roger and Paige had been married for seven years — their son Ivan was six years old. Roger had an idea: How about he audition for the network TV show, “The Biggest Loser?” After all, he could stand to lose a few. For Roger, dropping a few pounds was like throwing a suitcase off the Titanic — he needed a bigger challenge: welcoming the pressure a national TV show would bring would certainly motivate him. Roger not only made it to the national stage, he welcomed world-famous trainer Bob Harper pushing him. And what a result: as the nation watched, Roger lost 164 pounds, finished as the 2008 runner-up and saw America fall in love with his larger than life personality.
Yet, Roger wasn’t done.
“The Biggest Loser” star would soon appear on “Oprah” and “The Jay Leno Show.” The common man would also find himself appearing on “The Price Is Right,” where he actually won a chair and a year’s supply of cold sore cream. I’m here to tell you that those are two absolutely perfect prizes for Roger. Sure, he was a Bammer, but how could Paige not love this man?
Today at 52, the former Alabama football star walks with a slight limp, his dues to football paid. This weekend, Roger and Paige will enjoy watching the Iron Bowl from their home in Mobile. The catch? They will be watching the game in separate rooms. You see, despite 18 years of wedded bliss, the Iron Bowl can still do that to a couple. And when the game ends? Regardless of the outcome, the couple will fix some dinner while holding their tongues. Yes, a former Alabama football star can marry an Auburn grad, and that mixed marriage can succeed.
Regardless for which team you root, enjoy Saturday’s Iron Bowl. If the Tigers win, send along a “War Eagle” to Paige, and if Bama wins, send along a “Roll Tide” and a few beers to Roger: two down-home neighbors who are proving that in the midst of the Tide and Tigers rivalry, love is winning out.