In order to reach the office of Alabama Port Authority Police Chief Jimmie Flanagan, one must pass a security check point and several CCTV cameras (seen and unseen) before being admitted, by appointment only, into the building. Then, and only then, are you granted access to Flanagan’s very well-protected, and very crimson, office.
“Well, that’s one of the reasons I have the collection here,” Flanagan says half-jokingly. “We’re in a secure, restricted area. I have plenty of cameras to make sure it’s secure.”
The chief’s office could be described as a college football heaven or hell, depending on your allegiance. A replica Heisman trophy, signed by Mark Ingram, throws a stiff-arm from across the room. Daniel Moore prints line the walls, and bookshelves are covered with Crimson Tide puzzles, knives, pens, helmets, even an Alabama Rubik’s cube. The cheerful man behind the desk speaks with the directness of a career law enforcement officer but with the smile and self-deprecation of a grandfather. That’s no coincidence — Flanagan has 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
“And I can say all of them are Alabama fans,” he confirms. No surprise there.
Flanagan’s story, and that of his crimson collection, begins in the Peach State. “I actually was born in and grew up in Georgia,” he begins. “When I was a Boy Scout, I used to usher the University of Georgia football games, but I hated UGA.”
One fall Saturday, listening to an Alabama game on the radio, Flanagan says he was captivated by the grit of the team and the cult of personality surrounding its coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant. “And so the next thing I know, I’m an Alabama fan living in Georgia.”
Alabama football and law enforcement have remained two constants in Flanagan’s life; he’s worn the badge for 47 years now.
“Well, my grandfather was a police chief, so I grew up around police all my life. I can remember always wanting to be an officer. My first police job was in my hometown of Toccoa, Georgia, and I found out really quick it’s not easy to work law enforcement in a small hometown. ‘Cause everybody you stop is either a relative or somebody you went to school with.”
Flanagan went to work at a larger agency in Gadsden, Alabama, where he moved up the ranks to commander. With an eye on retirement and sunshine, he moved to Baldwin County and worked two stints (one as chief of the Elberta Department) before joining the Alabama Port Authority 16 years ago.
“We have the third largest police department in the county,” he explains. “We’re a state agency, and we’re responsible for Homeland Security for all the port facilities in the state. We have probably one of the best security systems any facility has. People would be proud of our port.”
Flanagan says the walls of his office used to be covered with “your usual certificates and plaques of things that you’ve accomplished in your law enforcement career. And one day somebody brought me a [football] picture, and I put it up. And the next thing I knew, people were bringing me stuff. I’ve been fortunate in that, I’d say 95 percent of my stuff here in the office was donated or gifted to me by friends. And now I’m running out of wall space.”
The collection’s location is handy not just for security’s sake but for the access it’s afforded the chief to former Alabama players. Former Tide quarterback AJ McCarron, Flanagan’s favorite player, has relatives who work at the Port, so naturally the chief of police has been able to add some photos and autographs from the NFL player.
“We’ve got a company out here that hires a lot of ex-Alabama players, so when they come in to get their credentials, I’m able to get pictures with some of them as you can see. So that helps a lot.”
There’s little hesitation when asked which is his favorite item in the collection — a football signed by the entire 1978 National Championship team, including coach Bryant.
“My wife actually gave it to me. It used to belong to her. She says it’s still hers, but I’ve told her that it’s in my office, so it’s mine now.”
Half of the fun, he says, is seeing the reactions of visitors who aren’t expecting to find themselves entering a shrine to the Tide. “The room is really not for Alabama fans,” he explains. “We’re used to this, okay? It’s sort of like a kid at Disney World if they’re an Alabama fan because they just want to look at everything. Usually the other fans, Auburn or LSU or FSU, they put up with it, but you can see sometimes it really does intimidate them a little bit, which is funny. But they enjoy coming in and looking at the collection also.”
Flanagan says he’s not an Auburn hater by any stretch of the imagination, although he can’t help but make a playful dig at the Tigers. When asked if he’s ever seen an Auburn room like this, he says he hasn’t. “If somebody has one out there, I’d love to see it,” he says, before mischievously adding, “It wouldn’t be a full room, I don’t think.”
Anyone visiting Flanagan’s office is quickly made aware of one thing: He takes the job, but not himself, too seriously. There’s a person with a sense of humor behind this badge. How else would you describe someone whose office contains an ostrich egg emblazoned with a hand-painted Alabama “A”? (“That was a gift from one of the priests with the port ministry.”)
“You know, football fans all like to have their ‘man caves’ so to speak, and this is sort of my man cave. I spend more time in this office probably than I spend at home sometimes, and it just gives me a good feeling. I feel more comfortable in here with the Alabama stuff than I did with the other stuff I used to have, as far as certificates and plaques.”
The challenge now is deciding which of his five children will someday inherit the collection. “I don’t think I’m going to disclose who I’m going to leave it to — keep them guessing,” he says with a smirk.
Until then, they can all rest easy knowing the collection is safe, secure and, if Flanagan and Nick Saban have their way, growing by the year.