Sunday, November 9, 2008

back with more, as promised

Saturday was one of those days that reminded me what's so enjoyable about football season. We had friends over, etouffe, jambalaya, drinks and football. Most of these are friends we don't see a great deal, including our friend Mandy and her ginormous dog (her husband Daniel didn't make it -- apparently, a baseball tournament was more important. Whatever).

Unlike the party we threw for our season opener against Clemson, this one felt less like a party and more like a life experience. Our guests barely moved for the 120 minutes that constituted the second half -- even Amanda, now only a few months away from the birth of her first child, barely got up.

As the minutes and seconds waned, and it became obvious that LSU simply wasn't going away quietly, a thought came to my locked-up brain.
Championship teams have to win games like this.

It's a thought that had been circulating through my brain since Alabama was thrust onto a national stage. I've tried my best to enjoy the ride without wringing my hands, but the question of "adversity" kept coming up. We haven't really faced adversity. Not yet.

That thought was expressed in less eloquent fashion on during Friday's pick 'em:
This one goes one of two ways: Alabama pours on the points in the first half like they did against Georgia and wins by 10-15 points in the end, or LSU decides to tackle somebody and shows Alabama what it’s like to play against a real team. Note: Alabama has not played against a real team that has played like a real team for an entire game.
Obviously, Kurt in that paragraph was attempting to deflect some attention from the fact that his team has sucked wind since the season began -- be sure to order Auburn 37, UT-Martin 20 this December as part of the "Auburn's Greatest Games" series -- but his point was not without merit. Coming into Saturday, Alabama had dominated the first half of virtually every game it had played, had led for all but a few seconds all season and had spent much of every fourth quarter singing "Rammer Jammer" and cleaning up what was left. The closest 'Bama came to danger was vs. Ole Miss, when the Rebs scored 17 second-half points and came within a missed fourth down of a throw into the end zone that might have won the game.

So the anxiety about facing adversity was understandable. Every team that ever won a championship had to face down one of no bleeping way games, described thusly by Bill Simmons:
... where you are playing out a "season" against the computer and doing a little too well, so the computer gets ticked and make sure there is no bleeping way you are winning the next game -- dropped passes, improbable kick returns, random fumbles and so on. God, I hate the No Bleeping Way Game.
For the '92 championship team, that game happened in Starkville, when Mississippi St. scored an incredible 10 points in the fourth quarter to take a lead against the impervious Tide defense. Alabama fans were shocked; State fans were enthralled. But 'Bama forced two turnovers in the fourth quarter, hit a big play in the passing game and ultimately walked out with a win. At the end of the season, they received rings.
In 2004, the eventual SEC (and yes, People's National) champs from Auburn played a game at home against (appropriately) defending national champ LSU, a game in which nearly everything went against the Tigers. Ultimately, they held on defensively, converted an impossible fourth down on their last drive and scored, then got an incredible stroke of luck (a correctly-enforced penalty that no one even knew existed) and won 10-9. Whenever you think of 2004 Auburn now, you think of Jason Campbell to Courtney Taylor before anything else.

Twenty years from now, when people think of this Alabama team, they may well think first about Saturday in Baton Rouge, when the Tide made every mistake possible in the first half, got a break or two, withstood LSU's gutsiest performance of the season and ultimately walked out a winner anyway.
To LSU's credit, the Tigers have as much pride as they have talent. You knew they wouldn't lay down in the fourth quarter (like, say, Tennessee might) if they were behind. You also knew that Les Miles -- even though it is still quite possible he is a murderous psychopath -- wouldn't back up from Nick Saban's schemes; for the first time in three-plus seasons, I thought LSU looked the part of a well-coached football team Saturday night.

It all added up to adversity. But here's the thing: Alabama, God bless them, kept answering the bell. When the Tigers drove 74 yards for the game-tying TD, 'Bama answered with a drive into scoring position. When that drive died because of a (chippy) holding penalty, the Tide held LSU to three-and-out and got the ball back at midfield, then drove it into position for the game-winning field goal. When that field goal didn't pan out, Alabama simply shrugged its shoulders and won the game in overtime.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what championship football teams do.

A few other notes from Saturday ...
-- Kudos to CBS: in the midst of a raucous game between the top-ranked team in the country and one of its biggest conference foes, Old People Network chose to come out of a commercial break by showing us Phillip Fulmer crying through his resignation press conference. Great. Exactly what we all wanted to see. Thanks a lot for that "here's all the field goals Leigh Tiffin has missed in his life" montage, also. Really enjoyed that one.
-- How many schneids did Alabama climb off Saturday? Read BSR for the full report.
The losing streak to LSU is gone, fini, finito, kaput. The schneid was a schneid. Alabama has a two-game November winning streak.
And then there were the turnarounds from a couple of more specific - and bad - Crimson Tide memories. Remember September 23, 2006? On that date, Leigh Tiffin missed a short late-game field goal against Arkansas and the game went to overtime. Arkansas had the ball first, and was stopped on a Lionel Mitchell interception. Tonight, Leigh Tiffin missed a short late-game field goal against LSU and the game went to overtime. LSU had the ball first, and was stopped on a Rashad Johnson interception.
There the similarities ceased.
-- While crediting LSU's coaching staff, I must take this opportunity to wonder aloud why Gary Crowton flatly refuses to run the football, despite rushing for 4.4 yards/carry and 201 yards total. When something works that well, why not keep doing it? These are questions LSU fans are asking themselves (along with, "Why did Ryan Perriloux have to be such a moron?").
-- I keep saying it, but Julio Jones is scary good. Frankly, I don't want to see what he looks like after a year in college.
-- Understandably, there's some outcry about Alabama remaining at the top of the BCS Standings, ahead of the very flashy Texas Tech Red Raiders. It's not that I disagree. Just saying we maybe should let the Red Raiders win a game at a place like Norman before we start anointing them a college football powerhouse. Just a thought. Frankly, I'm just glad to be back in the discussion.

Anyway, I'm out of thoughts. I'm going to try to enjoy the rest of this weekend, before I start thinking about a Crooming.
For the best in college football blogging, as always, read Dr. Saturday and EDSBS.


1 comment:

Robert said...

The officiating was about as bad as I can ever remember--and that's about 40 years. The call on JPW after the first TD was complete garbage. The holding call on Andre on JPW's TD scramble gives ticky-tack a bad name. They missed pass interference on Julio at least twice. Awful, awful refs. That bunch should never be allowed to call another game.