(Note: I have no way to prove this, but I heard from multiple people that some Auburn students actually went out and rolled Toomer's Corner Saturday night. If that's true, that's the single most pathetic I've ever heard related to this rivalry. I mean, ever. But hey, I hope they enjoy watching next year's SEC Championship Game on TV as much as they enjoyed this year's.)
I'll reiterate what I wrote Saturday night: no matter what happened in Atlanta, this team deserves nothing but our praise and thanks. Considering even the most enthusiastic among us anticipated 8-4 or 9-3, to face the prospect of finishing 13-1 -- and I'm not counting the Sugar Bowl as an automatic win, but indulge me -- and finishing the season ranked in the top-5, with only 9 scholarship seniors and the SEC's best recruiters poised to reel in (likely) more and more great classes ... it's hard to think of any negatives right now (and that's coming from the ultimate in negativity).
The two most poignant symbols of this squad are John Parker Wilson and Rashad Johnson, neither of whom likely have any future as football players beyond Jan. 2. JPW has been cursed, analyzed and raked over the coals as much as any Alabama football player in my lifetime -- I've wondered repeatedly if he was the guy to quarterback a championship football team, particularly after last season's State game, when he gave us The Single Worst College Football Play I've Ever Seen. He's worked with three different offensive coordinators -- and one of those was the Shula/Rader combo. And with all that, he gave us the season of his life in 2008: excellent when he needed to be excellent; made defenses pay when they overloaded against the run; now he'll leave as the most prolific quarterback in Alabama history.
Johnson's story, of course, has been told over and over. A former walk-on, he basically willed himself onto the field by being smarter and tougher than everybody else. Even this offseason, Rashad gave Alabama fans a headache by his involvement in a barroom scuffle on The Strip. His contributions, for the most part, aren't immediately obvious to people who don't watch copious amounts of football. But watch a tape of Alabama's defense sometime. Before every snap, you'll see 49 all over the field. He basically positioned Donta Hightower himself on a number of snaps, and often gave instructions to Rolando McClain before sprinting back to his own position. And would we have won at LSU this season without Rashad Johnson? I say no.
Another way to discern Rashad's contribution: Nick Saban, whose personality is pretty much geared around the nuts and bolts of football. Rashad Johnson was practically ordained to play for a guy like Nick Saban. He does everything Saban wants out of his free safety. That should tell you something.
So those two guys deserve to have their names at Denny Chimes, deserve to be able to take their grandkids to Tuscaloosa years from now, deserve to look up at the pregame hologram (or whatever they'll be bombarding us with by then) and say, "that was my team."
A few other thoughts from Atlanta:
-- Clearly, the biggest story coming out of Atlanta was Florida's ability (finally) to win a game where everything didn't go their way on every play. Some of this has to do with the system -- option offenses aren't built to come from behind -- and some of it had to do with a group geared around athletes who often get frustrated when they can't break big plays each time they touch the ball. The game preview I never wrote included the following thought:
Florida's system is designed to get defenses out of position and put pressure on them to make open-field tackles. On the other hand, Alabama's strengths defensively are a) never being out of position; b) making open-field tackles. My guess is that Saban's gameplan will start with a simple premise: make them beat us.Well, that was the plan. And Florida did beat us: a number of throws from Tebow were made under heavy pressure and into smothering coverage. Alabama didn't gave away much -- the Gators had to earn every inch. They did, and that's why they're SEC Champs.
-- It's really, really hard to watch Florida play on television without secretly hoping Tim Tebow chokes on a gobstopper. But he proved himself worth of everything on Saturday: with his best weapon watching from the sidelines, with an opponent absolutely refusing to back down, the Filipino Circumciser kept coming and coming and coming, kept making plays and never shied away once. Is it irritating to hear Gary Danielson's voice saying his name over and over again? Yes, but it's irritating to hear Gary Danielson say anything.
-- Speaking of Tebow, what 'Bama fans have seen in 2008 from Julio Jones, in my opinion, is reminiscent of what Tebow gave Florida in 2006: in other words, as good as he's been this year, we're only scratching the surface. What must that feel like, to have 8 catch a football in front of you and know that you have to be the one to tackle him in the open field? What on earth will he look like next season after an offseason on a collegiate weight program? Is there a more engaging rivalry to watch next year than the one between Julio and AJ Green?
-- Another underrated freshman who's only going to get better: Mark Ingram. Lord, doesn't this thing look great in the long term?
-- Do you think Saban puts up a poster of Timmy T waving the flag at The Dome this offseason? I say yes.
I'll try to be back later with some links. But it's a Monday, so ... no promises.