I've never done it before. OK, once: when Southern Mississippi came to Birmingham in 2000 and dismantled my beloved Crimson Tide — a low point in what would become a decade of low points — I did it. It was such a frustrating night, and when Andrew Zow tossed his umpteenth pick in the fourth quarter (in truth I can't remember what happened, but it was bad), I just couldn't take it any longer.
So I walked out.
I really had no idea what I was doing. It didn't occur to me until after I was already out of Legion Field that it was a stupid, impetuous decision — not only had I come to the game with a group of people, we'd come in on the shuttle from Five Points ... so I was basically stuck outside of Legion Field with no agenda until the game ended. A fitting symbol for a lost season.
I felt the same way Saturday. Alabama was outplayed, outcoached (yeah, I said it) and outclassed. Blessed with a better team, homefield advantage and multiple chances to wrest control of the game early on, the number-one ranked team in the country had basically laid a massive egg against a hungrier opponent, symbolized by alleged Heisman candidate Mark Ingram having the ball stripped from him, then alleged superhuman Julio Jones failing to catch an onsides kick. When the Vols' Jonathan Crompton found tight end Luke Stocker at the 'Bama 27 with 1 minute left, I could feel it. The UT fans were delirious, the bench was going crazy, the band kept playing that damned song ... it was all too much.
So I walked out.
It's worth saying again what a foolish decision this was, regardless of how it turned out. After all, I'd basically abandoned my wife & mother-in-law to their own devices, hoping nothing happened to them. Not to mention, how would I explain it to the folks at the tailgate when I showed up before the game actually ended? I wound up standing outside the stadium, waiting on them to come out.
By now, you know what I missed.
You should know, I'm pretty embarrassed. I'm at a loss for words. I almost even feel guilty claiming it as a win, given the final stats from the game. Tennessee outplayed us everywhere but on the scoreboard.
But there's a two-fold explanation here. The first is, quite simply, everybody has to win these kinds of games to win championships. On Saturday, Florida had to scrap through against Mississppi State, Iowa won on its final play at Michigan St. and USC survived a surprising offensive effort against Oregon State. These are the sort of things that happen to every good team during the course of a season — your best back fumbled, your defense can't get off the field, you can't catch a break from the refs — and what separates great from very good is whether your team can find a way to survive.
The second: it's the revenge of 2003.
You remember 2003, right? Alabama was a mess that season, owing to probation and arguably the most unbelievable offseason ever (Franchione, Price, Shula ... yeah). They'd lost 4 of 5 coming into Tennessee week, had a quarterback (Brodie Croyle) playing with one arm and were poised to get rolled at home by the Vols (an eventual 10-win team that finished in a three-way tie for the SEC East crown).
(As an aside, I watched this game alone at my apartment in south Georgia, which might as well have been in the Ukraine — nobody in the general vicinity even cared. It was misery-inducing.)
But the Tide played inspired football that day, kept counter-punching the superior Vols, and eventually held a 20-13 lead and the ball in the fourth quarter.
Of course, UT wasn't finished, either. After Alabama failed to make a first down, the Vols eventually drove the ball 80 yards in the final 2 minutes without a timeout, scoring to tie the game.
Alabama missed a field goal that would've tied the game on the final play of regulation, and went to overtime. They could've won the game in the second OT, leading by a TD with UT looking at 4th & 19. The Vols converted. Of course they did. Eventually, Tennessee prevailed in 5 OTs.
So yeah, I don't feel guilty about getting a little lucky on Saturday. Great teams DO find a way when there appears to be none. That's just the way it is.
Some other thoughts.
— Obviously, Terrence Cody continues to feel the love from the Alabama fan base (witness the number of facebook groups with his name on them), and rightly so: to block two field goals in a game like that is other-worldly. But please let's not forget about Leigh Tiffin, who made two field goals from 50 yards away that ultimately figured into the decision, as well. I know, it's fashionable to go after Tiffin — he has a punchable face and over four years has shown a leg that is heartburn-inducing.
On the other hand, we don't beat Ole Miss without him (five FGs!) and we certainly don't win this one without him. His line for the season: 20-23, with a long of 50 and 84 total points. He might deserve a little more credit than he's getting.
— One more follow-up note on Cody: I don't like saying "I told you so," but ... actually, yes I do. I love saying it. And I did. Tell you so, I mean.
— The guys at RBR already noted this, but it's worth reiterating: Jim McElwain got his butt handed to him by Monte Kiffin, and it shows in the final stats. To be fair to McElwain, the Vols had two full weeks to prepare for the game, and a handful of times we did have the right play called and simply couldn't execute.
Still, the failure to score late in the second quarter (the oft lamented 2nd & 1 at the 4), followed by the failure to generate anything in the third quarter ultimately hung the defense out to dry down the stretch. That ain't championship football, folks.
— While we're on the subject of coaching, Alabama's defense did a fine job Saturday, particularly given the rather prodigious discrepancy in time of possession. But he out-guessed himself on Crompton's pass to Stocker (yes, the one that sent me to the showers): inexplicably, Stocker had Marcel Dareus, a defensive lineman with limited hops, running with him down the hash. Really, coach? You're leaving it to a defensive end on the biggest snap of the game?
— Gary Danielson either has a poor grasp of college football rules or just sucks at life. Regardless, his assertion in the immediate postgame that "Alabama probably should've been penalized" on the final play is a moot point: the end result of the play was a turnover (Rolando McClain recovered the ball and downed it), meaning all that would've happened was Alabama would've taken possession of the ball 15 yards farther back.
(Note: After watching the replay & reading lips, here's coach Saban after the block, verbatim: (expressionless) "Where'd it go? ... Where's the f*cking ball at?")
— While we're on the subject of officiating, Tennessee's final drive never should've happened for a few reasons, not the least of which was a vicious holding infraction (uncalled) on Crompton's 14-yard completion to Gerald Jones (Chavis Williams couldn't even turn to pursue the UT QB because his arms were pinned to his sides).
— Finally, and coach Saban noted this in the immediate aftermath: this team badly needs a week off. Saturday the team looked tired, beat up and lethargic, as opposed to the Vols, who looked fresher and much better prepared (the same goes for LSU, who looked fantastic in the first half against a fading Auburn team).
Before we move on, one last look at the final snap I never saw.