Tim Tebow wasn't the only one crying Saturday night in the Georgia Dome. The Gator senior — a classy individual with an inspiring Christian witness who should be damn proud, win or lose — obviously was the one who wound up on TV with tears in his eyes, to everyone's eternal amusement (apparently, even the people running the jumbotron at the Georgia Dome had an axe to grind with him — he wound up on the big screen late in the fourth quarter, presumably so the Alabama crowd could jeer the poor kid one last time).
Another person feeling all weepy, though: me. Standing there, as the confetti came down, and the SEC commissioner announced, "Your 2009 SEC Champions ... the Alabama Crimson Tide" ... I mean, I couldn't help it.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. For most of 2009, I've been told repeatedly that my team isn't all that good. Even last week, as I was hugging my wife in celebration of Alabama's stirring come-from-behind win at Auburn, I heard the angry man behind me say to no one inparticular, "This'll be their last win of the year. It'll be just like last year."
And anyway, 2009 was supposed to be Tim Tebow and Florida's coronation season before it ever really started. One Florida writer, at SEC Media Days, while ribbing Paul Finebaum and Alabama fans, said the real reason Alabama fans hope Urban Meyer goes to Notre Dame is that deep down we know Meyer is the successor to Bear Bryant's throne.
"Nick Saban isn't the next Bear Bryant," he said. "The next Bear Bryant works in Gainesville now."
But that wasn't where all the emotion came from. I stood there with tears in my eyes because of something deeper.
Think back on this decade in Tuscaloosa, if you will. Remember, everything started with eternal optimism: our team, off an SEC Championship season, was ranked third in the preseason. There was every reason to believe we were headed into a new golden era at Alabama.
The past 10 years haven't been anything remotely like that, though. That 2000 season crashed and burned, along with the MIke Dubose era. He's one of five different guys to hold the head coach's job on Bryant Drive. We've endured losing seasons in 2000, 2003, '04 and '06. We lost 7 of 8 to Auburn. And we've been nowhere near an SEC Championship, much less a national one.
"You delusional Bammers need to stop living in the past. Those championship years are in the past. You're nothing but a redneck school with redneck fans that doesn't mean anything anymore."
I never thought I'd be there on Saturday.
I didn't believe we could win this one Saturday. Shocking, I know. I ticked off a laundry list to my wife (who was mostly angry that I was interrupting her study time) of reasons we wouldn't do it.
"They're good on defense, and we've looked like garbage on offense every time we've played a good defense. And they have a great kick return team — we haven't covered kicks all season. And they have a bull playing quarterback, and I don't know if we can hold him four quarters."
There was one caveat, though.
"The one thing is, we haven't played our best game yet. If we can play our best game, we can do it."
Whether this effort was perfect, I'm not sure. But it came close. Offensively, Alabama called a great game. Defensively, 'Bama played solid, managed to avoid a huge play and contained Tebow pretty much all day.
Most important, though: Alabama wanted it more than Florida. It was most evident in a handful of game-changing plays: Greg McElroy charging out in front of Trent Richardson to throw a key block; the same G-Mac tightroping the sideline to pick up a first down; Rolando McClain taking away Tim Tebow's legs on a designed run; and, of course, the 8-minute drive to break Florida's back that featured multiple third-down conversions. Even Florida's players described Alabama as "hungrier" after the game.
That, as much as anything, marked the key difference between 2008 and 2009. A hungrier Alabama football team finished the job the '08 couldn't quite do. And now this team has a chance to play for a national championship.
By the way, that team that never had a chance to play for a national championship in 2000? Yeah, they played the first regular-season Alabama game of this decade ... at the Rose Bowl.
I can't believe I'm here.
Some other thoughts from a championship Saturday ...
— Some fun trivia tidbits that Alabama accomplished Saturday: first, of course, they continued their notable streak of owning at least one conference championship in each decade, something they wouldn't have had otherwise. Second, they get to face Texas in the BCS MNC game, a team Alabama has never beaten in 8 tries. And finally, they managed to protect the legacy of some of their illustrious predecessors — Florida, coming into the game, owned a 22-game win streak, and the two longest in SEC history belonged to Alabama (28, in the '70s and the 1990s). And if Florida had won, and kept winning ... then they'd have come to Tuscaloosa next year, sitting on 28. Yeah. Really.
— Jim McElwain, as I said, called a fantastic game Saturday. I apologize for all those times earlier this year when I suggested he had died in the coaches' booth. Those coaching adjustments were fun to watch, though — Florida figured out in the first half that it needed to pressure McElroy more, and then Alabama adjusted with some screen passes and quick slants.
— By the way, file this under sentences you never though you'd hear: "Your SEC Championship Game MVP, Greg McElroy." But he deserved it — you couldn't have asked for a better game from the kid, at any level. Further, he's demonstrated a very keen, adept nature in interviews this season, from his dressing down of a reporter for suggesting he get the ball to Julio more and onward. Saturday was no different: he was keenly aware of how many SEC championships Alabama already had, and talked of the pride of being a member of a part of history. And he was even described by Gary Danielson as "Tebow-esque" after one scramble. Awesome day for that young man.
— That reminds me: apparently Gary & Verne didn't fare so well Saturday. I've tuned in and out on the replay, but I keep hearing Gary make reference to Carlos Dunlap's absence while completely ignoring the fact that Alabama has played without one of its best defensive players (Dont'a Hightower) since September. So that's no good.
— A couple of key penalties really hurt Florida Saturday. They got hit for defensive holding on a play where they'd sacked McElroy in the second quarter; a stupid roughing-the-passer foul on a botched screen in the third; and a bad offsides later in the third, on third down on a play where they should've punched 'Bama off the field. None of the calls were egregiously bad, but they all came at awfully inopportune times.
— Gary Danielson referred to McElroy's touchdown pass to Colin Peek as a "gimmick play" roughly 17 times in 30 seconds. Not sure if that's fair: the play came out of Alabama's Wildcat set (the Wacky Pachyderm, as my brother Whit calls it), only McElroy was lined up at QB instead of a tailback. It was relatively ordinary, though.
— Speaking of that pass, I need to apologize to everyone in my section for briefly flipping out after that play and quoting Tony's speech from Rocky IV.
He's worried! You cut him! You hurt him! You see? You see? He's not a machine, he's a man!
I promise, I'm not insane. Not completely, anyway.
(By the way, a guy on the row in front of me responded to that moment by proudly showing me his Rocky t-shirt. I'm not sure if I should laugh or cry.)
— One other crazy stat: Nick Saban's almost inviolate record vs. teams to whom his teams have previously lost. This is a mark of well-coached teams: they rarely lose to the same squad twice.
— I almost left out one of the best moments of Saturday night, which featured a Florida student losing a passing contest to a girl.
— Here are the latest BCS standings, and the BCS bowl picture. If you were hoping for BCS chaos, it's not all that exciting.
Of course, because I must be consistent, I still believe in the 16-team playoff system used at lower levels of college football. However, what about my original idea for a 6-team playoff? This is one season where it would perfectly.
I know, it sounds weird. But hear me out on why it works:
• First of all, no team that finishes outside the top-6 probably should have a shot at a national title. Not in a 13-game season.
• It would allow the top-2 a reward for being in the top-2 by giving them bye weeks.
• You wouldn't have to radically altar the regular season (which you'll have to do in a 16-team format).
Here, then, is what it would look like in my head:
(5) Florida at (4) Cincinnati
(6) Boise St. at (3) TCU
Lowest seed vs. (1) Alabama
Next-lowest seed vs. (2) Texas
BCS National Championship Game
• Suddenly, every team deserving of a national-title shot now has a legitimate one, right? Florida has to regroup and regroup quickly, getting ready to face a scary-looking Cincy squad.
• I did put in a provision to reseed after the first round, and only because the number-one team in the nation has to be rewarded somehow.
• The one problem is location, and only because I can't figure out a fair way to do that. My original idea was to play the first round on the campuses of the highest seeds, but that would give those two institutions and communities an additional home gate that the other schools would probably want. And if you play these games at bowl sites, the fan bases will have to shell out ridiculous amounts of money to attend. So I'm open to suggestions on that.
Oh well. For now, as I've said before, we should be happy where we are. Roll Tide.