Friday, January 8, 2010

week 15 thoughts: up where we belong

For today, and the rest of this weekend, let's forget the national championship debate. Whether Alabama now has 13 national championships — as the new helmet on the set of "Gameday" proudly attested late last night — or a mere 8 national titles — as the analysts for ESPN said repeatedly — it doesn't matter. Instead, for today, drink in the moment.

Two numbers matter. 14. And 1.
(This shouldn't require explanation.)

And if that doesn't do it for you, read this post OTS.
Consider the following... we went undefeated in the SEC at the zenith of the SEC's run as a dominant conference, and did so in a year where being undefeated was an absolute requirement to having a chance at earning a berth in the BCS Championship Game. Furthermore, to go undefeated, we had to defeat on a neutral site arguably the single greatest player in the history of college football, and we had to defeat his team... the defending national champions that practically returned every single key member of their national championship team.
Then once we did earn a berth in the BCS Championship Game, we drew not the pushovers of the world -- no Ohio State for us -- but we drew Texas, an elite team and an elite program in every sense of the word, and also a team that we had never defeated before, not to mention a team that was undefeated in their own right.
Oh and by the way, we were to play this game in Pasadena, site of the effective birthplace of Alabama football, and a game that we had been barred from -- largely due to our own success -- for more than sixty years.
And ultimately we answered the bell. We went undefeated, we beat Florida, we beat Texas, and we lifted the crystal ball high into the sweet Pasadena air. And oh yes, we also picked up a Heisman Trophy along the way, a Butkus Trophy, the Broyles Award, and oh yes we also had six All-Americans.
Again, not all national championships are created equal. This is most certainly not just another national championship.

If you're a fan like me — and Lord knows, I hope you're not — today is a weird place to be. What do you do when your team just completed (arguably) the best season in school history? When the team with which you've lived and died since third grade just answered every question, defeated every challenge and received every deserved accolade?
Simmons actually sort of discussed the issue in this famous column after the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2002.
You bleed for your team, you follow them through thick and thin, you monitor every free-agent signing, you immerse yourself in Draft Day, you purchase the jerseys and caps, you plan your Sundays around the games ... and there's a little rainbow waiting at the end. You can't see it, but you know it's there. It's there. It has to be there. So you believe.
Of course, there's one catch: You might never get there. Every fan's worst fear. All that energy over the years just getting displaced, no release, no satisfaction, nothing. Season after season, no championship ... and then you die. I mean, isn't that what this is all about? Isn't that the nagging fear? That those little moral victories over the years won't make up for that big payoff at the end -- that one moment when everything comes together, when your team keeps winning, when you keep getting the breaks and you just can't lose.

And so, when it finally comes together, what do you do?
You smile, for one thing (yes, Coach, go ahead and smile). You puff on the cigar you've been saving for the right time (living perilously with the knowledge that the right time might never come). You sip champagne and call everybody you know and try not to weep like an idiot.
And you smile. You keep smiling.

Any season spent following a sports team is always something of a journey — we begin each season with a certain of expectations for our teams, about who's going to play where, what factors will be important to achieving certain goals, what are our expected results. Those expectations evolve over time, a few people we didn't consider before the season (think Marcel Dareus or Darius Hanks) emerge and by the end of the year, we might not even recognize the team that lined up in Week 1. And when it's over, it's always a little bittersweet: after all, we spend way more time cussing and discussing football than we do actually watching football.
Reflecting back on the journey that was this decade in Alabama football, I can only shake my head in amazement. We've been ridiculed, forgotten. Told we're a relic of college football history. Told we're unrealistic. Endured a steady stream of embarrassment, from Mike Dubose all the way to Louisiana-Monroe.
Somehow, the decade ended with our fans in Pasadena, celebrating ... a national championship. A God's-honest, not-at-all disputed, consensus national championship.
I grinned like the Cheshire Cat when I typed that last paragraph. And I shook my head some more.

Some scattered thoughts on the game ...
— Of course, the dominant storyline coming out of the game will be, unfortunately, Colt McCoy's shoulder injury, which took away much of Texas' offensive game plan AND stole the momentum from TU's early-game barrage. Certainly, the game would have played out differently with him in the game; it would be foolish of me (or any other 'Bama fan) to suggest otherwise. Consider two things, however:
• McCoy didn't trip climbing out of the bathtub — Alabama's defense knocked the guy out of the game. And, as Jerry at WBE noted today, when your quarterback is your primary rushing threat, and Plan B is an untested freshman ... you were kind of asking for it.
• More importantly — and Jerry mentions this also — Texas cost itself when it made the unbelievable decision early in the game to leave 4 frigging points on the field by kicking a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Really, Mack Brown? You're taking the 3 and hoping for the best in the national championship game? When you just put in a freshman QB and can't guarantee when you'll be this close to the end zone again? I'm still scratching my head over this — not only did it send the wrong message to his team ("I don't believe we can make a yard in this situation"), it basically let Nick Saban off the hook for the baffling 4th-and-23 fake punt (since, from the point where the ball was intercepted, TU would've had a field goal, anyway). It reminded me of the 2006 Auburn game, when Mike Shula made a similar decision in a similar situation — a writer friend of mine in the press box received a text message that read "We just lost" even as the kick was clearing the uprights. And we had.

— That reminds me: our quarterback was injured, too. And broken ribs hurt. A lot.
— On Marcel Dareus: we've known all year that the guy was a stud. Now everybody knows.

— So what exactly happened to Alabama in the third quarter? As much as anything else — and this is hokey to say — I believe the team let down and lost its focus. We seemed to be celebrating the win before it was completely in the bag. It happens; they're just kids, after all. And Texas made its run — as I heard someone on the radio saying this morning, good teams always make a run — and Alabama had to hold them off. That's what champions do.
— Not nearly enough has been made, from what I've seen, about Alabama's rushing attack chewing up Texas' vaunted run defense (two 100-yard rushers vs. a defense that hasn't allowed one all year). And consider that it did so without Greg McElroy being much of a factor. That's an impressive day at the office, gentlemen.
(Note: A couple of blog outlets — I'm looking at you, WBE — have already predictably lambasted the last touchdown as "classless." I'll have to see it again, but it appeared Saban wanted to keep picking up first downs until TU used its last timeout, only Mack Brown decided the game was lost and didn't want to spend it. It's not Richardson's fault he scored when he got the ball. Look, Saban's a bad enough guy without making too much of something that miniscule.)
— I'm not certain, but I think Brent and Kirk Herbstreit had money on Texas covering the spread, judging by their second-half commentary. And even though Brent remains completely over-the-top, and even though Herbstreit always sounds like he's shouting into his microphone, they're still way, way better than FOX. So it's good they're taking over the BCS next year, if nothing else.

— So, of course, thoughts will almost immediately turn to next year, whether we want them to or not. And if you want to dream, read this Scarbinsky column predicting a repeat (damn you, you beret-wearing fruit).

To be honest, I didn't read it. I don't want to think about next year. Or last year. Or anything except what just happened.
I can't help it. We're back at the top of the mountain, and I can't stop smiling.

Roll Tide.

1 comment:

-D. said...

Roll Tide, brother...Roll Tide Roll.