Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday tube: just a friendly reminder

Made reference to this yesterday, but it seems worth pointing out: The boys need to show up tomorrow night (for more on our tournament situation, read RBR's excellent take).

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday links: rolling along

The weekend for us — since you didn't ask — was an especially busy one. We helped Saturday at a promotional event for Music & Arts Week, attended a birthday party and went to see a local production of "Wicked" at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. The show was predictably fantastic, even if the crowd turned out to be a nightmare (we inadvertently bought tickets for the show on the same night as Jimmy Buffett's concert at the same site).
By the way, while we're here, my wife has a note about theater etiquette: Specifically, if you spent the money that's required to buy tickets to a play (not BCS Title game expensive, but not cheap either) and took the time to dress yourself and fight the crowd to get there ... let's just say, you should probably put your cell phone away, sit up straight and bear it. Because you don't want an angry redhead bringing her wrath down on you midway through the second act.

Anyway, to the links.
— The biggest moment of the weekend, naturally, goes to the men's basketball team, which continued its hot streak with a thumping of Mississippi State Saturday night in Coleman Coliseum. There's very little I can say about our team that hasn't already been said, so let me, for a moment, address State, if only because I watched them Saturday and Tuesday (when they lost at home to Kentucky). The Bullies have what is most likely the best 4-5 combination in the conference with Sidney and Moultrie ... only neither seems to totally want it. Sidney takes at least half the team's possessions off — just stands around the foul line or three-point line, watching everyone else play. And Moultrie is highly skilled, but Alabama covered him most of Saturday night with a guard (Rodney Cooper) and got away with it. That shouldn't happen.
As for our team, we now have to take care of business at home Wednesday vs. Auburn — not a gimme, and if you think it is, remember how this game ended last year — to be assured of a winning record in conference play (not to mention 20 wins). I can't see how we get left out of the Dance if that happens. Which would be a remarkable accomplishment, and proof that Anthony Grant, like Nick Saban, is putting on a leadership clinic.
— Speaking of clinics, Alabama's gymnasts did what they do this weekend as well. You can see the squad's rankings here.

— The baseball team also made some positive waves over the weekend, scoring 30 runs in a sweep of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. That's not exactly championship caliber competition (I don't think), but it was important to have some good things happen after the opening weekend debacle. Midweek games vs. South Alabama and Southern Miss this week should be notable, if only to see which direction we're headed at this point.

— Remember when the NFL Combine really didn't matter to folks around here (because nobody we cared about was involved)? Well, those days are long gone, and here's a bevy of stories to prove it. First up, RBR's NFL Draft Combine roundup, detailing some of the struggles of Marquis Maze, for one. Also, Pro Football Weekly talked to Trent Richardson, which is neat just to type.
On the defensive side, the pro football world is learning what most of us already knew: that Alabama's defenders are a versatile lot. Additionally, the state may have an answer for the NFL's defensive back deficiency.

— A few other links, just to round it out: Thamel dreams up an acceptable NCAA playoff format; Freddie Freeman shoots for a Golden Glove and a batting title;  and Drew live blogs the Oscars with a lot of ALL CAPS and most NSFW language (that means don't click here, Mom).

Friday, February 24, 2012

basketball thoughts: don't count us out

Editor's Note: Last week's version of this was essentially me having a conversation with myself. Who knows? This week's version may prove to be the same. For now, you're stuck with my thoughts following last night's win at Arkansas, pending a response from my brother Whit.

Photo via
• Was it me, or did Arkansas do us a favor by pressing? By speeding up our offense — instead of forcing us to play in the halfcourt — they inadvertently allowed us to gain some confidence in ourselves. And especially after a few 3s went down ... I mean, things are looking up.

• All the credit in the world to Anthony Grant. At intermittent points during the season I've either thought he didn't know what he was doing, or that his team didn't respect him. But no more — since the suspension of Mitchell, his team has played its best basketball and even the youngsters are gaining confidence. Tonight, we were playing away from home, one of our better players lately — Lacey, who had 8 — wrecked his ankle and left the game, Arkansas was shooting the lights out and we were still without JaMychal. It was the perfect excuse to mail the thing in and start thinking about Saturday. Instead they fought back into it, took the lead going to half and then ran away and hid in the second. All things being equal, that's a GREAT coaching job.

• Maybe the most exciting thing about the team at the moment is that we're finally seeing some of the versatility we anticipated before the season started. We can go bigger with Green, Gueye and Engstrom in the middle, or smaller with Randolph, Lacey, Cooper and Steele. Or, if we really need to turn the ball over and let the other team back into the game, we can always play Eblen.
(I'm sorry, I shouldn't pick on Ben Eblen. For all I know he' s a great guy and one of the most beloved players on the squad. Having said that, I'm pretty sure he's been our backup point guard since 1997, and I have no idea what he does well. And I'm positive he's afraid to shoot under any circumstances.)
I say we're in the NCAA Tournament if we take care of business Saturday vs. State. In a season like this one, that would really be something.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday tube: Playing catch up

With Arkansas on the horizon for this week, it seems like as good an occasion as any to enjoy Marquis Maze's dazzling punt return from last September.
OK, so we really didn't need the excuse. Roll Tide.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday links: insert clever title here

No catchy intro today. Before we get started, though, let's enjoy this ridiculously uncomfortable photo from last week.
SABAN: "Uncle Elbert never went to school like the others. He got a bath when we could track him down. That wasn't often; he was fast as us, and took off into the woods through briars that cut us to ribbons. We didn't have his thick wild hobo skin, nor the touched brain that made this seem like a reasonable way to spend days. He was handsome when we cleaned him up. Real handsome."
— Let us begin with the "we ain't much but we're still standing" portion of the weekend: Alabama overcame a litany of off-court problems to beat a hot Tennessee team Saturday in Coleman. In his column about the win, Cecil's comparisons are as diverse as the team has been. As for me, I'll say only that if Alabama can get the kind of contribution it did Saturday from Lacey, Randolph and those 2 7-feet tall statues ... well, that will be very good indeed.
(Note: We're going to Arkansas Thursday, and will almost definitely lose by 15. So maybe we won't feel so good by then.)
By the way, Scarbinsky used the UT game as an opportunity to catch up with Dave Hart, one of the key people involved in bringing coach Grant to Tuscaloosa. His review, not surprisingly, is glowing.
While we're here, it's about time for one of our columnists to wonder why the state's basketball is so bad. Check and mate.
— The gymnastics team continues to kick everyone's ... well, you get it. Currently the squad is ranked at or near the top in every category. The way it should be.
(Note: We're including floor exercise here, to keep with the "Dance Party" theme of the blog.)
— Less pleasant: The baseball team. The less said about Opening Weekend in Tuscaloosa, the better.

— Believe it or not, we'll probably start talking spring practice pretty soon. Jess Nicholas has a list of position battles to watch this spring. Also, OTS tackled the multi-year scholarship issue with his typical flair.
— Two more random notes: Jair Jurrjens and Tim Hudson are prepared for 2012; and you can't be racist on ESPN.com. Oops.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

a newspaper column about running

This week's column from the St. Clair Times is about mine & Stacey Heath's experience running in downtown Birmingham, the first such experience for me. It was great because neither of us died. The column leaves out my brother Jack's finish in Sunday's marathon, in which he disappointed his family by finishing in a mere 2:51 (15th overall). Ridiculous. As always, feel free to comment here or on Twitter.
First try at distance turned out mediocre, which is for the best

Perfectly mediocre.

That’s the only way I can describe our finish Saturday in the Mercedes 5KBR race in downtown Birmingham, the first such race I ever ran in my entire life. My wife — who thought this was a good idea in the first place — and I started in the middle of a giant pack of runners, wheezed our way through freezing cold and just over three miles’ worth of plodding, and finished … well, roughly in the middle of the pack of a giant pack of runners.

Perfectly mediocre.

To be frank, I never really imagined myself competing in any sort of “distance race,” because I’ve never been very good at it. I’m much better competing against other people at sports that involve sprinting — basketball, maybe, or even soccer. “Competing against myself” in a run that takes 30 minutes to complete (stop laughing) … not so much.

Still, there comes a point where a man must accept his fate. For me it happened with basketball about the 374th time I turned my ankle. The message was clear: This is not a long-term proposition.

“Well, I guess we could always start running.”

Those words, it turned out, may have been a poor choice.

“We can run the Mercedes 5K in February!” said my wife. “We’ll set that as our goal.”

It was just an idea at first, as I could barely complete one mile — much less 3.2 — without seeing my life flash before my eyes. Then one day I got an email thanking me for registering for the race.

“Run like a superhero!” it said.

Well … now there’s money invested in it.

And so we trained — nothing special, usually just enough to maintain a conversation, usually about not-so-pressing matters related to work, or whatever annoying habit of a fellow driver or one of my co-workers had picked up that I could use to occupy my brain. Occasionally I tried an iPod — it didn’t last, because it turns out I don’t listen to the right kinds of music for distance running.

The morning of the race, as you know by now, gave us one more big challenge: icy temperatures and bone-chilling wind. By the time the horn blasted to actually start the race, everyone was pretty excited just to finish it.

In less than 40 minutes — I said stop laughing — the deed was done. My brother the marathon runner — he placed second in his age bracket the following day — came to the course, allegedly to cheer us on.

“That’s really good for your first time out,” he said.

Actually, it was about average. Which is where it should have been, I guess.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

basketball thoughts: a season on the brink

Editor's Note: This was originally sent as an email to my brother Whit and will likely be updated later in the day with his take. For now, you're stuck with cynical old me. Apologies in advance.

Photo via
This is what I deserve for feeling positive about the basketball team.
• My thought that we might survive without JaMychal Green because of Nick Jacobs has been demolished the last two times we've taken the court. Jacobs looks lost on defense, and as the primary post man on offense he looks overwhelmed. There was a moment in the LSU game — when the game was still taut — where he came free off a screen-and-roll, had an uncontested basket ... and fumbled the ball away like me in a pickup game. I realize he's only a freshman. But we need him to be more than he's been thus far, particularly since Engstrom and Gueye are simply not reliable options against good teams.
• Does anyone know what happened to Randolph & Lacey? Again, they're just freshmen, but how did they lose their confidence so quickly? Lacey was supposed to be a combination guard with a reliable enough handle to allow us to spell Releford and play a more flexible lineup; he looks lost out there. Randolph has been slightly better, but he too appears afraid to shoot — last night their combined line: 47 minutes, 4-9 FG (1-5 on 3s), 0-2 FTs (2 FTs!!!!), 9 rebounds. Is there any way to repair this?
• This one really isn't so much a question as an oft-repeated rant, but this team wastes SOOOO many possessions, it's appalling — turnovers, missed layups, missed short jumpers ... turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Last night, against a top-20 opponent, we shot 12-24 from the line, and turned the ball over 18 times. And that doesn't include the number of easy shots we missed. And we lost by 9. Yeah.
• If you subscribe to the theory that an NCAA Tournament team must finish 8-8 in conference, then all is not lost. We are, currently, 5-6 in conference. We have 3 home games left, even if 2 of them are against 2 of the better teams in the SEC (State and Tennessee). So ... it ain't over, even if it feels that way.

Now ...
Here's the part where I must (grudgingly) credit coach Grant and his staff for making a very difficult choice. Grant knows a) his fan base expected a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2012; b) that suspending 4 of his starting 5 at this point in the season would possibly stick a dagger in those expectations. But here is where coaching takes over: Coaches, particularly college basketball coaches, are supposed to be teachers — not just teachers of basketball, but teachers of life. And the life's lesson we are currently (painfully) learning is that our players will be required to do the right things and be accountable, wins and losses be damned. In the larger picture, I think we can all live with that.
(In the short term, I'm going to pull out all my hair.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tuesday tube: time to step up

A few scenes of important matchups with Florida in Tuscaloosa across the past few years. Now's the time, fellas.

Just in case you were curious, here's coach Grant discussing tonight's game.
Cross your fingers.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday links: Taking it on the chin

No story from the weekend, obviously, was bigger than what happened with Alabama basketball on Saturday: About 3 hours before a big game vs. LSU, coach Anthony Grant announced the suspension of three more players, meaning that 4/5 of the team's offense is now on the bench. The team — we started 4 freshmen and Ben Eblen, who wouldn't play point in most pickup games — fought like hell, but lost in Baton Rouge. And suddenly, the season is at stake.

The door does appear open, but what level of trust will there be if and when reinstatement occurs? How will the disappointed ones Grant alluded to - the teammates, the loved ones, the fans - view the players upon their return, when and if there is one?
At this point, there is still a season for Alabama. Saturday's loss didn't help things, but it was not an NCAA elimination game for the Crimson Tide, as some breathless hyperbole on the Internet surmised.
Simply for the sake of something not suspension related, here's a story about the relationship between Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph. Strangely, it appeared that Randolph looked much more aggressive Saturday night in Red Stick. If this team is going to have a shot without the Sidelined 4, Lacey has to be an integral part of that. So, ya know, c'mon Trevor.
— This won't shock you, but Nick Saban is great when it comes to preparing youngsters for the pros.
— Tidesports.com has a primer about Alabama's new offensive coordinator.
— Thought this was notable: In the past four years, Alabama's recruiting budget has tripled. Also, the NCAA wants to drastically increase penalties for "major violations," whatever those are.
— That reminds us: You want a college football playoff? Thank the SEC.

— The return of freezing cold weather, by the way, can only mean that baseball season is almost back. Braves beat writer David O'Brien is the best guy to follow if you're an Atlanta fan like me.

Also, out of obligation, here's Whitney Houston at the 1991 Super Bowl.

Friday, February 10, 2012

basketball thoughts: won't stop, can't stop

Editor's note: We almost were forced to discontinue this feature after the loss at South Carolina, if only because Whit and I might have come to blows over my own bitterness. Fortunately for everyone involved, the team has rallied to win three straight, including Tuesday night's win at Auburn, possibly the best the squad has played all season (and in the aftermath of the suspension of Tony Mitchell, to boot). So here are some basketball thoughts as we head into this weekend at LSU, with my brother Whit.
me: As I'm typing this, our team is on the verge of closing out what is arguably its biggest win of the season, an 18-point thumping (that wasn't even really all that close) at Auburn. On its face it is not important at all, because Auburn — while vastly improved — isn't in the top-100, and hasn't beaten anyone this season of consequence. This win over Auburn isn't a ticket to the NCAAs, and if anything a loss in this game would have made our already perilous bubble look mighty shaky.
But the W is important, for a few reasons that are not immediately related to our tournament resume. To wit:
• It's against Auburn, on the road, in a game that is without argument the biggest basketball game played in Auburn all season. Combine the full house with the vitriol directed at the officials, and this may be the most hostile atmosphere the team will play in all season. 
• It comes only one day after it was announced that Tony Mitchell — arguably the best player on the team — was "indefinitely suspended" for "conduct detrimental to the team." Time will tell whether the loss of Mitchell is a detriment against better teams, but for tonight, the squad came together and played its best game of the year. 
• Actually related to the second point: The bench showed up tonight. We got 3 big 3-pointers from Charles Freaking Hankerson. Rodney Cooper scored 8 points. Engstrom even made a cameo appearance and contributed a bucket and a block. If we can really go this deep, there's a chance for something here, isn't there? 
(Note: We're at LSU on Saturday and could blow all this positive feeling right to hell. So let's enjoy it for now.)
Whit: I realize that the last game was against an unimpressive Auburn squad, but it was still closer than it should be. The atmosphere was pretty intense during the game especially when the officials started making calls against Auburn. 
The Alabama team without Mitchell is different, but I'm not sure on which side of the coin they'll fall. With Mitchell, it seems that there are a lot more dunks, but there is also a significant lack of effort on the defensive end of the ball. So much, in fact, that it seems Bama ends up playing D with 4 instead of 5. 
My favorite aspect of suspending Mitchell is that the action is basically a shot across the bow of our team's ego. They now know that they need to get with Coach Grant's program or he won't put up with it, and whether or not Tony learns anything from this, I think the rest of the team will be a little more persuaded to play as they are coached. 
Overall, I would say that we're basically the same team because of our lack of experience, but if people like Hankerson, Cooper, Randolph, and Gueye continue to get and give good minutes with great effort, I think the team would be vastly improved without Mitchell. I only say that because Alabama's team is so young (Green is the only SR. Steele (RS) JR.) and I feel like they're capable of being coached to play the way that Coach Grant wants them to play. 
Best 5 - Releford, Steele, Randolph, Green, Jacobs
• I still really like the way that Coach Grant's team operates, and you're right in saying that not everybody is on the same page. I do think that Mitchell's suspension will go a long way to help the players get on the same page with hustle, effort, and mindset because they understand that they aren't ENTITLED to be on the floor or even wear the jersey. I do think that some of the dissension and poor play falls on the coach's shoulders, but he's basically been dealing with the egos of prepubescent little boys who think they're the best person on the floor whether or not it's true.
So yes, a lot of it is on his shoulders, but I think it will get better as a whole as time progresses. This Saturday against LSU will be a test of Coach Grant's desired team mentality and hopefully before too long, they'll develop the identity that Coach Grant wants them to have.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

a newspaper column, in which I attempt to be funny

This week's column for the St. Clair Times was a reaction to a story I read last week, which briefly mentioned our county. As always, feel free to comment here or on Twitter.
Word is getting out for St. Clair

It’s always good when people travel out of state and say positive things over social media about your home county. Unless those people are alleged criminals, I mean.

Early last week, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, via its Facebook page, named alleged rapist Dustin McCombs its “Creep of the Week.” McCombs — a 21-year-old who stands 5-5 and weighs 155 pounds — is still on the loose, but apparently not terribly shy. Upon seeing his name and face on the page, McCombs — or, rather, someone using his name through the social network — began openly taunting law enforcement.

Among other things, McCombs told authorities he had moved “out of state”; that his accuser is “full of nothing but lies”; and that he is prepared for “an unfair trial that yall (sic) claim to be a fair trial.” Whoever maintains the Facebook page for Jefferson County urged him to turn himself in, and also begged him to stop discussing the details of the case in such an open forum (the whole “fair trial” thing).

The money quote, though, was this one (and this is direct): “can I turn myself in to st clair county since tahts where the warrant is, i hear its nicer over there.”

Wow! A ringing endorsement, right? All this energy St. Clair County has put into its economic development engines, its health care and building safer, cleaner, more peaceful communities … I mean, it’s apparently paying off, right? He heard it was nicer here!

(Important note: For reasons that are not entirely clear, Mr. McCombs misspoke about the location of his warrant. It was issued from Shelby County, not St. Clair. I’m sure it’s nice there, too. His bond is set at $60,000.)

The county is likely to be showered in attention this spring, what with elections taking place in March and various politicians discussing our importance in industrial development. St. Clair is an important place now in the political realm, and that statement is going to be affirmed and re-affirmed in the coming weeks and months.

It’s doubtful Mr. McCombs’ endorsement will be noted in any of that rhetoric, unfortunately.

By the way, I asked an official at our district attorney’s office about the claim that things are “nicer” over here. The unofficial response: “He obviously hasn’t met me, yet.”

Maybe it’s not so nice for everybody.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tuesday tube: men (and ladies) of iron

With the hoop squad facing a road test tonight in Auburn, without its best player — important note: it may be addition by subtraction — it seems like the perfect time to review Alabama's last two trips to Auburn ... in different sports.  
We'll see how things play out tonight. Cross your fingers.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Monday links: Now we play the waiting game

As of this morning, football season — including recruiting and the NFL playoffs — has officially come to a close, after the Giants beat the Patriots (again) in the Super Bowl last night in a pretty unusual game.  We have discussed this before, but it bears repeating: College football, if it truly wishes to adopt a postseason tournament, would do well to look at a model that does not reward regular-season mediocrity with a shot at the championship. Dr. Saturday said as much in the run-up to the Super Bowl:

Even if New York knocks off New England, it will finish the season with a lower winning percentage (.650) than six other teams — New England, Green Bay, New Orleans, San Francisco, Baltimore and Pittsburgh — that happened to suffer one of their rare losses at the wrong point on the calendar. In the context of a 16-game schedule, the gap between New York at 9-7 and the top three teams in the NFC (all of which beat New York head-to-head in the regular season, en route to finishing 13-3 or better) was enormous.
But of course, thanks to the inviolable sanctity of the playoffs, the only streak that matters in the end is the Giants' three-game run in January. So here they are, and almost no one blinks. What a story!
Consider that the Giants lost twice during the regular season to the Washington Redskins (5-11), the second of those losses coming at home late in the season when New York was allegedly in "must win" posture. They were within one play of elimination twice vs. Dallas, before catching fire to win their division (worst in the league). And now they are champions of a league in which they were mediocre for the bulk of the season. Not their fault, but it's hard to believe a team this average is the "champion" at the end of the year.
(One other Super Bowl related note: Both quarterbacks in last night's game have history vs. Alabama, though no Bama QB has played in the Super Bowl since Joe Namath's guarantee. 

— Speaking of regular seasons and mediocrity, Alabama survived yet again over the weekend vs. Ole Miss, with Trevor Releford coming up with some crucial defensive plays — including a strip of the Rebels' Jarvis Summers on the last possession in OT, when he was badly beaten and really had no other chance — to allow the team to hang on. One hopes this is the kind of victory that can propel a team through the rest of SEC play. Tuesday night's Auburn game looms large. We shall see.
— The defending champs in gymnastics continue to dominate all comers. This weekend's victim was Florida, arguably the best team we've faced all year ... that went down and went down hard.
— Other things that will no doubt be the center of conversation for the rest of this interminable offseason: Recruiting, and specifically the ethics of it. Nick Saban and his staff at Alabama — excoriated in columns like this one from Montgomery or this story in the AJC — continue to look like bad guys for continuing the practice of "greyshirting" and "roster management." The reality — as OTS points out — is that coaches have little choice in the matter.
Coaches are, after all, doing no more than simply trying to maximize on-field success given the applicable rules established by those above them (which is, incidentally, their job), and many modern rule changes have made that job even harder. Long gone are the days when most coaches could freely take risks on players with potential academic problems or uncertain medical issues, for example. With each spot now unused being lost forever, coaches simply have to be certain that whoever they allow to fill those spots can, at a bare minimum, qualify academically and arrive to campus relatively healthy in the months immediately after National Signing Day. Evaluations, then, become even more critical, all the while the nature of the recruiting cycle changes such that -- due to earlier decisions of many prospects and the acceleration of the recruiting process as a whole -- evaluations must be made much sooner than in years past, with much less information, and a greater potential of a bad outcome with a missed evaluation. And when something inevitably goes wrong, the coaches, and not the system under which they are forced to operate in, inevitably become the scapegoats.
 The developing narrative in the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives — outside of whatever happens at Penn State, obviously — is the arrival of Urban Meyer, and him making everyone else having to, like, work hard at recruiting and stuff. Incidentally, Barry Alvarez doesn't see the problem.
— Your other refuge during the offseason? The Fulmer Cup. Enjoy it, and pray to God our teams' name stays out of it. Happy offseason.

Friday, February 3, 2012

newspaper column: my $.02 on Paterno

Little late with this week's newspaper column, which astute readers may recognize as part of a larger blog post from 2010. So I plagiarized myself. Sue me. Anyway, as always you can feel free to comment on the post, either here or by finding me on Twitter.
Paterno’s legacy summed up with one cheer

Certain moments don’t seem terribly significant at the time, but they stick in the mind, maybe forever.

This one was spontaneous, it seems. It happened at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa in September 2010, and it happened completely out of the view of the television cameras.

Penn State’s football team was in town to play Alabama, the first time we’d seen each other since 1990. Maybe the most appealing for fans of the home team: the sight of old Joe Paterno, PSU head coach since 1966 and link to a college football past that many Tide fans remember with longing. In a weird way, Paterno — college football’s all-time winningest coach who battled Alabama in two bowl games and 10 regular-season matchups in the late 1970s and through the 1980s — was one of the last living links to the halcyon days of Paul Bryant.

So the 2010 meeting has drawn national attention, for that purpose. My wife and I — like (I suspect) many of the other 100,000 crowded into the stadium that night — are there to witness a historic renewal, as much as anything else.

But the game is obviously tilted in Alabama’s favor. Alabama is playing at home; Alabama has the superior team, the defending national champs and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. The action in the first half has borne that out — Alabama leads 17-3 going to the locker room, a comfortable enough lead with its swarming defense. The second half is most likely a fait accompli.

As the teams are exiting the field for the second half, Paterno’s image appears on the big screen at the stadium. This is unusual — an opposing coach for a visiting team receiving this much attention. He’s briefly standing still for the obligatory halftime interview with ESPN’s Erin Andrews, and it’s clear from his body language that he intends to give her exactly as much time as is absolutely necessary.

The crowd murmurs, then breaks into a smattering of applause. This is even more unusual — Alabama fans, as passionate as any in the country, do not applaud visiting teams or coaches.

Paterno breaks free of Andrews and begins to jog towards the visiting tunnel, as quickly as his 84-year-old body will allow him. The applause changes to cheers. This has now transitioned from unusual to downright odd.

The din grows louder for the visiting coach, a thundering ovation for a coach who came to break Alabama’s heart. Paterno, for his part, does not acknowledge the cheers — he’s an opposing coach in enemy territory. He’s not there to be cheered.

Finally, as he’s about to disappear from view, Paterno — still the symbol of everything that’s right about college football — quietly pumps his fist. It’s an acknowledgement of the crowd, in the way that a gruff old man telling you to get off his lawn is an acknowledgement.

Alabama won the game 24-3. Less than 18 months later, Paterno — fired from his post for his failures in reporting part of an unspeakable scandal — is gone from this world, the victim of lung cancer.

I hope he is at peace.