A RISING TIDE
[Saturday night, November 3, 2012]
I just watched the best college football game that I may have ever seen. Words cannot do it justice, but I will offer my humble thoughts nonetheless:
Our Crimson Tide went into the Bayou and was fed all the Gumbo it could handle. After being outplayed for nearly two quarters, BAMA managed to put together a late second quarter touchdown drive that put us up 14-3 at the half. Against most opponents, that would have been a dagger in the heart. But this is the SEC, and this was LSU - at night, in the Bayou. As much as I get sick of hearing about the LSU “Gris Gris” magic that engulfs the nighttime atmosphere at Tiger Stadium, there seems to be some validity to it. And to throw some extra Cayenne pepper into the roux, consider that LSU and their fans had been preparing for 10 months to exact revenge for the 21-0 drubbing that we handed them in last year’s National Championship game.
The LSU Tigers came out in the second half so starved that they dared to prey on Elephants. They were hunting for some Pachyderm meat to toss into their empty kettle. Zach Mettenberger finally lived up to all the expectations, slicing and dicing the vaunted BAMA defense with pinpoint passes. And unlike the first half, this time his receivers didn’t drop the ball. The LSU running backs were also able to find chunks of valuable yardage in between the aerial assault, like potatoes in the crawfish boil. The Tigers stopped the potent TIDE offense repeatedly on “three and outs”, and before BAMA could catch its breath, we were behind 17-14 in the fourth quarter. They call it “Death Valley” for a reason.
It was time for the questions that had been hovering over this heralded Alabama team all season to finally be answered. Did we have the requisite character, strength, and leadership to persevere when our backs were against the wall? Could we stay afloat in the Bayou morass and overcome the Cajun curses? It was ebb tide for most of the game. The Zydeco bands were warming up, and the Jambalaya was simmering to perfection. But could the mystical mixture of voodoo hexes, nighttime revelry, and crazy Cajuns repress the inevitability of a perpetually rising TIDE?
LSU kept our incessant hopes alive with a botched fake field goal, a poorly executed onside kick, and a negated rushing attempt on fourth down. The “Mad Hatter” puts great athletes on the field, and they always compete hard. But like a neophyte New Orleans chef, the Tiger coach sometimes puts too many ingredients in the pot and overcooks the stew. Perhaps Les Miles should embrace his name and realize that less is sometimes more.
As tides usually do, BAMA was subtly, slowly, and steadily rising. My children and I sat in front of the TV, watching the Tigers seemingly control the game. With four minutes left and LSU leading 17-14, my oldest son attempted to retire to his bedroom in defeat. Time for a life lesson. I called him back out of his room and told all three of our children that this game was not over. I emphasized that no matter how bleak things look, you can never give up. I pointed out that BAMA’s defense was fighting with all their might. They weren’t quitting, Nick Saban wasn’t quitting, A.J. MacCarron wasn’t quitting, T.J. Yeldon wasn’t quitting, Kevin Norwood (who in my humble opinion is the most underrated player on our team) wasn’t quitting. So, as fans, we shouldn’t quit either.
Now, to be honest, I was speaking to myself more than to my children. In my own heart and mind, I too was struggling to believe, struggling to maintain hope, struggling to stay positive as I watched our beloved TIDE being outplayed on both sides of the ball.
We’re spoiled at BAMA. Coach Bryant spoiled us, and we’ve been spoiled in this current Nick Saban era. We’ve become used to winning lately. But if there’s one thing Coach Saban preaches over and over again, it’s that you have to overcome adversity. And I promise you, he’s not just talking about sports. At Alabama, we’ve had our share of adversity over the past few decades. People outside of the SEC probably don’t realize just how bad times were in Alabama for quite a while. Between National Championship coach Gene Stallings and the hiring of Nick Saban, we endured scandals, betrayals, and shames that were not commensurate with the BAMA tradition of excellence and class. We could feel the spirit of Bear Bryant casting a disapproving glance at our program. As BAMA fans, we suffered more from the scars on our reputation than from the losses on the field. But at Alabama, we are a family. And when times are tough, true families always come together.
I have a dear friend, one of my best friends in this world. He is loyal, humble, intelligent, honest, and God-fearing. And he is the biggest Alabama fan I know. About a year ago he went through some extremely difficult times. He experienced trials and adversities that most people would not have been able to overcome. Family and friends forsook him in his greatest hour of need. But he didn’t quit. He didn’t give into depression or despair. He clung to his faith in God, rising – like the TIDE – above the temporal darkness in order to follow the eternal Light. Let us not forget that tides are dictated by the luminance of the moon, not by the darkness that surrounds it. And the lessons and examples of Alabama football throughout the decades was no small inspiration to him during his great hours of difficulty. My dear friend is not related to me by blood, but he is closer to me than some of my own relatives. Those who say that blood is thicker than water have never felt the force of the Crimson Tide.
With less than two minutes to play, a missed field goal by LSU afforded Alabama’s stifled offense a last ditch effort to even the score and take the game into overtime. But most honest BAMA fans would admit that our hopes seemed slim. The Tiger defense had dominated the second half; and with the taste of revenge on their tongues and 92,000 rabid Cajuns behind them, it appeared that the TIDE would be abated. But all tides ebb and flow, and now it was time for the TIDE to come roaring in.
Channeling the heroics of Greg McElroy’s winning fourth quarter drive against Auburn in 2009, A.J. MacCarron stepped up to the plate and called his game winning shots. For 58 minutes, the Tiger defense had reduced A.J. MacCarron to a non factor. His passes were off target, overthrown, and poorly timed. He certainly did not look like a Heisman Trophy candidate. But the Crimson cream always rises to the top, and A.J. got it done when it counted the most. With the assistance of an offensive line that refused to quit, and with the help of clutch receptions by Kevin Norwood, our quarterback led us to the LSU 28 yard line in less than a minute. His passes were crisp, deliberate, and perfectly calibrated. He was poised, steady, confident, and composed. He played just like… well… just like his coach coaches. With less than a minute remaining, BAMA fans were confident that we could take this game into overtime. Our field goal kickers had been steady all year long, and we were well within their field goal range.
Yet even as BAMA fans, we occasionally sell our team short, underestimating the perseverance and faith of our own coaches and players (please don’t tell Nick Saban.) But champions are sometimes born in bayous, and Crimson character emerges like a pure brook above the backwater.
Coach Saban played it close to the vest all night. No trick plays, no “razzle dazzle.” Predictable to a fault, or so it seemed. While Les Miles was trying to pull MOJO out of his hat, Saban remained steady handed and even-keeled. But when the time was right, Saban opened the floodgates; and A.J. MacCarron tossed a screen pass to T.J. Yeldon who elusively darted 28 yards into the end zone, and potentially into Alabama lore. A few minutes earlier, A.J. and T.J. had muffed a handoff inside the LSU ten yard line that cost us certain points and gave LSU the ball. But MacCarron and Yeldon rose from their ashes to connect for what we could only hope would be the game winning touchdown.
But this was BAMA vs. LSU, in Death Valley, and there was too much time left on the clock. Was it 45 seconds, 40? I can’t remember. But to us, it was an eternity, especially the way Mettenberger had picked our defense apart all night. Our offense had risen to the occasion when it mattered most. Could our defense do the same? With no time outs remaining, LSU was forced to go 80 yards for a touchdown to win the game. BAMA was up by 4, and a field goal would do the Tigers no good.
As the BAMA defense took the field, A.J. MacCarron sat on the sidelines and unleashed a tide of emotional tears, reminiscent of the tide that poured from Mark Ingram’s eyes when he accepted Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy. You see, at Alabama, winning means something. Not just winning, but how you win, why you win, the way you win, and for whom you win. The people of Alabama have been unfairly stereotyped, maligned by the national media, discredited as an entire state and an entire people. Their legendary coach Bear Bryant, arguably the greatest college football coach in history, was inaccurately and disgracefully portrayed in a Hollywood film. There are poverty stricken Alabamians – both Black and White – who work hard, pray hard, live right, and entrust Alabama football to represent their work ethic, their character, and their indomitable spirit. That’s what the BAMA haters will never realize. All they see is the winning, and they think it comes easy to us. They have trouble recognizing that an entire community – a vastly diverse yet equally passionate and equally committed community – invests its heart and soul in Alabama football. And the BAMA haters will never understand that we take as much pride in how we win as we do in our winning.
So, with ample but precious seconds remaining, the Tiger offense took the field, led by a quarterback that had been having his way with the TIDE secondary all night long. But an abused and maligned Alabama defense was having no part of any LSU “Bayou Miracle.” Coach Saban doesn’t deal with fantasy, he deals with reality: “Do your job. Execute. Give maximum effort. Never give up. Focus on the single task at hand. Don’t worry about what they do, focus on doing what you’re supposed do.”
Some people stick pins in Voodoo dolls and try to pull rabbits out of their hat. Alabama just lines up and plays football.
Those who really know the game of football will tell you that statistics can often underwhelm, but you can never underestimate winning. Mark Twain famously remarked, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
I don’t know how much he knew about football, but his quote is certainly apropos to the sport. If the Heisman Trophy is a combination of talent, teamwork, perseverance, and character, then A.J. MacCarron and the Alabama Crimson Tide epitomized that combination on Saturday night in Baton Rouge. But don’t ask A.J., Nick Saban, or the BAMA players about the Heisman Trophy. In the state of Alabama, crystal is much more valuable than brass.
I don’t know whether or not Alabama will win its 15th National Championship this year. Texas A&M, Auburn, - and possibly Georgia in the SEC Championship - loom large. But we proved Saturday night that we have the ability and discipline to persevere and overcome tremendous setbacks. We proved a lot by conquering the mighty Cajuns in their own backyard Bayou. But there are still some questions that must be answered, and those questions can only be settled on the field. However, the questions of this team’s character and class have been resoundingly answered without a doubt.
Regardless of what happens from here on out, I have never been prouder to be an Alabama fan than I am right now. We were champions Saturday night, and this game and this team will always be remembered for the heroics it produced on this particular autumn evening. But I give tremendous credit to LSU. Ali’s greatness would not have been possible without the mighty challenges of Foreman and Frazier, and BAMA’s prowess is all the more valuable because of formidable opponents like LSU.
It is said that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Well, a rising TIDE lifts the hearts, minds, and spirits innumerable Alabama fans all over the world. I am lifted up tonight, flowing ever forward with the irrepressible wave of my faithful CRIMSON TIDE family.
To all my fellow BAMA fans, please remember this:
Good times come and good times go
Life is full of ebb and flow
But character is forged in hardship
And champions steadily rise…
Like the TIDE…
By GEBRE MENFES KIDUS