Commentary: Alabama stakes claim to No. 1

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 6, 2009 

ATLANTA -- Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy held up two fingers.

It seemed odd at the time.

The No. 2 Crimson Tide has just punched its ticket Saturday to the Bowl Championship Series national title game with a 32-13 thumping of No. 1 Florida.

One index finger skyward seemed more in order.

Certainly, when the BCS announces its pairings later today, 13-0 Alabama will be at the top of the list.

No. 1 with one to go.

But, no, McElroy held up two digits as he stood on the podium with his Most Valuable Player award as his teammates clutched the championship hardware.

“The two fingers signifies 22,” McElroy later explained. “This is our 22nd SEC championship for the University of Alabama.”

The boy knows his history.

And McElroy was a big reason the Georgia Dome turned into a big Alabama party room, dancing, singing and all that jazz.

Before the game, everybody was talking about Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. After the game, everybody was talking about McElroy.

That’s M-c-E-l-r-o-y.

Remember the name because all he does is win. He has never lost a high school or college game as a starting quarterback.

He was 12-of-18 for 239 yards. But more importantly, he didn’t make any mistakes. It was almost like Alabama coach Nick Saban took the training wheels off McElroy after last week’s game-winning drive at Auburn.

“Greg did a phenomenal job,” Saban said.

But McElroy didn’t point at himself and grab the individual glory. He did what any good quarterback would do. He passed around the praise, refusing to bite when a reporter asked about his breakout performance.

“The breakout performance wasn’t mine,” McElroy said. “It was my offensive line. It was my wide receivers. It was Mark, Trent, Roy.”

That’s not the three wise men, but on this night running backs Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Roy Upchurch could have been. Together, they rushed for 252 yards and made it easier for McElroy to pick apart the Florida secondary.

McElroy praised the defense. And he should. The defense bottled up Tebow in the second half.

The best quarterback in the country wasn’t even the best quarterback on the field.

Alabama went to school on last year’s 31-20 SEC title game loss to Florida.

“We would rush four guys … and Tim would rush for a first down about three times,” Saban said. “We didn’t do that very much today. We sort of learned our lessons.”

But leave it to McElroy to throw his best pass of the night when it was over.

“In order to be a champion, Coach told us you have to have a team full of champions. That starts at the highest level, with Coach. And he’s a champion.”

Alabama Athletic Director Mal Moore was the architect of this. He’s the one who went to Miami and brought Saban back to the college game.

Because he knew Saban was a champion.

Standing on the field as the confetti was falling Saturday night, Moore was asked if this is what he envisioned four years ago when he was catching hell from all sides for what many believed was a botched coaching search.

“I knew Coach was the right man for this job,” Moore said.

“He had proven he can win championships.”

So now, Alabama is left to play for the real championship — the national championship in Pasadena Jan. 7.

But not before McElroy completes one more pass. He quoted Alabama fullback Baron Huber as he talked about Alabama’s rich tradition.

“It’s a big reason why a lot of people come here,” he said. “Our fullback said it best tonight. He said, ‘If you could write a page in history, what would you want it to say.’ And I think we wrote our page tonight.”

Yes they did.

But they still have to write an ending.

And what better place to write that ending than in the national championship game.

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