Alabama football: Crimson Tide arrives in New Orleans for BCS national championship game against LSU Tigers

Tide coach Saban returns to site of 2003 title with LSU

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerJanuary 5, 2012 

NEW ORLEANS -- Five years and a day later, Nick Saban stepped off another plane.

Again there was a crowd, just not the mob that cheered his hiring back in 2007. And the over-served, over-affectionate fans were nowhere in sight.

The scene Wednesday in New Orleans was one envisioned by many when Saban officially took the Alabama job following a decade of mediocrity.

Five years later, his fifth Alabama team was back in the national title game for the second time. Monday night, the No. 2 Crimson Tide will face the No. 1 Tigers -- the same LSU program he led to the 2003 championship in the same but remodeled Superdome.

It was all about the grand arrival, though Wednesday.

A six-piece brass band and a media crowd Sugar Bowl officials said was the largest they have seen waited as the team exited two charter planes. Airport officials told bowl spokesman John Sudsbury they have had two presidents land there without that many cameras, reporters and satellite trucks.

But this is Alabama football.

And this is the national championship week. Just five days separate Alabama from its Monday night showdown with LSU in the BCS National Championship Game.

The Crimson Tide snuck in one more Tuscaloosa practice Wednesday afternoon before making the short flight to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. The team will work out again at 2:30 p.m. today in the Superdome.

There will be more interviews, clicking cameras and crowds to navigate. But free time is another reality of postseason play.

And with the Alabama team hotel sitting one street away from the famously enticing French Quarter, distractions are everywhere.

Tide linebacker Dont’a Hightower said the team’s leadership decided on a curfew between midnight and 1 a.m.

“I’m pretty sure some of the younger guys are going to go out and experience and see everything New Orleans has to offer,” Hightower said on the airport tarmac. “I feel like some of the older guys are going to hold tight.”

Hightower and other veterans got their taste of the town a few years back. Alabama spent the week in New Orleans before losing to Utah 31-17 in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.

“I already had my fun in New Orleans as a freshman,” Hightower said.

The relationship between actions and consequences won’t change now that players are just days away from the biggest game of their careers.

“You can still enjoy yourself if you make good decisions about what you do,” Saban said from a packed interview room off the runway. “Everybody has a responsibility to each member of the team to make sure they’re preparing themselves physically, emotionally and mentally to play what probably needs to be our best football game of the year.”

Across town, LSU arrived by bus instead of plane. Its Baton Rouge campus is an hour from the hub of activity.

Many of the Tigers come from the New Orleans area, so a trip to the French Quarter isn’t quite the novelty.

Lights-out time in the LSU hotel rooms was also discussed.

“I asked my unity council, and here’s what they said: ‘Coach, we don’t want curfew,’” LSU coach Les Miles said. “Come in early, and it’s all about the game. It’s all about preparing and getting ready, so I’ve really let them lead. I asked, and they said, ‘No, that’s good.’ We have a very, very early curfew comparatively to other bowls that we’ve attended. The celebration is maybe put off for a while.”

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