They waited for hours in the Wynfrey Hotel lobby at SEC media days, a crimson hoard clutching T-shirts, pictures, posters and helmets for Nick Saban to sign.
Eventually, the Alabama coach emerged from radio row, flanked by two security guards and a cadre of cameras, slowly making his way through an impromptu autograph line as flashes popped off in the background and fans crowded in to catch a glimpse.
The reception was more like that of a head of state than a football coach, though the two are largely indistinguishable in the heart of Alabama.
“My daddy always says, you only have a problem if no one’s asking for your autograph,” Saban said. “So, you know, when there’s not a stir downstairs, I got problems.”
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Of the coaches, Saban was the rock star on the second day of the Southeastern Conference’s media days, even with Florida’s Urban Meyer set to take the stage later in the day. Saban’s royalty was not surprising considering Hoover’s proximity to Tuscaloosa.
The extra attention doesn’t bother Saban, whose profile has skyrocketed following last year’s perfect run through the regular season and 12-2 overall record.
“We do appreciate the support,” Saban said. “And we have a tremendous passion in the state of Alabama for football, at both schools that we have here, both outstanding schools. We have a tremendous amount of respect for that passion.
“We certainly want to do our part to satisfy the passion of our fans and give them some time when we have an opportunity to.”