It has been 63 years since an Alabama football team went west to Pasadena.
It’s a lifetime for many.
Sunday, the No. 1 Crimson Tide punched its ticket into the Bowl Championship Series national title game against No. 2 Texas.
Alabama is California bound for a Jan. 7 title bout in the Rose Bowl stadium.
The Crimson Tide is not the only local team to get a BCS bid. Georgia Tech, the Atlantic Coast Conference champions, received an automatic bid and will play Iowa in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 5 in Miami.
Auburn and Georgia were not left out of the postseason fun.
Auburn, 7-5, will play on New Year’s morning against Northwestern in Tampa’s Outback Bowl. Georgia, also 7-5, will travel to Shreveport, La., for a Dec. 28 Independence Bowl date against Texas A&M. Troy will play Central Michigan in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 6.
But the big prize clearly goes to Alabama, making its third BCS appearance, but still looking for its first BCS win.
And Alabama’s reward is a trip back into the history books to play in the famed Rose Bowl stadium. It’s technically not the Rose Bowl game, but the Rose Bowl committee was in Atlanta Saturday and presented the Crimson Tide players with roses after the 32-13 SEC Championship game win over then No. 1 Florida.
That’s close enough.
After beating the Gators, Alabama players were sure acting like they were Rose Bowl bound. Many of them ran back onto the Georgia Dome, clutching their roses between their teeth.
Terrence Cody, listed at 6-foot-5, 355 pounds, was an interesting sight with three long-stemmed red roses in his mouth.
If the players know this trip west is historic, all they have to do is listen to the Crimson Tide fight song to know that the Rose Bowl once meant a great deal to this storied program gunning for its 13th national title.
“… Have writ her name in crimson flame!,” the song goes, “Fight on, fight on, fight on, men! Remember the Rose Bowl we’ll win then! …”
Remember the Rose Bowl?
You better have a long memory. Because the last time Alabama was there was 1946, beating Southern Cal 34-14.
Back then instead of a 5-hour plane ride, it was a three-day, cross-country train ride to California. The Crimson Tide played in the Rose Bowl six times, going 4-1-1.
One Alabama player is a fan of the Rose Bowl.
“The Rose Bowl has always been my favorite,” said Alabama tight end Preston Dial. “I’ll take the national championship game there.”
Rod Hovater, the Atlanta host for Alabama while it was at the SEC championship game, was watching the SEC title celebration from the field when he drew on 50 years of Crimson Tide loyalty.
“These kids have no idea what this means,” he said Saturday night.
The spotlight is going to be bright and the pressure intense when the Crimson Tide arrives in Pasadena.
But this Alabama team has handled every challenge it has faced this year. It rallied to beat Virginia Tech in the season opener. It held off a Tennessee upset bid and refused to let Auburn spoil a championship dream.
And Alabama has recent history on its side.
In the previous 11 BCS title games, five SEC teams have made it. The conference is 5-0.
You can call the league overrated if you wish. But you would be sorely wrong. There is nothing overrated about perfection.
And that is the cross Alabama must bear.
But history is on the Alabama’s side. As the song says, “Remember the Rose Bowl we’ll win then! …”