NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Two days from the biggest game of his career, Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain missed Tuesday’s BCS Media Day because of a stomach illness, coach Nick Saban said.
The hour-long interview bonanza requires every player from both teams to be available to reporters and photographers. When McClain turned up missing, questions went to the Crimson Tide coach.
Linebackers coach James Willis told the Associated Press that he thought McClain “ate something wrong last night or whatever.” But he didn’t rule out the possibility that McClain just wanted to avoid reporters.
“He probably wanted to get out of it,” Willis said.
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Injured linebacker Dont’a Hightower is rooming with McClain in the team hotel said he didn’t realize anything was wrong until reporters mentioned the illness the media function. Hightower said he was watching the Fiesta Bowl on Monday night when McClain came into the room and went straight to bed. Tuesday rehab on his injured knee kept him from seeing McClain.
Whether the Decatur, Ala., product practiced Tuesday or would play in Thursday’s BCS National Championship Game is up to the team’s medical staff, Saban said.
‘Who you fer?’
Nobody has to tell Texas assistant coach Mac McWhorter how important football is in Alabama.
“True story,” he starts.
McWhorter was in a car driving from Atlanta to Tuscaloosa with Bill Curry, who was about to be named the head coach at Alabama.
Not far into the state, they stopped for gas. With Curry in the car, McWhorter went inside to get a soda.
“It was this mom and pop place,” McWhorter remembered, “There was a lady behind the counter, and she asked me, ‘Who you fer?’ I asked her what she meant. Then she said it again. ‘Who you fer?’”
McWhorter was raised in Atlanta, but this woman was speaking a strange language. Finally, he apologized and asked her what she meant.
“She said, ‘You know, who you fer, Auburn or Alabama?’” McWhorter said. “I figured out right quick, you had to make a declaration once you crossed that state line. I had this little old lady that probably wouldn’t have sold me a Coke if I said Auburn.”
It’s the same way in Texas, where he has been offensive line coach for eight seasons.
“You look at the state of Alabama, football is king — it’s like a religion,” he said. “Same thing in Texas.”
McWhorter, 59, was with Curry only two of his three years at Alabama. He left to be head coach at West Georgia and lasted a season.
“It wasn’t what I expected,” he said.
A 1974 Georgia graduate, McWhorter also has coached at Georgia, Duke, Clemson and Memphis.
Impersonation of Saban
Rob Ezell’s talent is a blessing and a curse.
Most players who can do a spot on impersonation of Saban would keep that hidden, but, this Thanksgiving, the backup receiver from Athens, Ala., took center stage.
In Saban’s home.
In front of the coach.
“He took it all right,” a laughing Ezell said. “He said I did a pretty good job. Mrs. Terry (Saban), she really liked it. I didn’t want to do it, but Terrence Cody put me on the spot.”
Still, he was hoping to avoid the moment until Terry Saban learned of the skill.
“I did it first when coach Saban was out of the room, but it was almost like a movie: He walked in right at the right time when I was in the middle of it,” Ezell said.
Cody, who called it “a real good Saban impression,” never was worried about the coach’s reaction.
“We tried to get him to do it last year,” Cody said. “But he was scared, so we finally got him to do it, and it turned out good.”
What broken thumb?
Broken left thumb and all, Alabama cornerback Marquis Johnson is ready for Thursday.
The injury suffered Dec. 23 in the Tide’s final practice before a three-day Christmas break can’t keep him from playing in the final game of his college career.
“I am going to cast it up and go play,” he said. “I play defense, not offense. I lead the SEC in pass break-ups.”
Even with the cast, Johnson said he still could catch the ball if Texas quarterback Colt McCoy’s passes come his way.
Recalling the Bear
Just a few weeks ago, Texas head coach Mack Brown said he was afraid his former high school coach is too much of a Crimson Tide fan to pull for his Longhorns.
A phone call with David “Bucky” Pitts, who also coached at Hartselle, where he now lives, proved otherwise.
“He assured me he was pulling for us,” Brown said of Pitts, who had an invitation to attend Thursday’s game but chose to stay in Alabama to watch the game with family.
Brown also talked about a visit with another coach who coached in Alabama.
Reminiscing on his recruiting visit to the Tuscaloosa office of Bear Bryant, Brown told the story of watching game film with the icon.
“I was a small-town kid, but he assured me, that I could play and there was a place for me,” Brown said.
Posing with trophy
Having the famous crystal football trophy at Tuesday’s BCS Media Day was too much for a group of Texas players to resist.
They just had to pose for pictures next to the hardware awarded to Thursday’s winner of the national championship game.
It was all in good fun, Longhorns receiver Malcolm Williams said.
“We’re not trying to disrespect (Alabama) in any way,” he said. “We know they’re a good team. We’re just trying to have fun and enjoy the moment, because we might not get this moment again.”
Julio not shy
If anyone knows passion, it’s Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran. When he looks at Alabama’s soft-spoken star receiver, Julio Jones, he doesn’t see a shy sophomore.
“I think it’s more of a man on a mission,” Cochran said.
Groban to sing anthem
The pregame festivities leading up to Thursday’s BCS championship will feature a singer who has performed at a Super Bowl and an Olympics. Josh Groban will sing the national anthem.
— Chuck Williams contributed to this report