PASADENA, Calif. — The message for Alabama was simple:
“Do what we do,” said coach Nick Saban. “Be who we are.”
That’s what the Crimson Tide does. That’s who Alababma is.
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Thursday night, Alabama won its 13th national championship.
No school in college football does it better.
Some will say the canvas on which Alabama painted its masterful, magical title was flawed.
The critics will say there was a rip in that canvas.
They will point to Texas having to play almost the entire game without quarterback Colt McCoy, who has engineered 45 wins as a Longhorn.
He’s the winningest of quarterbacks.
It’s fair to call into question the 37-21 Alabama win.
After all, Alabama had a chance to put it away and didn’t.
But to lessen what happened in the Rose Bowl would also be wrong. Dead wrong.
Alabama was the best team in college football from the opening weekend of the season.
And they were the best team on the last night of the season.
Even if the Crimson Tide did catch a break.
“This is special for the state of Alabama,” a Gatorade-drenched Saban said when it was done. “It is special for the University of Alabama. It is special for our fans and supporters.”
Alabama proved in the grandest of settings — the Rose Bowl — that its program is back atop the mountain.
And back to stay for a long time is the bet here.
There is talent at every position. And there is that swagger.
The last time Alabama had that swagger was 1992.
But they remember how to carry it.
In the final two minutes, the Crimson Tide fans began to chant, “SEC, SEC, SEC.”
In 1926, Alabama came here and brought Southern football front and center nationally, beating Washington 20-19.
More than eight decades later, Southern football needs no such torchbearer. Southeastern Conference teams have won the past four national championships and are 6-0 in the title game since its inception in 1999.
The only way to keep an SEC team from winning the championship seems to be to keep it out of the game.
Before they quit inviting Alabama to this special place in 1946, the Crimson Tide was 4-1-1 in the Rose Bowl.
The Crimson Tide fight song says to remember the Rose Bowl, for the Tide will win then.
They still have not forgotten how to win out here.
McCoy’s injury just made it easier.
McCoy went down five offensive snaps into the game, less than 5 minutes after it started.
He took himself out after rushing for 1 yard and being tackled by Marcell Dareus.
He injured his right shoulder.
“I hate it for him,” said Alabama linebacker Cory Reamer. “He’s a great player.”
McCoy said his arm didn’t hurt;he just couldn’t feel it.
“That is a hit I have taken over and over in my life … but I guess I just got hit the right way.”
Reamer said he didn’t even realize McCoy was hurt.
But it didn’t take long for everyone to discover the game changed on that play.
“As much as I like to win, you hate to see a great competitor not be able to compete,” Saban said.
The Alabama defense, the stingiest in the country, would have been a challenge for McCoy.
For his replacement, redshirt freshman Garret Gilbert, it was a graduate level course.
He had to solve the blitzes and hidden coverages that are the signature of a Saban defense.
Ask Florida quarterback Tim Tebow how easy that is. A month ago, Alabama confused and battered him.
And he has a Hesiman Trophy.
Gilbert has a future, but it wasn’t Thursday night.
After Dareus intercepted Gilbert and went 28 yards for the touchdown near the end of the first half, it was obvious Alabama was in control.
The Crimson Tide overcame a shaky start to score 24 consecutive first-half points and take a 24-6 lead at the half.
It looked like a rout.
Television sets all over the country were turning off.
But Alabama almost got too conservative.
They let Texas back in it, cutting it to 24-21 with just over 6 minutes to play.
But it got no closer.
Champions don’t fold.
And Alabama didn’t.
They played 14 games, most coming in the toughest league in America, and won 14 games.
They beat a team that won 13 games in another tough conference.
Despite McCoy’s injury, don’t take anything away from what Alabama has accomplished.
And, if you are smart, you will start checking on room reservations in Tempe, Ariz., this time next year.
Alabama is back, and it has the crystal football to prove it.
Chuck Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org