Crowd of 38,000 attends celebration
By MICHAEL CASAGRANDE
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — More than a week of pent-up adulation came spilling out Saturday afternoon in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
An estimated crowd of 38,000 got their opportunity to celebrate Alabama’s 13th national championship on a chilly but dry afternoon. The event, which was supposed to last an hour, spanned 35 minutes.
None of the diehards in attendance seemed to mind, though.
Thanks and praise were doled out by dignitaries. including university president Robert Witt, athletics director Mal Moore and coach Nick Saban.
A look to the future drew the loudest cheers.
“I want everyone to know,” Saban said, “this is not the end.”
Saturday’s hoopla represented the ninth day of celebration for Alabama fans, but it was the first opportunity to see the team in person since the Tide returned to Tuscaloosa Jan. 8. That week-plus gave the players a chance to celebrate on their own terms.
For tight end Colin Peek, the extra perks of a championship brought an extra-wide smile to his face when meeting with reporters after the event. People were coming out of the woodwork with congratulatory remarks, he said, but a few were more memorable than others.
“I’m down training in Pensacola, Fla., and as soon as I got there, three gorgeous blondes come out and say ‘I went to Alabama,’ ” Peek said. “It’s a great time to be part of Alabama.”
Peek is one of nearly 10 players hoping to continue their career at the next level, so Saturday’s celebration gave them one final opportunity to remember their college years. Peek said he leaned over to quarterback Greg McElroy and tight end Preston Dial.
“You’ll never forget this,” Peek told them. “And they both shook their head. And it was almost a metaphysical tear that came down because of the fact that you realize this is it for me.”
For offensive guard Mike Johnson, who’ll join Peek at the Senior Bowl on Jan. 30 in Mobile, Saturday was the culmination of a longer path to the championship. He was with the Tide in the lean years.
“I looked at Rolando (McClain) next to me and I was just like, ‘This is crazy,’ ” Johnson said. “It just shows that when you put in so much effort and hard work, things really pay off for you. I really honestly feel like we worked harder than any other team this year and that’s why we came out on top. Just put in the hard work. It was crazy to see where we came from.”
The payoff also comes in ring-form.
“I can’t wait to get that thing on my finger,” Johnson said.
There will be at least one more ceremony for Johnson to attend at Alabama. Along with McClain, and Javier Arenas, Johnson’s hand and foot prints will be cemented into Crimson Tide history on the Quad on A-Day as a permanent captain of the 2009 team.
That honor “set a new standard for life,” Arenas said.
“When you get up one morning and don’t really feel like working, you think I’m a captain for the national championship team at the University of Alabama in 2009,” he said. “You can’t be a slacker. That holds such a … that puts you on such a pedestal. If you’re in that position where you’re named a team captain, you naturally possess hard work skills.
“Cause you’re not going to just pop up, stomp your feet in the ground and put your hands in the pavement and you’re a team captain. You’ve got to work for it, and you’ve got to be adopted in that by your peers. That’s what happened. That shows a lot about you. In the future, I think it’ll be great for the rest of the guys.”