Nick Saban addressed the exuberant crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium -- estimated to be nearly 40,000 strong, pretty fair for a work day -- and issued a promise to Alabama fans.
“I want everybody here to know this is not the end,” Saban said, just before hoisting the crystal football. “This is the beginning.”
That was two years ago. Saban and the Crimson Tide have delivered on their promise with their second national championship in three seasons.
And this still might be just the beginning. One thing we know about Saban is that every step he takes, every word he utters, is calculated toward one goal -- winning. Winning the next recruit. Winning the day in practice. Winning the next play. Winning the next game.
To accept anything short of a championship is to concede some part of this process, as he calls it. That’s simply not in Saban’s makeup.
The national championship two years ago validated the Tide’s return to national prominence. This second one gives credence to the argument that Alabama is the greatest college football program ever.
Yeah, they’re “only” sixth in all-time winning percentage and “only” eighth in total wins. (Bama fans, don’t bring up the fact that this doesn’t include the vacated wins. The NCAA stripped them for a reason.)
The ultimate success in any sport is winning it all. By the school’s count, this was their 14th national championship. Some of them have as much merit as presidential election polls. Set those aside. Alabama now has nine “official” national championships, finally surpassing Notre Dame. Nothing will ever fully make up for the 1966 atrocity, when the Fighting Irish and Michigan State split the two major championships, leaving an unblemished Bama team snubbed by the writers and the coaches.
The Tide has won national championships in five decades, surpassing Notre Dame and Oklahoma.
Dean Witter registered the trademark, “We measure success one investor at a time.” Alabama fans measure success one national championship at a time.
Even so, the Tide’s list of superlatives goes beyond championship trophies. It includes:
Greatest coach ever: Paul “Bear” Bryant. Joe Paterno? Please. His pitiful fall notwithstanding, Paterno was no Bear Bryant, nor was Bobby Bowden. Some undoubtedly will interpret this as denigrating Paterno and Bowden. But it’s simply intended to recognize just how great of a coach that Bryant was. If you poll 500 coaches, past and present, you would surely get the same result.
Bryant won the first six of those nine major national championships. Only three other schools -- not coaches, SCHOOLS -- have won more titles: Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Southern Cal.
Greatest active coach: Three national championships in nine seasons -- the first with LSU in the 2003 season -- is impressive enough. But remember, he spent two of those years in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins. So for Saban, that’s three national championships in HIS past seven college seasons.
It’s almost universally accepted that Bama’s 21-0 win over LSU can be attributed to Saban out-preparing Les Miles.
Saban is a young 60. Unless an NFL team comes along and supplies him with a franchise quarterback and complete control, he’s not going anywhere.
Greatest rivalry: Anyone who denies that the Alabama-Auburn rivalry isn’t the most intense needs to watch ESPN’s “Roll Tide/War Eagle.” It’s not always healthy on either side. But it’s undeniably passionate, and the rivalry has fueled the success of both programs. Auburn’s six straight wins over the Tide fueled Mal Moore’s determination to lure Saban from the Dolphins. Make no mistake, Auburn’s national championship last year fueled Bama’s resolve this season.
Bama fans had to endure 13 years for their first championship after Bryant’s last one, then another 17 years before their eighth. For many of them, the only thing more difficult was having to tolerate 12 months of seeing Auburn wearing what they consider to be their crown.
In the closing minutes of Bama’s emphatic domination of LSU, CBS announcer Brent Musberger wondered aloud whether Saban would ever make Tide fans “forget Bryant.”
He scoffed at his own suggestion (correctly so), but the implication was clear. Saban and Alabama are a perfect match for each other and may be on the verge of something historically special.
Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org