Alabama’s Crimson Commitment
By BJ Bennett
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This is a program, under Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings and now Nick Saban, defined by determined play. Ironically, that brute strength can't be directly measured.
The University of Alabama is dominating college football. The Crimson Tide have compiled a 61-7 record the past five seasons, claimed three national championships and have won their last four bowl games, three of them against undefeated teams, by a combined score of 149-42. Nick Saban has officially built a modern day dynasty. With all due respect to history, we are one more run away from a "greatest of all time" reevaluation.
Quite frankly, Alabama is overwhelming the opposition. A suffocating, swarming defense has led all of college football in yards allowed the last two years and has ranked in the national top five every season since 2008. Runners like Eddie Lacy, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and T.J. Yeldon, and linemen built for power play, have helped the Crimson Tide average at least five yards per carry consistently during their championship era. When the pressure is on, be it stepping into the spotlight of a big game or walking the fine line of the fourth quarter's final moments, Alabama is at its absolute best.
This is a program, under Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings and now Saban, defined by determined play. Ironically, that brute strength can't be directly measured.The Crimson Tide are flexing a muscle so powerful it must be caged. Its beat, deep beneath patch and pads, is the cadence to which many men march.
An unspoken expectation of volition and will, both mental and physical, continues to push Alabama football players to the limits. Within that capstone crucible, the Crimson Tide have learned to win football games. That psychological lead has numbers that follow. Alabama has received the fewest penalties and penalty yards in the SEC three years running. The only program to have fewer flags thrown on them during that same time frame: the United States Naval Academy.
Alabama's tone-setter, quarterback A.J. McCarron, was the ideal example of this efficiency under center a season ago. In 314 passing attempts, he threw just three interceptions. McCarron finished with the highest passer rating in the country, 175.28. On a national scale, only one team threw fewer interceptions than the Crimson Tide last year: the United States Military Academy.
"When I first met Coach Saban, we were sitting in his office and talking," former Alabama tight end Colin Peek explained on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. "I think this is the most resounding statement as to why Alabama is so good. He said, 'there are two pains in life, Colin. There is the pain of disappointment and the pain of discipline. If you can handle the pain of discipline, you will never have to handle the pain of disappointment'. That is why Alabama is good. Because we know how to handle the pain of discipline."
That mindset, not some secret scheme, is what sets the Crimson Tide apart. A room full of Alabama football players would fit right in with personnel from other SEC powers. Minus jersey numbers or name tags, all that size, strength and speed would blend into one. It's an uncompromising outlook, a promise to the past, that buffers the Crimson Tide from college football's elite. Athletes are developed physically at programs all across the country. Saban, like his predecessors, has accomplished the much more difficult task of emotional insulation.
"A lot of people have asked me what it was like when the game ended and we won the national title. My feeling was 'what's next?' We were trained to always believe there was always something better, something greater that you are striving for. I think that goes back to Alabama, Coach Saban and what he teaches," Peek added.
As the Crimson Tide prepare for their season-opener against Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome, the mind is sure to wonder. On that same turf last December, Alabama edged Georgia in the most compelling SEC Championship Game of all time. With a spot in the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame on the line, the Crimson Tide rushed for 350 yards against a Bulldog defense that would have seven players selected in the 2013 NFL Draft. Alabama scored touchdowns on four of its six second-half possessions.
"I really think, like in the Georgia game, we could see it in their eyes that they were getting tired. We just looked at each other and knew not to give up," lineman Anthony Steen recalled, on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network, of a glance he shared with teammate D.J. Fluker.
A valiant UGA team would rally deep inside the redzone, the potential game-winning score mere yards away, before linebacker C.J. Mosley tipped an Aaron Murray pass into the hands of receiver Chris Conley who was tackled in bounds as time expired. It was a gut-wrenching, heart-pounding finish. It was the type of moment in which Alabama works so diligently to triumph.
"We called one of our quick-blitz calls in the two-minute in a position like that, just ran a play and then click, click, click, boom and the time ran out. It took me a minute to process what happened, but at the end of the day it was a great game by them, a great call by Coach Smart and we got the job done," Mosley detailed on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network.
Just as the calendar has turned over, so has the stat sheet. Saban's Crimson Tide, this season, have done nothing. Regardless of results, this is a program that hits the reset button each winter. Being a champion comes with a measure of excellence that has no end. It's a work schedule without weekends. That approach isn't by choice, it's by necessity. At Alabama, there is no margin for error.
"It's easy for us to stay motivated. For us, there's more history to be made," Mosley acknowledged. "Our coaches told us the other day that there have already been three teams at Alabama that have won back-to-back. For us to hear that, it's like we really haven't done anything yet. We just have to make sure we stay focused. Not really focused on trying to three-peat, but worrying about being the best we can be and trying to maintain the Alabama standard."
What the Crimson Tide have done is unprecedented, given the era, given the quality of the league they play in. They played a half-dozen teams ranked in the national top 15 a year ago. This season, two of the team's toughest games of the year come quick. Alabama will open the season against the aforementioned Hokies in Atlanta and on the road at Texas A&M, who topped the Tide 29-24 last fall in Tuscaloosa. Despite game one being on the schedule in August, Alabama will not play a home game until September 21st.
Though kickoff is a few weeks away, fierce competition has already begun. The toughest foe for college football's toughest team is its own reputation.
"Tiring," Steen nodded of the off-season. "We obviously want to have another great team this year. Getting up every day, working out, running, trying to get to the next level has been a challenge for everybody."
Fall camp will open soon and practices will begin with the Crimson Tide carrying a top pre-season ranking into August. To Saban, that distinction couldn't be more worthless. Even with a team as polished as any, his players will spend draining days in the southern sun meticulously going back to the basics. There, players won't just be chasing down ball-carriers and receivers. It will, instead, be the pursuit of perfection in its simplest form.
Photo: Bleacher Report