The Top 14 Wins of the Nick Saban Era

Since arriving in Tuscaloosa, Nick Saban has amassed 56 victories, and the following are my 14 favorite. Why 14?  I hope you really don’t have to ask.

This is just one fan’s list, and there are several memorable wins that I left out, but these wins are special to me for various reasons. I’d love to hear other Tide fans’ lists, and what various games meant to others. With any luck we’ll update this column next year with the top 15 Tide wins of the Saban era.

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14 2007 Arkansas: Eli Gold Declares “Bama is Back”

After wandering in the wilderness for what seemed like eternity, the Alabama football program had finally hired a true leader of men to be its head football coach. The Nick Saban era began with a palpable excitement that had been missing for far too long. Saban came aboard in January of 2007, so he didn’t have a chance to put together his own recruiting class for the season. Instead, he had to work with the team he inherited. That season certainly had ups and downs, but this game was the first indication for me that we were finally headed back in the right direction.

I remember sitting in a BBQ restaurant in Charlotte, NC as the fourth quarter wound down. The Tide was down but driving, and I asked the server to switch the sound to the TV showing the Tide game. Moments later, John Parker Wilson hit Matt Caddell in the end zone to win the game, and Eli Gold announced that we were back. It turns out we weren’t all the way back yet, but it was apparent we were on our way.

13 2011 Capital One Bowl: You Wouldn’t Like Us When We’re Angry

Before Monday this game would not have made the list. While enjoyable to watch, it was a bittersweet reminder of what could have been. Alabama absolutely dismantled Michigan State in all phases of the game. Forget men against boys; this was monsters against boys. The Tide scored on its first four possessions, and on defense delivered a performance so violent and brutal that I think MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins still has crimson-tinted nightmares. While I loved watching the symphony of violence that is the Tide defense, I couldn’t help but think: where was this all season?  With the events of recent days, I now realize that this Capital One Bowl game was the spark that ignited the team’s 2011 run.

12 2008 Arkansas: Release the Kraken

I remember this game vividly. I was in Cocoa Beach, Florida for a bachelor party, and a group of twelve or so of us dragged our hung-over carcasses to a Beef O’Brady’s for wings and football. It was an early kickoff, and since the local favorite Florida Gators didn’t play until later in the day, the Alabama game was on the big screen. Most of the party I was with were Gator fans, and they regarded my love of the Tide with indifference. Their general attitude towards Alabama was along the lines of, “didn’t you guys used to be good a long time ago?”

Following the team as closely as I do, I knew that we were on the way up, but I was not expecting a defensive juggernaut to arise. I remember two long interception returns by the Tide to go along with a fast start on offense. Most of my friends weren’t really interested in the game but I was amused whenever one would look over at the screen and make a remark like, “damn, you scored again?” The Gator fans were a loud, obnoxious, cocky bunch and I thought to myself, “keep it up new money, we’ll see you in December.” I was a year too early with my prediction, but on that day people around the country started to get worried that the king might be coming back to reclaim his throne.

11 2010 Florida: Debate Settled

By 2010 Bama had ascended to their rightful place on the mountaintop, and Nick Saban was hailed as one of the best coaches in the game. So was Florida coach Urban Meyer. The two coaches have stark differences: Offensive genius vs. Defensive guru. Young lion vs. Old master. Flash vs. Fundamentals.

Meyer’s Gators narrowly got the best of Saban’s Tide in the 2008 SEC Championship Game, thanks to a great fourth quarter effort from Tim Tebow. Alabama returned the favor in the 2009 rematch, whipping Florida from whistle to whistle. The 2010 edition would determine which coach was truly the master of the college football universe.

Games against Florida are always extra important for me because I lived in the heart of Gator country for four years, have many Gator fan friends, and married into a majority-Gator family. Needless to say I wanted my beloved Crimson Tide to beat Florida so bad that Urban Meyer would quit the game rather than face Nick Saban again. It turns out I was dead on.

The Tide imposed their will on the Gators, who had become predictable and undisciplined. I’ll always remember the image of defensive coordinator Kirby Smart jumping up and down on the sidelines to alert the defense that the jump pass was coming. Sure enough, Florida tried that stupid, pansy play and CJ Mosley intercepted the ball in the end zone. The rivalry ended that night and shortly after the season ended Meyer quit for the second time in two years. As the Nature Boy Ric Flair says, “To Be the Man, You’ve Gotta Beat the Man,” and Nick Saban most assuredly is the Man.

10 2009 South Carolina: Hello, Heisman

Two things stick out in my memory from this game. The first is South Carolina’s first pass attempt. Stephen Garcia dropped back to pass, and Mark Barron was there to pick it off and return it for a touchdown. The second thing about this game encapsulates everything I love about Alabama football.

In the fourth quarter, the Tide were trying to grind out the clock and put away the stubborn Gamecocks. On the deciding touchdown drive, Mark Ingram accounted for every single yard. He did it both in taking the handoffs from Greg McElroy, and by running from the wildcat formation. On that drive the classic Tide attitude was on display. We were going to run. The Gamecocks knew we were going to run.  The whole stadium knew we were going to run. We ran. They couldn’t stop it. That is Alabama football.

2009 Virginia Tech: The Look of Champions

After the 2008 season ended in a manner I care not to rehash, the Tide had big plans for 2009. For the second year in a row, Alabama opened the season against a highly-ranked ACC opponent in the Georgia Dome. Year in and year out, Virginia Tech is a tough team and this game would be an early indicator on how the 2009 season would shape up. Greg McElroy was taking the helm at quarterback, and his introduction as the starter would come on national TV.

For most of the game the teams stayed close, neither one being able to open up a lead. What is memorable to me about this game is that every time the Hokies scored and seemed to seize the momentum, McElroy immediately drove the Tide down the field and countered with a score. I remember when the VT running back broke off a long touchdown run, thinking to myself “they’ll answer this drive if they want to be champions.” McElroy then hit Marquis Maze with a pass on the ensuing drive and Ingram capped the drive with a touchdown run. Alabama seemed to take on the attitude that it was time to quit screwing around, and that there was business to attend to.

2011 Iron Bowl: Never Again

There is no taste more bitter to an Alabama fan than the memory of the 2010 Iron Bowl. We won’t discuss the details and hopefully the game footage has been burned. Tide fans had to wait 365 excruciatingly long days to finally get ahold of the hated Auburn Tigers/Eagles/Chopblocking Bastards. We were handsomely rewarded when we finally did. Alabama drug those filthy barners out behind the proverbial woodshed and physically beat them to a pulp for three solid hours. The filthy barners had no answer for Trent Richardson and the defense treated Auburn’s quarterbacks like Goldman Sachs treats its clients. The universe was set right again, and the proper balance of things was finally restored.

2009 Iron Bowl: Cody 5

Alabama was marching through the 2009 season, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. The focus of the season was getting another shot at Florida, and the Iron Bowl was thought of as the last step in the process.

Using Gus Malzahn’s offensive system of smoke, mirrors and cow manure, the filthy barners jumped out to a 14-0 lead. I’ll admit that I was a bit panicked at this point. Fortunately Greg McElroy was not. Alabama regrouped and clawed their way back to tie the score by halftime. The filthy barners scored another quick touchdown to start the third quarter, and the Tide could only manage a couple of field goals.

There is a universal law that has stood for all time – and will for all time – and that law is that the fourth quarter belongs to Alabama. With time ticking away, Greg McElroy and Julio Jones calmly took the Tide down the field and into the red zone. At that point, defensive tackle Terrence Cody entered the game and lined up at fullback, something we had seen this a few times before during the season.

The mammoth Cody would act as lead blocker and lay waste to any unfortunate soul foolish enough to get in his way, allowing the ballcarrier to saunter into the endzone unmolested. I was sure that Ingram was going to follow Cody into the endzone for the go-ahead score, and so was Auburn.

Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain had other ideas. Cody ran left, McElroy rolled to his right and threw a perfect strike to running back Roy Upchurch. The crisis was averted, the filthy barners were desposed of and it was on to Atlanta to give the Gators some payback.

2008 Iron Bowl: At My Signal, Unleash Hell

I watched this game at my in-laws house in Florida, and since it was on at the same time as the Florida/Florida State game I was relegated to a small TV in a back bedroom. I wish I could have enjoyed this game in 60-inch high-definition glory, but nonetheless it was still beautiful.

Up until this point Moo U had enjoyed an unprecedented run of success against Alabama. I still contend that beating up on the Dubose/Franchione/Shula teams is nothing to brag about, but those filthy barners would brag about beating a Parkinson’s patient in a game of Jenga.

By 2008 there was a new sheriff in town though, and Nick Saban wasn’t about to tolerate consecutive losses to little brother. After a 36-0 beating, Tommy Tuberville became one of the first coaches to be “Processed” by Saban and the Tide. It had been a long time coming, and every stupid shout of “Gator Bait” and Gator Chomp hand clap heard in the main room of that Sarasota house on that November day was drowned out by my cries of “ROLL TIDE ROLL!”

2009 Tennessee: A Folk Hero Is Born

I hate to give Lane Kiffin credit for anything, but his Volunteer team came to play that day. They matched the Tide blow for blow, and almost ruined a dream season. The legend of Terrence Cody had been steadily growing throughout the year, but he forever cemented his place in the hearts of Tide fans that October afternoon. Alabama was completely sluggish that day, and badly in need of a bye week to heal physically and prepare mentally for the stretch run. Tennessee took advantage of the situation, scoring a 4th quarter touchdown, then driving into field goal range in the closing seconds.

Mount Cody had already blocked one kick on the day, and two blocks in a game is unheard of, much less a quarter. Tennessee kicker Daniel Lincoln lined up for what would have been the game-winning field goal and I could barely watch. An undefeated season was slipping away. The chance to get another shot at Florida and a national championship was about to be taken away by a punk first year coach and the hated Tennessee Volunteers.

I don’t actually remember seeing the kick, all I remember is hearing the announcer say “Blocked, Cody, again!” or something like that, then screaming loud enough to scare every child and animal in a half-mile radius. Because of that play, Terrence Cody will never have to pay for a meal or a drink in the state of Alabama as long as he lives.

2008 Clemson: Return of the King

Alabama opened the season on national TV in the Georgia Dome against a Clemson squad ranked in the top 5. This was Saban’s second season at the helm, and the first where he had brought in a recruiting class.

Before kickoff my thoughts were something along the lines of “I hope we play well tonight,” but after the first few snaps my thoughts switched to “We’re going to murder this team.” The look of the team was completely different from seasons past. Alabama looked bigger, faster and stronger than Clemson and proceeded to whip the Tigers so soundly that there was no doubt that the Tide was back.

For Eli Gold it was the 2007 Arkansas game, but for me it was this one. My beloved Tide announced to the SEC – and the world – that their days at the kiddie table were done. The reign of usurpers and pretenders to the throne was at an end. The king of college football had arisen from its nearly two decade slumber and would be taking his crown back.

2009 SEC Championship: California Here We Come

The Florida Gators. Tim Tebow. Urban Meyer. The entire two-deep was coming back, there was no way they could lose a game. A second straight national title – and third in four years – was theirs for the taking.

This was the narrative we were fed by ESPN all season. I really like Rece Davis, but his referring to UF as “the mighty Gators” was getting on my nerves. Florida was thought to be an unstoppable force that would rule college football for the foreseeable future. Somebody forgot to tell that to Nick Saban.

I was a nervous wreck for this game. As I said before, games against Florida are especially stressful for me because of my familial situation, and I was terrified of losing another one to them. The new money, Johnny-come-lately UF fanbase made up for in obnoxiousness what they lacked in tradition. This particular December day, my wife was back in Florida for her baby shower. Most of the attendees were Gator fans, so we decided that it was best if I stayed back home in North Carolina.

Right before kickoff I received a call from my wife telling me to go look in the closet of the room that was to become the nursery. Inside was a box wrapped in baby shower paper. Inside was an Alabama Crimson Tide onesie. “Gotta go, good luck and Roll Tide,” my amazing wife said. It was a sign.

My beloved Tide did roll that day. I learned that day that you may get Nick Saban once, so take advantage of it. If you have to face him again, he will destroy you. Mark Ingram cemented his case for the Heisman trophy that day, and the Tide punched their ticket back to the national championship. The icing on the cake was the interception in the endzone of Tim Tebow by Javier Arenas, one of my all-time favorite Alabama players. Eli Gold said it best as the game wound down: “California Here We Come.”

Immediately after the game, my sainted mother called me from the baby shower down in Florida and informed me that the atmosphere had turned and now resembled a funeral. She put her phone on speaker and I played Sweet Home Alabama at skull-crushing volume.

2012 BCS Championship Game: Order Restored

Offense gets you on SportsCenter. Defense gets you a trophy. I love defensive football, so to me most of this past bowl season has been as offensive to me as Gary Cherone was to Van Halen fans. Trading touchdowns and tackling air is not football. I don’t care if Alabama wins every game 3-0, I want to see a defense that punishes opponents with extreme prejudice.

This past Monday night’s game was a work of art. LSU did not even cross midfield until halfway through the fourth quarter, and then all that did was anger the Tide defense. The beauty of defense is that it is founded in simple mathematics. Complex offenses are fine and good, but inevitable every team has one or two games a year where the offense just isn’t in synch and can’t put points on the board. With sound defense though, this can be overcome. If the other team doesn’t score, it cannot ever be victorious. I fail to understand why more programs don’t get this, as it seems like every head coaching vacancy is filled with an offensive minded coach. That is fine for other programs. I’ll take my Tide with its embrace of defense and toughness any day.

After November 5th I feared this game would never get to be played, but thanks to a chain events that I did not think would happen, redemption was possible. Alabama was the better team on November 5th, but the inability to kick an oblong ball through a set of upright goal posts almost derailed the season. Alabama was the dominant team on January 9th, and although the talking heads will say that the game was boring, it was perfect in my eyes and I wouldn’t change a play.

2010 BCS Championship : All Is Right with the World

It had been 17 long years since the Crimson Tide had won the national championship, which is an eternity for Alabama. In that period from 1992-2009, Alabama allowed the national championship to be rented by both old and new money teams. Titles were won by teams such as Texas, Oklahoma, USC, Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska. I am perfectly fine with this, since those programs are traditional, respected members of the college football hierarchy. That timeframe also saw the rise, peak, and fall of new powers such as Miami and Florida State, and what they lacked in tradition they made up for in sheer talent and entertainment value.

Something more disturbing happened in those dark years as well; the rise of the SEC’s nouveau riche, Florida and LSU. Tennessee also won a title in that time period, and as unappetizing as it was, at least they have a tradition. Most Florida fans think football was invented in 1990, but act like it is their birthright to win the SEC every year. Prior to 2003 and Coach Nick Saban, the LSU highlight reel consisted of old black-and-white footage of some guy returning a punt on Halloween decades before I was born.

We Tide fans think of Gator and Tiger fans as old money thinks of new money; gaudy tacky and ostentatious. To have to watch those teams win national titles and listen to those fanbases crow about them was simply uncivilized.

In 2009 however, the world made sense again. We had staggered through the desert for almost two full decades, desperate for a drink. Coach Saban led us to water and quenched our thirst. Alabama had once again climbed to the mountaintop, and reclaimed the rightful place as rulers of the football universe. This was especially meaningful for me.

In the first college football season that was played when I was alive, Alabama won the national championship. When my first child was born, Alabama was the reigning national champions. When my second child is born in April, Alabama will be the reigning national champions. For my family and for a lot of other families, it’s the circle of life.

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As I said, this is just my own personal list. I hope that the other writers here at BamaHammer will share there own favorite game memories, and I hope that readers will share their own lists in the comments. I would love to read my fellow Tide fans’ stories of what particular games mean to them.  The Crimson Tide is again on top of the world; and as far as programs go Alabama is the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.  Roll Tide.

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