AJ McCarron is unlike any Crimson Tide quarterback we’ve seen in a long time. In fact, he’s a bit of a throwback at Alabama. Only not in the way you think.
When sports fans hear the word throwback, they think of classic jerseys and leather helmets and players like black-shod, crew cut-wearing Johnny Unitas. In short, they think of the type of wholesome, quiet quarterback that has always stood under center at the Capstone.
McCarron doesn’t fit the mold of the traditional Alabama quarterback; you know, the quiet, humble game manager that trots onto the field to dutifully hand the ball off to his tailback. The Crimson Tide’s offensive leader is supposed to manage the game, give the defense a breather, and be on the field to take a knee when the game is well in hand.
McCarron is no game manager. In fact, a case can be made that Tide fans haven’t seen his like around Tuscaloosa since a couple of guys named Joe Willie and Snake were on campus.
Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler were birds of a feather; hard-charging rebels that never saw a curfew they didn’t break. Barely able to contain their youthful, shall we say enthusiasm, Coach Paul Bryant had little choice but to suspend each of them at one time or another to bring them to heel.
But despite their hellraising ways, Namath and the Snake brought it on the field. Namath led the Tide to the 1964 national championship and was the player Bryant called the greatest athlete he had ever coached. Taking over after Namath went pro, Stabler was the leader of the undefeated 1966 Alabama team that was snubbed for the national title. Each won a Super Bowl after their days at Alabama, and both became counterculture heroes for their anti-authoritarian attitude.
McCarron’s stern head coach has, like Bryant, had to manage his quarterback’s emotional style of gameplay, eventually admitting McCarron plays better when he has a longer leash. And much has been written about the tattoos taking up increasing real estate on his chest, and the SUV that has Auburn fans stalking him like a jilted girlfriend.
But while McCarron’s swagger fits in perfectly with the culture at large, he’s an anomaly at Alabama; a cocky gunslinger cast in the role of a game manager. So far it has worked; McCarron has two national championship rings heading into his junior season, and a solid shot at a third.
If his career as a throwback to Alabama’s counterculture days continues at this pace, people will soon be talking more about his ink in the record books than the ink on his chest.