The Alabama football team is often looked upon as the villain, the team that everyone wants to try to stop. The Tide embraced that this season.
There is something about taking on the villain role…and still winning. Considering our fandom has more in common with the Galactic Empire than it does the Rebel Alliance (had to get my geeky references out of the way early), our movie endings aren’t all that great compared to the end of our football games. This season, Alabama has taken on the villain role more than ever.
The bigger role started before the first game, media members and fans across the country proclaimed the dynasty was over. You know, after only losing one playoff game and all of a sudden the game passed Saban. Okay stop laughing and let’s keep moving. After throttling Wisconsin, all eyes were directed on Ole Miss. A quarterback shuffle and five turnovers later, Alabama’s season was deemed over before October even started. The country finally guessed correctly and the Alabama dynasty concluded.
Well, it’s really a shame for Georgia that Alabama decided to work out their frustrations in Athens. Georgia labeled their matchup the game of the year and was ready for their revenge after the “blackout” loss the last time Alabama visited. The Tide brought the rain with them and washed away all of Georgia’s hopes and dreams, Georgia brought the bark but the team in crimson delivered the bite. The villains of the college football world were back on track.
Tennessee has been the ultimate underdog in one of the better rivalries in college football. A rivalry that intensified when Lane Kiffin joined the Alabama staff. As I was kneeling out in a front yard and praying to Bear Bryant while empty beer bottles and cans laid around us, my miracle came. Jake Coker’s final drive against Tennessee not only won the game but redefined Alabama’s season. After a rough eight straight weeks of football, Alabama was taking a much-needed break before their daunting November arrived.
In typical villain fashion, Alabama stomped LSU’s Heisman favorite Leonard Fournette while Derrick Henry stole the show and cemented himself into the award conversation. After shutting down Fournette, the Alabama defense decided to give Prescott’s last game against the Tide an experience he’s still feeling, taking eight sacks which was a beatdown on a quarterback that I haven’t seen since Mettenberger’s trip to Tuscaloosa. The upset thinking Mississippi State couldn’t stop the new Heisman favorite Henry and couldn’t move past the great wall of hurt, the defensive line. Then came Auburn, who was looking to play spoiler. The “Rebels” final chance to blow up the death star, well, not this version. After Auburn admirably played a tough first half, Henry wore down the defense and Coker’s deep ball helped Alabama cruise into Atlanta while rightfully retaining the state title.
Jim McElwain, the former Offensive Coordinator for Alabama, took over a Florida squad that was predicted to finish near the bottom in the SEC. He turned the program around in a short time and helped lead a top defense and a strong run game to a division title. Florida was an easy team to cheer for this year considering everyone likes an underdog and McElwain was getting rave reviews from the players and people close to the program. The best way to finish his impressive first season was to stump the Tide. If only this was a story about the good guys. Instead, the Tide rolled after another good second half performance by Coker, finding freshman phenom Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart deep to seal the game.
Finally, it was playoff time. The media and fans around the country decided to hype up Michigan State. Connor Cook the top quarterback, tough run defense, success against the ‘daunting’ Big Ten, and Mark Dantonio being the coach Saban couldn’t be during his time in East Lansing. 38-0. The Spartans fought for a quarter and a half but the Tide started to roll. Led by perhaps the best front seven in Alabama history, every yard State gained was painfully earned. Coker played the game of his life, Ridley broke freshman records that Julio Jones and Amari Cooper didn’t even touch, Cyrus Jones provided a spark on defense and special teams, and Saban, just like a good emperor does, defeated his apprentice…again. Was Alabama’s hunger ever in question? Every starter was on the sideline barking at the second string to not blow the shutout, despite the game being well in hand.
Tonight Alabama takes on Clemson. Saban looks to eclipse the Bear in some eyes while Dabo Swinney, a former player and coach for Alabama, attempts to dethrone the emperor of college football and defeat his alma mater. You can’t write it up any better. For both coaches, their paths to success can come off as unorthodox. Saban doesn’t even use the word “fun” while Swinney’s Clemson embraces it, the proof is in the pizza. It’s no secret how much Swinney loves Alabama but for one night, his loyalties lie with another set of Tigers as he looks to put Clemson back on the college football map. It’s Alabama vs the world tonight, for one night, embrace the villain role. The “boring” role. For every person that says Alabama’s run is bad for the game, just remember they’ll never experience what we’re all witness to.
Defeat handed to you courtesy of the Tide can be a death note for some programs. Mark Richt is out at Georgia, Kevin Sumlin is sitting on a black leather seat with the heaters to the max in the middle of July, Les Miles was almost out at LSU, and plenty of coaches before these guys mistakenly put too much stock into trying to beat Alabama to save their jobs. Looking at you next year Malzahn. Saban, in our eyes, has 104 wins. According to the NCAA, he has 99 thanks to a textbook issue that forced Alabama to vacate five wins a few years back. However, can we all agree that the real textbook issue is the amount the school charges and how little students get back selling them? Am I going off topic? Anyway, Bryant’s 100th win came against Clemson, the same could be said for Saban after tonight. Again, you can’t write it up any better.
The empire is primed and ready for another ring in a few hours. While the rest of the country will find new excuses against Alabama and express their frustrations, Alabama doesn’t hear them. Alabama is already working on expanding their villain role while this season’s credits are still scrolling.