Why it has been so hard to believe in an Alabama Crimson Tide Final Four

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As the hours slowly crawl to an Alabama Crimson Tide Final Four game, looking back is in order. No matter what season Alabama fans first dreamed about an Alabama Final Four, for many the time has felt almost like forever.

The University of Alabama hosted NCAA Tournament Regional Semi-Final games in 1974. The Crimson Tide basketball team was not a participant. In 1974, the Big Dance was just 25 teams and the field was restricted to conference champions and independents. Alabama was 22-4 that season. The Crimson Tide and the Vanderbilt Commodores finished the SEC season at 15-3.

The Dores beat Bama twice that season by a total of three points. Those games became the tie-breaker that left the Crimson Tide out of the NCAA Tournament.

An Alabama Crimson Tide Story

Bear with me as what follows is personal. My defense is that for fans sometimes it is impossible to view what happens to our teams as anything but personal. Having seen Alabama play every home game that 1974 season, I was sure C.M. Newton had built the Crimson Tide into an NCAA Tournament-worthy team.

I sat rather glumly in what was then Memorial Coliseum in March 1974 and watched Notre Dame play Michigan and Vandy play Marquette. I was sure that given the chance Alabama would have beaten either Michigan or Notre Dame. It was the beginning of my belief that Alabama had a very bright future in NCAA Tournament games.

Two seasons later, the Crimson Tide led Indiana late in an NCAA Regional semifinal game. The Hoosiers were not only college basketball's best team that season, finishing 32-0, they were one of college basketball's all-time best. Around the four-minute mark left in the game, Alabama scored to take a one-point lead. All of the remaining points in the game came from Indiana. The Hoosiers won 74-69.

To me, it felt like the Alabama Crimson Tide football team had just lost a National Championship. I'm not sure I have ever gotten over that loss. What went along with the disappointment was a firm belief the Crimson Tide would attain future basketball glory.

The label 'Final Four' being applied to the last four teams in an NCAA Tournament field goes back to the 1960s. As the NCAA Tournament grew, making the Final Four became more significant.

In 1976 Alabama making a Final Four became more than a dream for me, it became a hope that blossomed and decayed with the ebb and flow of Crimson Tide basketball fortunes. There were so many NCAA Tournament disappointments. Last Saturday night I could not celebrate a Crimson Tide Final Four trip until Aaron Estrada grabbed a rebound inside 20 seconds left with Bama up by seven.

For days, I have been searching for words to describe what this Final Four means. Often I thought if only we had Cecil Hurt to define it for us. Al.com's John Archibald nailed my feelings when he wrote Alabama "finally makes it OK to believe."

Though the challenge is great, Alabama might upset UConn. If not, I will be disappointed but not dismayed. What Nate Oats, his staff, and his team have accomplished this season makes it easy to believe the Alabama Crimson Tide will be knocking on many future championship doors.

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