There’s an empty spot on the walk of fame at Alabama for Nick Saban, who brought Alabama back to the national championship in the Rose Bowl and coached the university’s first Heisman Trophy winner, Mark Ingram
by Glynn Wilson
The University of Alabama Crimson Tide is back on top of the football world, hanging on to prevail over the Texas Longhorns in a game of unexpected twists and turns, including the early hit by Marcel Dareus that knocked Quarterback Colt McCoy out of the national championship game in the first quarter.
Dareus later scored on a 28-yard interception return just before halftime, earning him the award for defensive player of the game.
“I was thinking about grabbing the guy with the ball, but then I said, `Let me just grab this football.’ I wasn’t even thinking about the highlight,” Dareus, a native of Birmingham who played at Huffman High School, said after the game. “I was so excited. My legs were weak, my muscles were crazy, and I made it.”
This Alabama team will go down in football history for going through 14 games undefeated and for Mark Ingram’s Heisman trophy, Alabama’s first. Ingram earned offensive player of the game honors for running for 116 yards and two touchdowns. His roommate, Trent Richardson, ran for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
The No. 1 Crimson Tide held off a rally by second-ranked Texas and beat the Longhorns 37-21 on Thursday night in the BCS title game with help from a late fumble recovery by Courtney Upshaw at the Texas 3-yard line. Ingram scored a clinching touchdown from 1 yard out with just about two minutes left in the game.
The victory makes Alabama head coach Nick Saban, now called Saint Nick in Alabama, the first coach to win BCS titles at two universities, Alabama and LSU.
Note: This post originally appeared in our sister publication, The Locust Fork News-Journal
(Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared in our sister publication, The Locust Fork blog.)
by Tom Campbell
NEW YORK — Few people ever have a chance to be arms’ length from greatness. As a lifelong fan of Alabama football, I feel lucky to know that I’ve been a witness to an event that will become a part of Alabama’s fabled history.
To have had such an opportunity twice is remarkable. On both occasions, I tried to burn each detail into my memory because I knew the events before me were celebrating a legacy of pride and greatness.
Two celebrations of excellence of historic proportions for the storied University of Alabama football program will endure in my memory.
|Mark Ingram will carry the Heisman experience for the rest of his life
Over 25 years ago, as my last official act as student body president at the University of Alabama, I attended the funeral of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. As sad as Bryant’s funeral and grave site procession were, the Alabama family celebrated a man whose impact upon his players, coaches, university and fans proved immeasurable.
Economic times were hard then, and folks rallied around the prowess and class surrounding the football institution Coach Bryant built. During a time when people were losing a lot — jobs, bonuses, homes — Alabama football offered fans in the community something to be proud of and helped people feel like winners. Despite the celebratory remembrance of Bryant’s life and career, this event nevertheless marked an end.
Now, decades later, in the midst of a terrible economic climate, I had the opportunity to observe another event crucial to the history of Alabama’s football program as a special assignment reporter for the Locust Fork News Journal. However, this celebration, at the announcement of the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, marked a new beginning rather than an end.
Before the announcement of the Heisman winner, the press was treated to a banquet dinner in Times Square. Surrounded by the five finalists, their esteemed coaches and a legion of legendary figures from football history, I felt like the room was filled with electricity and promise. Pluck and grit and winning attitudes really had made a difference in the lives of these young men and their proud coaches, and I was inspired to see the culmination of a football season filled with talent, drive and teamwork.
In each of the five young finalists, Tebow, Ingram, McCoy, Gearhardt and Suh, I saw student athletes brought to this level not only by their physical prowess but also by the humility and class that comes with winning character. Each finalist was being celebrated for personal greatness. Each young man was supremely self-confident. But to a man they exuded gratitude for their God-given talent and appreciation for the coaches, programs and teammates who allowed them to shine. None appeared to express an air of entitlement or arrogance.
Of particular interest to me personally, was of course Mark Ingram. The Flint, Michigan, native turned Alabama standout sat before me with poise and polish. This young man had a brilliant turnout in what may well be a National Championship season, and it was easy for me to forget that just a few miles east of Times Square, Ingram’s father awaited transfer to prison — that Ingram achieved this accomplishment amidst personal turmoil and hardship.
Equally hard to believe was the fact that Ingram has achieved this honor as a sophomore. I wondered if he would follow Tim Tebow as the second Heisman winner to earn that distinction as a sophomore.
|Alabama’s Nick Saban winks as if he knows a secret after Ingram dodges a question about the Heisman Curse
Before the result was announced, the pride Coach Nick Saban exuded for his player proved infectious, and I found myself forgetting my journalistic objective for attending the Heisman banquet in the first place as I hoped to hear those two words revealed, “Mark Ingram.”
Would this be one more mark of greatness for the University of Alabama football program? Would Ingram prove himself a formidable opponent on the national stage? Would Saban continue to create his own legacy at Bama, marked as much by the quality of the character of his players as their domination on the football field? Would their affiliation with the University of Alabama continue to be a rallying point of pride and celebration for fans in a time of financial difficulty for many in our state?
And the answer was yes.
Mark Ingram was awarded the Heisman — a storybook beginning for what surely will prove to be a heralded football career.
And I was fortunate enough to witness another legendary chapter in the story of the Alabama football program.
by Paul Rockne
It’s Championship Weekend for Southeastern Conference football – and for several other leagues as well – with the surprising Arkansas Razorbacks representing the Western Division and the not-so-surprising Eastern Division champion Florida Gators going head-to-head for the SEC title Saturday in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The Hogs and Gators would figure to grab all the football headlines this week … but they didn’t as the Alabama Crimson Tide captured the media attention – almost pushing the SEC championship game into the background except in Arkansas and Florida – by abruptly firing head coach Mike Shula and announcing a nationwide search for a new coach.
The word “again” belongs at the end of the last sentence. The slap-in-the-face firing of Shula brings the Alabama football program back around to where it has been all too often in recent years – in a search for another head football coach. Tide Athletic Director Mal Moore is currently engaging in his fourth search for a new coach in his tenure.
Shula may have deserved being fired but the feeling from here is that, considering the mess he inherited with Dennis Franchoine’s sudden departure for greener pastures, the Mike Price debacle and NCAA probation, he deserved at least another year. With the losses this year being as close as they were, many oh-so-close to being a victory, the odds were good that the Tide could/would have produced another 10-win season in ’07.
Shula was, obviously, both disappointed and surprised when Moore made the Sunday night call. After all, Shula had done what he had been hired to do – clean up the Alabama image. He never embarrassed the university on or off the field. There were no drunken nights along the T-Town strip, no accusations from secretaries, no rumors of affairs or any other improprieties. He worked hard, recruited hard and gave the best he had for four years.
On the other hand, long-time Bama fans couldn’t have been surprised at Shula’s fate. After all, Shula went 0-4 against Auburn. Bill Curry was fired as the Bama head coach for not being able to beat Auburn – and his overall record was much better than Shula’s. When Bear Bryant was being interviewed for the head coaching job in Tuscaloosa, the first question asked of him was: “Do you think you can beat Auburn?” Despite the loss to Mississippi State and the mediocre record this year, if Bama had beaten Auburn in the ’06 Iron Bowl, Shula would still be captain of the Tide football fortunes.
But whether Shula should or shouldn’t have been let go is not as important as how he was treated. The slap-in-the-face manner in which the whole affair was handled will make it harder to find and hire a good replacement – in fact, only another Bama grad or former player should even consider taking the job.
Some big-time names have been named as possible replacements for Shula – Steve Spurrier, Nick Saben, Rich Rodriguez, Bobby Patrino, Paul Johnson, Jim Grobe, Houston Nutt – but most have been quick to deny any interest in the job. That could be how they really feel or just part of playing the game. But if they have been watching events closely as they unfold, the above-mentioned coaches who are all successful in their present positions with their present teams will think twice – or more – times before they sign on the dotted line with the University of Alabama.
The powers that be at Alabama waited until late Sunday to hand Shula his walking papers and made Shula look like a naïve fool in the process. After twisting in the wind for eight days following the Iron Bowl loss, the former Tide QB and son of one of the winningest coaches in NFL history, told his players and assistant coaches at an early Sunday evening meetinig not to believe the rumors of his impending demise and to get their minds on the upcoming bowl game. Less than two hours later, he was gone.
That insult, that slap in the face, should serve as a warning to candidates in the present coaching search. If the way Moore and Company treated Shula is the way it treats one of its own, how will they treat an outsider with no ties to the Bama family?
Perhaps Alabama’s only hope is a second resurrection – Bear Bryant coming back for a second go. But who knows? In these days of instant gratification and lack of patience, Tide fans might not even give Bear a break.
Oh yes – the SEC Championship Game. It will be played Saturday (today) at 5 p.m. in the Georgia Dome. Florida is a 3-point favorite. The two teams have met just six times before, with the Gators holding a 5-1 edge. It will be the fourth SEC title game matching two teams ranked in the top 10.
This weekend’s championship college football TV schedule kicked off Friday night with the Conference USA title game, in which Houston defeated Southern Mississippi.:
Saturday’s championship week lineup is as follows:
Connecticut at Louisville, 11 a.m. (WCSS)
ACC Championship Game, Georgia Tech vs. Wake Forest., noon (ESPN)
Army vs. Navy, 1:330 p.m. (ABC)
Division II title game, Delta State vs. North Alabama, 1:30 p.m. (CSS)
Stanford at California, 2 p.m. (FSNS)
Southern Cal at UCLA, 2:30 p.m. (ABC)
SEC Championship Game, Arkansas vs. Florida, 5 p.m. (CBS)
Troy at FIU, 6 p.m. (CSS)
Rutgers at West Virginia, 6:45 p.m. (ESPN)
Big 12 Championship Game, Nebraska vs. Oklahoma, 7 p.m. (ABC)