Read an Excerpt
100 Things Crimson Tide Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Christopher Walsh
Triumph Books LLCCopyright © 2016 Christopher Walsh
All rights reserved.
1. See Alabama Win a National Championship
In Nick Saban's words, the 2015 Alabama football team was all but "dead and buried" by media and the rest of the college football world. At least that's what he was portraying to his team after an early season loss that made every subsequent Saturday essentially an elimination game regarding its national title hopes.
Only the Crimson Tide responded. With the defense and running game leading the way, Alabama did what the two previous teams could not, run the table, successfully defending its Southeastern Conference title and then surviving the playoffs for the program's 16 national championship.
"This is my — I hate to say it — favorite team because I love'em all," Saban said. "These guys have come so far and have done so much. Their will, their spirit to compete and do the kind of things they needed to do to be the kind of team they could be, I'm happy for them.
"This is all about winning a game for them. It's great for our fans. It's great for the state of Alabama, but I wanted to win this game for these guys."
With the 45–40 victory against Clemson at the site of the Fiesta Bowl (giving Alabama a grand slam at what used to be the four Bowl Championship Series locations), the debate could really begin on if Saban was the greatest coach in college football history, and if Alabama's ongoing dynasty was the best the game has ever seen.
The crown was Saban's fifth, fourth with the Crimson Tide, which became the first program during the modern era to win four titles over a seven-year span.
Additionally, it was Saban's sixth career victory against a team ranked No. 1, while no one else in college football history had more than four (Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson, and Jack Mollenkopf; Paul W. "Bear" Bryant had three), and Alabama extended its streak of being No. 1 at some point in a season to an incredible eight straight years.
Regardless, after both semifinals were blowouts, with Alabama defeating Michigan State 38–0 in the Cotton Bowl, the championship more than made up for it and would be remembered as one of the best title games ever played. The two teams combined for 1,023 yards and it still went down to the very last play.
Junior running back Derrick Henry rushed for 158 yards on 36 carries and scored three touchdowns while becoming Alabama's all-time leading rusher.
Despite being sacked five times, senior quarterback Jake Coker had a career high 335 yards on 16 of 25 attempts, and no turnovers.
Overshadowing both was the game's offensive MVP, junior tight end O.J. Howard, who had a historic performance with five receptions for 208 yards and touchdowns of 51 and 53 yards.
"O.J., quite honestly, should have been more involved all year long," Saban said. "Sometimes he was open and we didn't get him the ball, but I think the last two games have been breakout games for him in terms of what he's capable of and what he can do.
"I would say that it's bad coaching on my part that he didn't have the opportunity to do that all year long."
Alabama also pulled off a jaw-dropping onside kick when the game was tied 24–24 with just under 11 minutes remaining, as kicker Adam Griffth perfectly bounced the football into open space and redshirt freshman Marlon Humphrey made a leaping catch to the dismay of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney (a walk-on receiver on Alabama's 1992 national championship team).
In terms of overall talent, this might have been Saban's best as 18 players were rated a consensus 5-star talent as a recruit. The defensive front seven led by linebacker Reggie Ragland and defensive linemen A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed might have been the deepest anyone had seen since the 85-man scholarship limit was imposed.
However, the offense had to replace nine starters, including quarterback Blake Sims, running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper, the program's first winner of the Biletnikoff Award.
With help from third-year center Ryan Kelly, a co-captain and winner of the Rimington Award, their replacements did fine in their wake. Coker, a graduate transfer who didn't secure the starting job until the Ole Miss game in Week 3, had just one pass intercepted over the second half of the season and none in the postseason. Henry didn't just win Alabama's second Heisman Trophy, but the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards for player of the year, in addition to the Doak Walker Award as best running back.
Freshman Calvin Ridley also stepped in for Cooper and became just the second freshman in Alabama history to notch 1,000 receiving yards. With his rapid development, the Crimson Tide under the direction of coordinator Lane Kiffin was known for its quick-strike ability.
Alabama's run was even more impressive when you consider its brutal schedule that began with a neutral-site game against Wisconsin, and included the top three teams from the SEC East: Florida, Tennessee and Georgia.
Overall, Alabama played nine opponents that were ranked at the time, the most of any national champion. Every team in the division not only finished with a winning record, but at some point of the season was ranked — a first in college football. Combined the SEC West went 31–4 against non-conference opponents, and 13–2 against the SEC East.
"To face 12 straight elimination games after the Ole Miss [loss]," Saban said. "The resiliency, the competitive character that this team showed at being able to do that, and even coming back from behind in the national championship game really shows the spirit that made this team something special."
2015: 14–1, National Champions, SEC Champions
Coach: Nick Saban
Captains: Reggie Ragland, Ryan Kelly, Jake Coker, and Derrick Henry Ranking (AP): Preseason — No. 3; Postseason — No. 1
All-American: First team — Derrick Henry, running back; Ryan Kelly, center; A'Shawn Robinson, defensive lineman; Reggie Ragland, linebacker Second team — Eddie Jackson, safety
All-SEC (first team): Cam Robinson, tackle; Ryan Kelly, center; Derrick Henry, running back; Jonathan Allen, defensive lineman; A'Shawn Robinson, defensive lineman; Reggie Ragland, linebacker; Eddie Jackson, safety
Leaders: Rushing — Derrick Henry (2,219 yards, 395 carries); Passing — Jake Coker (263 of 393, 3,110 yards); Receiving — Calvin Ridley (89 catches, 1,045 yards)
2. Paul W. "Bear" Bryant
They called him "Bear."
Think about that for a moment, and the words it evokes.
Powerful, gruff, intimidating, and yet with a gentle side. Paul W. Bryant was all of those things and much, much more, and perfectly nicknamed after actually wrestling a bear at a carnival for $1 at the age of 13 (he didn't get the money, and the animal bit his ear).
Today, the name is synonymous with college football, and Bryant has been widely regarded as the game's greatest coach. He compiled an amazing record of 323–85–17, led teams to 29 bowl appearances and 15 conference championships, and won six national championships (1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978, 1979). In the 1960s and 1970s, no team won more games than the Crimson Tide (193–32–5), and a national coach of the year award is named in his honor.
Even though Bryant died January 26, 1983, at the age of 69, hardly a day goes by that most Crimson Tide fans don't mention his name at least once, and half of Tuscaloosa is seemingly named in his honor.
Bryant was born September 11, 1913, the 11 of 12 children, three of whom died as infants. His father was an Arkansas farmer, but after he became ill when Paul was a child, his mother, Ida Mae, took over, with the kids helping out.
After leading the Fordyce High School Redbugs to a state championship, Bryant left home for the University of Alabama, where during his first fall he took high school classes to finish up his diploma. In June 1935 Bryant secretly wed Mary Harmon because it was against team rules for players to marry. Their first of two children, Mae Martin, was born nine months later. Paul Jr., who would become a prominent businessman, was born in 1944.
After turning down a chance to play in the National Football League, Bryant went straight into coaching and was an assistant at Alabama for four years, and at Vanderbilt for two, before serving in the Navy. Upon leaving the military he was named the head coach at Maryland, but resigned after one season. Next he took over Kentucky and guided the Wildcats to their first Southeastern Conference championship in 1950. In eight seasons, his teams went 60–23–5 and played in four bowl games, including the 1951 Sugar Bowl where Kentucky ended Oklahoma's 31-game winning streak.
After the 1953 season, Bryant signed a 12-year contract extension with the promise from Kentucky officials that football would be the athletic department's top priority, or at least on par with basketball. When it became clear that wouldn't be the case, he quit. Texas A&M signed him to a six-year deal to be coach and athletic director for $25,000 a season and an unprecedented 1 percent of the gate receipts, one day before Southern California made a lucrative offer that almost certainly would have snared Bryant.
That first training camp with the Aggies, Bryant took his players 250 miles west to a barren army base in Junction, Texas, and put them through the mental and physical equivalent of a meat grinder. More than two-thirds of the players quit, with those who endured dubbed the "Junction Boys," but it also defined the coach's legacy as a hard-nosed disciplinarian.
Bryant's Aggies were closing in on the 1957 national championship when he was lured away by Alabama and made his famous statement: "Mama called, and when Mama calls, then you just have to come running." He agreed to a 10-year contract with an annual salary of $17,000 and a house.
"I ain't never been nothing but a winner."
Four years later, Bryant won his first national championship, and the rest is history.
Crimson Tide Coaching Titles (through 2015)
Paul W. "Bear" Bryant 13, Nick Saban 4, Frank Thomas 4, Red Drew 1, Bill Curry 1, Gene Stallings 1, Mike DuBose 1.
Paul W. "Bear" Bryant 6, Nick Saban 5, Wallace Wade 3, Frank Thomas 2, Gene Stallings 1.
3. Attend the Iron Bowl
For a Crimson Tide fan, there is no bigger day of the year than the annual Auburn game, although things like birthdays, weddings, and Christmas come close.
Pick a random day of the year, and ask a random person in the state, "Who won the last game?"
Then ask who Van Tiffin is and wait for the reaction. If the person is a Tide fan, his or her face will probably light up, and he or she will say something like, "You don't know who Van Tiffin is? Oh, you poor thing," as if there's something seriously wrong with you.
If he or she is an Auburn supporter, expect the exact opposite reaction, because the 1985 Iron Bowl was decided by a 52-yard field goal by the kicker as time expired, giving Alabama a dramatic 25–23 victory after the lead changed hands four times in the final 15 minutes.
Fans take this game so seriously that they start the countdown to the next one the day after the game. Heavy rains and the threat of a tornado didn't stop the 1983 meeting when running back Bo Jackson had 256 rushing yards and two touchdowns to lead Auburn to a 23–20 victory.
The series actually dates back to February 22, 1893, when the two sides met at Birmingham's Lakeview Park and Auburn claimed a 32–22 victory. Auburn also won the subsequent matchup, 40–16. The following year, Alabama won 18–0, and a football rivalry was well under way. However, following a 6–6 tie in 1907, the schools refused to play again for 41 years due in part to animosity. The series was revived only after the state legislature threatened to get involved.
Yeah, it's that extreme. Scott Brown wrote in his book The Uncivil War that he had "never felt anything more intense than the hatred between Alabama and Auburn. Period."
ESPN analyst Beano Cook did it one better by referring to the rivalry as "Gettysburg south."
"I was working the 1995 game at Jordan-Hare [Stadium at Auburn], which had zero championship implication, with a producer from another part of the country," said ESPN's Rece Davis, himself an Alabama graduate. "He said, 'I can't believe how intense this is.' I said, 'You should see it when they're playing for something.'
"Actually, come to think of it, the intensity never changes with the circumstances."
For 50-some years, the two sides met at the neutral site of Legion Field in Birmingham, even though Auburn continually argued that the location provided Alabama with an unfair advantage since it was much closer to the Tuscaloosa campus.
Only once have they played when both were undefeated. That was in 1971. The No. 3 Crimson Tide posted a lopsided 31–7 victory over the No. 4 Tigers as Alabama halfback Johnny Musso outshined Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy. However, Alabama lost the national championship game to Nebraska at the Orange Bowl, 38–6.
"Any game that causes married couples to divorce, or even worse in some psychotic cases, must be a pretty big deal," said Norm Wood of the Daily Press in Virginia.
"I went to Auburn for a basketball game in 1986 shortly after Alabama won the football game, and some Auburn football players told me they hadn't shown themselves in public for three days," John Henderson of The Denver Post said. "Enough said."
The First Iron Bowl
In February of the 1892–93 academic year, Alabama scheduled one final game to its inaugural season, against Auburn. Like the team's first three contests, the game would be played in Birmingham, but in front of approximately 4,000 fans, who were probably far more curious about the sport than anything else. Auburn won 32–22, and Alabama's first season concluded with 2–2 record.
Auburn won the second meeting as well, 40–16, in Montgomery on November 30 of the same calendar year. With many of its best players from the inaugural season lost to graduation, Alabama finished the 1893 season winless (0–4), including a loss to its first out-of-state opponent, Sewanee, 20–0.
4. Nick Saban
Although the touchdown occurred at an airport instead of on a football field, it nonetheless was still considered one of the most important in Crimson Tide history.
At approximately 3:45 pm on January 3, 2007, Alabama's private jet landed in Tuscaloosa, where hundreds of fans had gathered in eager anticipation. They didn't even wait for the man wearing a gray suit, lavender shirt, and no tie to emerge from the open door to start celebrating, and they couldn't wait to give him rock-star treatment.
The following day, when Nick Saban was officially announced as the 27th head coach of the Crimson Tide, he didn't hesitate to send a clear and deliberate message to the program's fans, players, and boosters, with what instantly became the latest Alabama mantra.
"Be a champion in everything that we do," Saban said. "Every choice, every decision, everything that we do every day, we want to be a champion."
With that, the Saban era was under way at the Capstone, ending one of the rockiest periods in program history and a tumultuous five weeks after Mike Shula was fired on November 26, 2006, during which interim coach Joe Kines guided the Crimson Tide to the Independence Bowl (a 34–31 loss to Oklahoma State resulting in a 6–7 finish).
Excerpted from 100 Things Crimson Tide Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Christopher Walsh. Copyright © 2016 Christopher Walsh. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.