Friday, November 23, 2007

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/23/07

If you want to see the infamous analogy for yourself, there it is. It’s right out of the gate, so there’s no need to skip around hunting it.

From this reading, I would call it at best a false analogy, one leading to more questions than clarity, or at worst inappropriate. But the Great Leader is no poet, and for that I am grateful. You take your lumps.

Also, to the outside observer, Saban’s comparison only affirms the view that Alabama is home to college football’s lunatic fringe, the wild-eyed zealots catering their tailgate parties with locusts and honey.

The less done to dissuade this image the better.

The perception is sometimes useful, as reality can be so messy. Reality can be season ticket holders driving to Tuscaloosa and dropping off their opening game tickets to evacuees in the basketball area after Katrina so that parents and children could have something to do other than miss their homes for one night.

Reality can be strong young men becoming sick old men before their time.

Reality can be your life surrounded by family one minute and your life hanging by a thread the next.

So just for once, let’s drop the Old Testament rhetoric and the poor man’s Lou Reed ramblings. Let’s approach the real.

At roughly the nineteen minute mark of the above video, Nick Saban pulls back the curtain and answers a question that wasn’t asked. One assumes it’s an answer he was willing to give from the start.

It implies that a number of Shula’s senior class doesn’t care for Saban or the way he does things, specifically earning your starting spot each week in practice. Ergo, whenever a weaker opponent is scheduled for Saturday, they do not practice well during the week.

Such habits might lead to an embarrassing loss.

Or two.

That may also explain away some of the odder line-up changes throughout the season, like Jimmy Johns only playing special teams--and Keith Brown, last season’s second-leading receiver behind D.J. Hall, dropping in and out of the starting rotation--and Hall himself getting suspended for the first half last Saturday (which Saban states would have been a full game were it not for is also being Senior Day, which begs the question why Hall would risk any suspension before his last home game, or the Cotton Bowl, while we’re reading history).

After the Mississippi State loss, Saban said that there was no shame in losing to the Bulldogs--they played a good football game.

After last week’s loss he apologized. He apologized for the loss and the lack of effort. He apologized for the players and for himself, because he said the responsibility lies with him.

Damn right it does.

Don’t get me wrong, no one’s calling for Saban’s head, but damn--you hire Nick Saban to prevent players from giving in to their weaker selves. This is precisely the kind of late-season collapse the last coach was fired for. And even if you can’t fix four-years of Mike Shula in nine months, you don’t lose to a 5-6 Sun Belt team, even if you have to field a Girl Scout troupe!

But there’s enough blame to go around. Look back to the Tennessee game or the LSU game or the Arkansas game--even the Mississippi State game! Those players don’t need Saban on the sideline to beat ULM.

So the implication is that a clique of players, after the LSU loss took Bama out of the SEC race, have pretty much given up on the season. Perhaps they don’t care if they go to a bowl. Perhaps they’re either done with football for life or headed to the pros.

I was ready to call bullshit on that . . . until Saturday.

I guess I didn’t want to believe that Alabama was fielding a team that didn’t know, or worse didn’t care, what they mean to the people of this state. And there’s a reason why the loss to ULM stings so.

There’s kind of an unspoken agreement between the plebes and the plantation class in Alabama. The university will schedule one shitty home game a year so that the landed gentry will find something better to do and unload their tickets.

That standing room only stadium Saturday was probably half-filled with people who were seeing their first and maybe only Alabama football game. And that’s what they got to see?

That’s why you heard boos. And I don’t blame the dirt farmers one bit.

Each year, the Bama Report’s pre-Iron Bowl post has been a variation on a theme, a simple plea of sometimes no more than three little words:

Just beat Auburn.

This year, I’m calling an audible. There are things bigger than a football game. Ask Victor Ellis. Ask Siran Stacy.

For all the hell I gave Chris Capps, I can honestly say I respected the boy’s effort. He knows he’s a poor tackle--how can he not? And even after an entire off-season in Saban’s much ballyhooed conditioning program and working on the same field as the man, he’s still a poor lineman. The talent just isn’t there and you can’t win with that level of player in the SEC.

However, I would give a standing ovation if Alabama’s starting line-up were eleven Chris Cappses this Saturday against Auburn.

Oh, I know we’d lose--and badly--but what’s the difference between a five-game streak and six-game streak? Both are unacceptable.

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.

The Bama Report is large. The Bama Report contains multitudes.

To be clear: I am saying that, if need be, D.J. Hall, the most talented player on the entire football team and Alabama’s all-time leading receiver, the heir apparent to Ozzie Newsome, should be left off the bus. Don’t even suit him up. Him and any other player who’s too good to lay a block downfield.

If all Saban can find are eleven players and they have to go iron man for one game, I’m down. If he plays the damn scout team against Auburn, I’m all for it.

Do I want to beat Auburn? Hell yes, more than almost anything.

But football is a brutal sport and it takes men who need to win to play it well. I want to see players needing that win Saturday, even if we lose.

Much has been said this week about Alabama football and its priorities, that the people of Alabama take their football too seriously. Maybe so, but so what? No one accused Baryshnikov of taking toe-tapping too seriously.

Full disclosure: I write this message from a hotel suite somewhere in lower Alabama, where in the morning I will enjoy the free continental breakfast, and then drive a few miles to sit through as much of a wedding as time allows.

Tonight, when I saw the faces of the wedding party turn on me as I asked why someone would schedule a wedding--in Alabama--on the same day as the Iron Bowl, I realized I’m the lone sane man in a crazy world.

It’s only a game.

It’s only ballet. It’s only Rembrandt. It’s only Duke Ellington. It’s only the Mona Lisa. It’s only Breece D’J Pancake.

Is football taken too seriously in Alabama? Only you can answer that question, but I will tell you that it is taken seriously. And that the team Saban fields tomorrow against Auburn--win or lose--will take it seriously, will take who they represent and whose tradition they uphold seriously.

And come hell or high water I will watch it.

Roll Tide.