It was right around this time four months ago that I was putting the finishing touches on my book ‘The Unlikeliest Champion.’ For those of you who know nothing about the book (or likely about me), it is about the UConn men’s basketball team and their National Championship last March, and as I finished it up this past fall, I was looking for one final quote to really sum up the entire season as a whole. To give such an unexpected championship some broader, “big picture” perspective.
That quote eventually came to me from a guy named Leo Papile. Papile is a legendary figure on the Boston hoops scene, an AAU coach who has sent more guys to college than the G.I. Bill, and someone who has forgotten more basketball in the last week than most “analysts” on TV have learned in a lifetime. He’s also one of UConn head coach Jim Calhoun’s oldest friends, going back over 30 years, way before the TV cameras, National Championships and Hall of Fame speeches Calhoun has become famous for now.
When I asked Papile what the 2011 championship meant to Calhoun’s legacy, he said something so elegant, it practically brought tears to my eyes.
This quote is straight from my book (available on Amazon.com by the way!):
“Through the years Jimmy’s best teams would out-work you, out-tough you, out-compete you,” Leo Papile, Calhoun’s friend, dating back 30 years to their days in Boston said. “That’s exactly what that team was all about. It was his perfect team. This was Jimmy’s masterpiece.”
His “masterpiece.” How beautiful, huh?
And as I watched last night’s BCS National Championship, I couldn’t help but think back to that quote.Because really, reflecting on Alabama’s 21-0 win, it wasn’t just about the victory itself. It wasn’t just about the Tide dominating one of the best teams we’ve seen in recent college football history. It wasn’t about sucking the life out of LSU one tackle for loss at a time. It wasn’t about Jeremy Shelley’s field goals or A.J. McCarron’s emergence. It wasn’t even about one of the best defenses of all-time finally getting their proper due.
Nope, Monday night was bigger than that. It wasn’t just about a championship, but about a team and coach achieving something that is as close to perfection on the football field as we've ever seen.
In every sense of the word, Monday night's BCS National Championship Game was Nick Saban’s masterpiece.
Granted, it didn’t come by accident, or come out of nowhere. We’ve known the 2011 Alabama defense was going to be really good since before the 2010 season even ended. Just looking at the depth chart this past summer led plenty of college football nerds like myself to elicit “oohs” and “ahhs” and say stuff to our buddies like, “Wait, that guy still has eligibility? Oh my.” The names were as familiar to us as most NFL Draft scouts: Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron, Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Josh Chapman. New names like Quinton Dial and Jesse Williams were sure to impress.
From the beginning there was no doubt this Crimson Tide defense would be good, and by the end of the end Penn State game in Week 2, it was clear that they’d be one of the best units in the country. But it wasn't until the Tide showed up in Gainesville on the first Saturday in October, it was clear that we could use the word “great” with them too.
That’s because as easy as it is to forget now, at the time Florida was considered to be a real threat to Alabama. The Gators were 4-0, ranked in the Top 15 nationally, and had just beaten up Tennessee a few weeks before. Entering that Alabama game, there really was a belief that Florida might beat the Tide. If they didn’t, they’d certainty keep things close.
And to the Gators credit, they did keep it close…for at least one possession anyway. That’s because after John Brantley hit Andre DeBose with a 65-yard touchdown bomb for Florida to go up 7-0, the next 59 minutes were simply a coronation of the Crimson Tide’s greatness. Alabama held Florida to just 157 yards the rest of the night, and gave up an almost unfathomable .5 yards per carry, winning 38-10. To put it in a different perspective, they outscored Florida- the No. 12 team in the country at the time- 38-3 after the first play of the game. Think about that for a second.
From there, the rest of the season provided a tough challenge for college football writers like myself: How to find unique ways to describe this defense without being overly hyperbolic. After all, there are only so many ways you can say “Alabama completely dominated the opponent,” and after a while adjectives like “physically imposing,” and “overwhelming” became boring too. That tends to happen when you’re giving up less than 10 points and 200 yards of total offense every Saturday.
So really, we had no choice but to get creative in our description of one of the best defenses of our lifetime. Was it too much of a stretch to say that “Alabama put more people in the hospital than the Ebola virus?” An exaggeration to say that the defense “gave us all nightmares?” If it was, I’m sorry, but as I said before, after awhile we all just ran out of ways to describe this team.
Of course, it’s one thing to say those things, but in reality, it all would’ve been for nothing if Alabama didn’t win on Monday night. Even though the Crimson Tide were the best defense I’ve ever seen with my own two eyes, what would it mean if they'd lost to LSU not just once, but twice?
That was the reality entering Monday night’s game for Alabama: There was a chance for immortality, and a chance to be completely forgotten. But there was little chance that they’d be remembered somewhere in the middle.
Still, it did feel like entering this game that a few too many people had forgotten just how good Alabama was during the regular season. As I mentioned in my column on Monday, all the discussion entering this game was on LSU; where they fit in with the “all-time” great teams, what it would be like to win a third title in New Orleans, things like that. For Alabama, every story line centered around abstract things that were out of their control; whether they deserved a second chance at LSU, why a rematch was good or bad, how a team that couldn’t even win its own conference (or division for that matter) could get a shot at a National Championship. Nobody- I mean NO-body- was talking about the Tide in football terms.
Well, it’s safe to say that they’re talking about the Tide now.
To put it as simply as I can, Monday night was one of the most dominating performances in major college football history. End…of…discussion.
First there are the stats, which really do nothing but make your jaw hit the floor. LSU entered the game averaging 38 points a contest. They scored zero Monday. LSU averaged 215 yards rushing this season. They had 93 yards of total offense Monday night, and just 39 on the ground. Want a quick way to know just how dominating Alabama was on Monday night? LSU got nearly 20 percent of their offensive output on one single 18-yard pass from Jordan Jefferson to Odell Beckham in the third quarter. Twenty percent! On one play! Alabama wasn’t just dominating Monday night. They were some word that has yet to be invented in the English language.
And really, it all comes back to Saban.
Now, if you’re asking me to put his career into some kind of big picture perspective, I’m probably not your guy. I don’t know where he ranks amongst the greatest of all-time, but I do know that he’s the greatest of my lifetime. The guy has three titles in nine years, a number which is even more incredible when you consider that he took two years off to go coach in the NFL. His graduating seniors just won 48 games in four years, and did it in the toughest division, in the toughest conference in college football. And just wait until the NFL Draft this spring. There is going to be more crimson in New York in early April than there was on Bourbon Street last night.
But above all, I can’t help but go back to what I said earlier: Monday night was Nick Saban’s masterpiece, the game that will be etched onto his coaching tombstone.
Saban always talks about “The Process,” and well, last night was "The Process" coming to life.
Monday night was about ‘The Process’ of using November to get over the first loss to LSU and “The Process” of using December to make sure it never happened again. It was “The Process” of being prepared for every single imaginable wrinkle that LSU could throw at them. It was “The Process” of stopping the speed option, “The Process” of stopping the run up the middle, “The Process” of making Jordan Jefferson’s night a living hell, and “The Process” of confusing LSU’s defensive backs and making their defensive line moot.
Alabama’s win was as meticulous as meticulous gets.
But really, to solely talk about Alabama’s dominance, would be to take away from the visual appeal of it all. In that regard it literally was a masterpiece.
Monday night wasn’t just about Alabama dominating, but of them dominating in the most Nick Saban-ish way possible. Alabama attacked from all angles. They kept LSU off-balance from the first snap to the last. They were relentless. They were ruthless. They were simply overwhelming.
Again, this was LSU, the No. 1 team in the country, the team that won earlier this season in Tuscaloosa, Morgantown and in Dallas against Oregon. They beat Georgia in Atlanta and Florida, Auburn and Arkansas in Baton Rouge. And from the first snap to the last they had absolutely no idea what was coming from Alabama. None.
In the end, it will go down as the feather in the cap of one of the greatest defenses ever. It was also the defining game of Nick Saban’s career. Obviously Saban still has plenty of good years left in him, and significantly more wins than losses. With the way he’s got things rolling, there’s no reason to think he doesn’t have another title or two in him as well. Who knows.
But no matter what happens from here on out, Saban will never have another night quite like he had Monday.
Against LSU, Nick Saban and his defense achieved near perfection.
Monday night was Nick Saban’s masterpiece.
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And finally, as mentioned above... Aaron has written his first book! It's called The Unlikeliest Champion, it's about the 2011 UConn Huskies National Championship team. It is available for order in Kindle or paperback at both www.uconnbook.com and Amazon.com. Get your order in today!)
Aaron Torres: " For Alabama, every story line centered around abstract things that were out of their control; whether they deserved a second chance at LSU, why a rematch was good or bad, how a team that couldn’t even win its own conference (or division for that matter) could get a shot at a National Championship. Nobody- I mean NO-body- was talking about the Tide in football terms."
Hey Aaron, Bama fans were talking about this team, and will be for years to come. This is the team that will go down in history as forcing the NCAA to create a playoff system by kicking an undefeated team haplessly; a team team that avenged their only "loss" when it really counted. At the same time, this team also derailed an LSU team that was supposed to be the greatest college football team ever assembled, by some.
(1/2)Great article.... after the fact. What most people, who probably got linked to this article through social media, won't see is your post on the day of the BCS game - "Breaking Down the BCS Title Game from all Angles." With the exception of your prediction that LSU wouldn't be successful at the option... your lopsided opinions about Alabama's abilities were ALL WRONG. Let me refresh you (and the readers) with some of your quotes from that article:
"They (LSU) play defense nearly as well as the Tide do, and run the ball just as effectively, but with a more effective passing game.... I don’t see the Tide being able to move the ball through the air." [Tide passed for 234 yds/LSU for 53]
"LSU’s Biggest Advantage Going Into This Game Is…: Considering they’re the deepest team in college football, what’s most amazing about LSU is that somehow they’ve gotten deeper since the last time these two teams played. And really, I’m talking about the running back position in specific." [Tide rushed for 150 yds/LSU for 39]
" ...there’s Tyrann Mathieu, who- with all due respect to Devin Hester- is the single, biggest difference-making return man in the sport of football right now...Mathieu is going to do something for LSU to impact this game. It’s just a matter of what." [1 yd punt return? 6 tackles?]
@ShaneAutrey Here's my BCS title game preview, if you want good content with people who are real, come and check us out. Anyway, read my breakdown if you have time and please don't hesitate to give me your thoughts in the comment section. Roll Tide. http://bamahammer.com/2012/01/06/breakdown-bcs-championship-game/
(2/2) "...the Tide are completely and utterly average at wide receiver... they just happen to be going up against the deepest secondary in the country, the team with more quality corners and safeties than half the teams in the NFL playoffs."
Finished with a Jab at McCarron: "(By the way, notice how I haven’t mentioned A.J. McCarron once in this preview? Yeah, there’s a reason for that.)" [McCarron LED the team down the field, spreading out 234 passing yds to 7 different receivers. Gaining 21 first downs and not giving any turnovers.]
"They say styles make fights, and entering this one, the stylistic matchup favors LSU. LSU 24, Alabama 17." [Do I need to remind you of the final score?]
Had you admitted in this article that you were way of target with your pre BCS post, I may have given you some more credit. However, jumping on the Houndstooth bandwagon to hock your book with a "special Crimson Tide Discount Code" is shameful. If you're going to blog about your opinions, own up to your mistakes.
Considering that of the 100 or so comments and e-mails I've gotten on this article from 'Bama fans, yours is pretty much the only negative one, I don't even know why I'm bothering to respond. But with that, here are a few counters to what you said....
First of all, thank you for taking the time to read my preview of the game, which I posted on Monday. Like a lot of people, yes, I picked LSU. But the idea that I'm somehow trying to HIDE that article is just about the most asinine thing I've ever heard. You know why?? Because I LINKED TO that article in this article above. If I was trying to hide it, then I did a terrible job.
I also like how you've conveniently avoided every part of Monday's preview article that said anything nice about Alabama....which was what, 40 percent of the article? Like how I said that everyone was overlooking Alabama, like how I praised them for their Iron Bowl beat down of Auburn, like how I said "the Tide may very well be the most talented top-to-bottom college defense I’ve ever seen." If you're going to pick and choose random quotes, at least attempt to be balanced.
And finally, yes I mentioned my book, and you know why? Because a lot of Alabama fans who read this article requested more information. The Crimson Tide discount was a thank-you for reading this article, not a push for book sales. It's called good marketing.
Anyway, thanks for reading, and I hope that clarified a few things. And quite frankly, if it didn't, that's fine. I was doing plenty well before you showed up, and will do just fine without you here as well.
All the best,
@Aaron Torres@ShaneAutrey It really is none of my business but for what it's worth. I believe the frustration Aaron is that LSU had phenomenal play from it's secondary all year...EXCEPT in either of the games vs. Alabama. Honey rodent was irrelevant with 3 solo tackles and zero return yards in the first game and Bama didn't turn to the passing game. The Tide's receiving core really wasn't experienced nor were they a big threat to opponents during the year yet LSU couldn't stop them. It is no secret Bama had an average at best receiving core this year and yes, LSU should have had their way with them but they didn't in either game. In your defense, all the self proclaimed experts on ESPN praised Jefferson and LSUs' secondary but they did so with no evidence to back up their assessment because LSU wasn't effective against Alabama in the first game, Bama was a victim of themselves, uncharacteristic mistakes and a conservative gameplan in November, NOT a victim of being beaten by the Tigers secondary. Now if LSU had their way with Bama in the first game it would give a ton of merit to those arguments but they weren't. Everyone ignored Alabama's defense and receivers naming LSU's secondary, special teams and Jefferson as the x-factors in the title game with no evidence to support those claims except in regards to the special teams. We continuously heard people ask how Bama would move the ball and stop Jefferson.....but they moved the ball and stopped him the first game and that's where the frustration for some Tide fans comes in.
@ Big Mike: Thank you for that comment! And I truly believe that NO ONE but, Bama could beat LSU and nobody but LSU had a chance of beating Bama. They were the two best teams this season! I have no doubt of that.. Ok State could not have hung with either team. I love this article.. I have printed it and shared the link too many times to count.. It was a GREAT game!
LSU TIGER here. I hate getting beat but I must admit, no one could play with Bama on this night. Believe me when I say Okla. St. don't want none of this Bama team.
All I can say about this article is WOW ! I'm going to print this and keep it, as it is simply put, the best written description of what I think happened last Monday that I have seen. Great read and I'm linking it to all my friends. Mr. Torres, thank you for this fine piece.
@1365will Will- I truly appreciate the kind words. Even now over a week later, I'm still in awe over the game-plan Nick Saban and his staff put together, and the flawlessness with which his players executed it. Appreciate it again, and hope you'll continue reading!All the best,Aaron
bBAMAMAN A great article and I would point out one thing. LSU had the second best defense behind only Bama.Thanks
Jefferson also got 20% on a running play for 18yds. It was in the 4th quarter and the first time that LSU crossed midfield...40% in TWO plays. ROLL TIDE!!
The problem is LSU lost those 18 yards in the next four plays once Bama recovered the fumble on 4 down and 14. So that 20% from Jefferson will not show up in the total yards stats. Bama defense was AWESOME!!!!
It does show up. Go read the box score of any game. It will list LG (longest gain).
See for yourself... http://scores.espn.go.com/ncf/boxscore?gameId=320090099 (under LSU rushing)
Here's a play by play breakdown for you... http://www.rolltide.com/sports/m-footbl/stats/2011-2012/ua010912.html
Amazing! This article is so well written it brought tears to my eyes. The memory of this game is forever etched in my mind as " The Masterpiece" maybe Daniel Moore will title his next Alabama Artwork " Saban's Masterpiece"
Thank you for all the kind words. I just wrote from the heart... Your boys did all the hard work for me!All the best, and please stay in touch!Aaron
When you consider that LSU's opponents had about a 2-1 margin in wins in 2011 and LSU beat 4 top 15 teams during the season it makes the defensive masterpiece even more incredible.
Thanks for writing in, and yes, you're correct. Everyone is quick to say LSU's offense was bad. Well, I watch college football 12 hours a Saturday, every Saturday. Ole Miss' offense is bad. LSU averaged over 38 points per game.
LSU had and excellent offense this year. Alabama just played historically good defense on Monday, and really, all season.Aaron
Thanks for writing, Aaron. There were a lot of writers who didn't see the game in the same light as you, calling it boring. I had a feeling after the Heisman award ceremonies when they gave numerous awards to the LSU defense and hardly recognized anyone on the Alabama defense (who happened to be leading the nation in almost every defensive category) that Alabama's defense would come out with a chip on their shoulder. Last night at the Alabama, LSU basketball game when LSU brought the ball up the court, as they crossed the mid court line, the Alabama student section gave them a standing ovation! Can you remember a game in which a team never finished a drive on the opposing teams' side of the field? I doubt we'll ever see a defensive performance as great as this one.
There are so many quotes and so many points made in this article that I was able to picture again, the plays, the faces, the determination in each players stance and position. For one night, the Bama Nation was one! A beautiful masterpiece indeed....
Love this article! I am even more proud of this program and team. It really feels like being a part of history!
@AmandaLeePowell Amanda-So glad you enjoyed! It was a truly special season, and one that you should be proud of! I still can't get over how fantastic the team looked Monday night!Thanks for reading, and stay in touch!Aaron
@Aaron Torres The three days I spent in New Orleans were right up there with the best three days of my life. I spent four years in T-Town during the Shula era and while I still enjoyed my time there football season almost killed me every year. I would have given anything to be apart of the total domination era saban has given the students there now and your article describes that whole era perfectly as sabans master piece. My dad was in school there when the great Paul Bear Bryant was dominating his own era and I always get to hear all of my dads wonderful stories of that time. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Nick Saban is the Paul Bear Bryant of todays era and I can't wait to oneday be able to tell my kids about the Saban era. Your article describes in every way how dominate this team and coach of this team is. Thank you for a well written article in my opinion a "Master Piece" of your own.