“It’s awfully important to win with humility. It’s also important to lose. I hate to lose worse than anyone, but if you never lose you won’t know how to act. If you lose with humility, then you can come back.”
As confetti rained down at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa in the wee hours of January 10, 2017, I thought about the above quote and smiled. If you’re a fan of college football in the South you already know who said it.
If not, then wait, because I will revisit it before I’m done.
The scoreboard read Clemson 35, Alabama 31 and orange-clad supporters were experiencing ecstasy and the school’s first football national championship since 1981.
A lot has been written about Alabama and the dynasty but few pundits, bloggers or writers presented what stands as one of the more inter-esting facts about the Crimson Tide’s success on the gridiron.
Alabama won every national title game it played in from 1978 until 2017. Those games included Bear Bryant’s final two titles in 1978 and 1979, Gene Stallings only title in an upset win over Miami in 1992, and Nick Saban’s four titles at the Capstone in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015.
The last Tide loss in a national championship game, or a game that determined the national champion, came against Notre Dame in the 1973 Sugar Bowl. Don’t forget Alabama still finished atop the coach’s poll that season, because the final poll came out before bowl games.
Dynasties come and go (as do coaches and players) but for everyone in the Crimson Tide’s fan base under the age of 40, the result from the 2017 national championship game came as culture shock.
Yes, Alabama had lost key games either during the regular season or even in the SEC Championship, but the Tide hadn’t lost the national title on the field since Richard Nixon was president. A generation of Alabama fans, alumni, players and more could count on getting the win once the Tide reached the title game.
Flip to the opposite sideline where Clemson fans reveled in the first football national title for their beloved Tigers since 1981. A year earlier, these same Tigers fell a few points shy against Alabama and this time the undercats refused to lose.
If you’re going to dethrone the champ, might as well do it in style.
When Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts rushed into the end zone taking Alabama to a four-point lead with 2:01 remaining in the contest, Clemson’s ever unflappable quarterback Deshaun Watson huddled with his teammates and offered the following tidbit.
“We’re going to get this touchdown. We’re going to win this national championship.”
Ten plays, about two minutes and 68 yards later, Watson tossed the game-winning touchdown making his words from a few minutes earlier prophetic and forever chiseling his name among the great national championship game heroes.
National title games tend to have controversy and plenty of fans on both sides were pointing to helmet-to-helmet hits that went uncalled and unflagged, and two touchdown passes on apparent pick plays that also went unflagged. But at the end of the day, both teams have to play by the rules and uncalled penalties are just that.
We won’t know for a while if Alabama’s loss is the end of a dynasty. Three years from now, it could be nothing more than a bump on the road, if Alabama players hoist more national title trophies.
Or maybe it ushers in a newfound confidence and other conferences outside the Deep South find ways to emulate Clemson, ending the stranglehold the SEC once held on the national title.
And don’t forget the Tigers. Although they will lose several major players to the NFL, including Watson, they return a lot of talent and won’t be easy to dethrone.
Also, don’t write off the Tide yet. Two years ago, Ohio State upended Alabama in the national semifinals and many pundits declared Bama’s reign over. The 2015 title proved them wrong.
After the game Saban praised Clemson and the job the Tigers did to rally and win the contest, but he also left a piece of wisdom Alabama fans and opponents alike should take into consideration.
“One game doesn’t define who you are,” he said.
It’s only fitting that the quote beginning this piece comes from the legendary coach who roamed Alabama’s sidelines for those national titles in 1978 and 1979, Paul Bryant. Coach Bryant knew a lot more about winning than he did about losing. But, he also knew how important rebounding from those rare losses was.
And now we wait and see if the process at Alabama reasserts itself or if the shockwaves reverberating through college football lead to even more national championship surprises in the next few years.
*The views expressed in this column are those of the writer, and do not represent the opinions of V3 Magazine.