2009: The Beginning, Part 1 | Looking back at Alabama’s first championship season under Nick Saban

2009: The Beginning, Part 1 | Looking back at Alabama’s first championship season under Nick Saban

“I want everybody here to
know. This is not the end…” This is the beginning.” Coming off of 2008, the general National consensus was
that Florida would win the National Championship again. Florida had just come off of its second
National Championship in three years. They were the dominant
team in college football, and Alabama had had…a near miss. First of all, we wanted a rematch with
Florida. We wanted to play them again. We wanted another shot at those guys. That loss in 2008 was, was a-a pivotal moment for
us…I think, um, in Alabama. Just cause we had went
undefeated until that point. We were dominating pretty much
winning that entire game… “John Parker Wilson, Julio
Jones… breaks a tackle…” “…hands to Ingram, up the
middle…TOUCHDOWN Alabama…” … and we lost it at the
end of the game. Tebow… He had some of his Tebow
magic and came back on us. Tim Tebow led some really great
drives in that fourth quarter… And we didn’t execute down the stretch. I remember it being more emotional
than probably any other game that I’d experienced up until that point. It was hardest for me knowing that there
were great players that weren’t going to be with us when we went
after it again next year. I think the best way to put it
is we were having, you know, a little bit of like an identity
crisis. Antoine Caldwell, Andre Smith… They were both leaving. So was John
Parker Wilson. So was Glen Coffee. So was Rashad Johnson. Those were our
captains. Those were our playmakers. You know, a lot of guys were coming back, but they were young and we needed leaders. We had some young guys, they had the
attitude, they had the ability… The only thing they did not
have was time on the job. But once they got into the flow of it, and saw that the standard had
been set by that 2008 team, it took off from there. I think some people wondered,
uh, was 08… Was that a little, a little bit ahead of
schedule? Was it not? And then, it was complicated by the Utah loss. They did not give warm donkey
manure about the Sugar Bowl in 2008, once they had lost to Florida.
You know, they, they just didn’t. I think we just spent a lot of time
kind of harping on those losses and how tough they were, and getting back to that same point
was such a point of emphasis for us the entire off-season, where we looked at
it as, we weren’t lucky to be there. We were unfortunate that we came up short. There were some national
expectations for Alabama, but I don’t think that,
that outside of Tuscaloosa, there was a tremendous expectation
that they would be contenders again. We took ownership that, and part of that was the revenge factor
that we had kind of created within our locker room. It wasn’t about what
the media was saying or not saying. I’m sure they probably looked at
it, well, no returning quarterback. I had never started a game and, and I’m sure that there were
doubts that the media had about, about my credibility, of my ability
to take over the starting reigns. But, I can only say from my own experience
that I had waited three years to get into that position. I knew when
I was given my chance, I was going to do everything I could
to be the best player, best leader, best everything I could be. Yeah, let’s be honest here.
McElroy was not a big time recruit. He played at South Lake Carroll in Texas, one of the best programs in the
country. He never lost a game. He was a good quarterback. He was talked about a little
bit, but if I remember correctly, kind of a leftover because
Tebow didn’t go. You know, whether that played on Greg’s psyche
or not, I have no idea… But, there’s not an Alabama fan in the
world that would have said, “Oh no, I want Greg McElroy”…versus Tim Tebow. I did not like Tim Tebow.
I didn’t like him at all. I was very aware of who Alabama
prioritized in recruiting. I mean, Tim Tebow was the most
coveted player in the country. Greg was a good
quarterback in high school, but there was just no way of really
knowing whether he would be serviceable… Good… Or just another Alabama quarterback
who has great compliments around him. I think when you’re going through
a competition at the position, it’s really hard to focus on really
anything else and it was just, it was really more of an internal look
as to how I wanted to perform that year, as opposed to focusing on anybody else. We had practiced on the Friday
before spring break… And, I got with my family on that Friday
night after we had finished up the first practice and I said, “This
is mine. I got it.” Like, not even the slightest bit of doubt. I felt really confident
about my preparation. It wasn’t so much about what the
other quarterbacks were doing. I knew that I had done everything that
I had to possibly do to position myself to perform at a high level. I think Greg gets underrated. I think people got stuck on
the ‘game manager’ concept, and he’s saddled with that. And,
between that and being a ginger, it’s really a lot to carry through life.
But, the way that team was structured, the idea was not necessarily
to be an explosive offense. That’s not the way they won games.
They won games because Greg McElroy, who was a really good quarterback, was
surrounded by other really good players. A lot of first rounders. Look around.
Offensive line, tailbacks, wideouts… We brought James Carpenter in the
offensive line. William Vlachos goes in. Barrett Jones goes in. Mark Ingram. Trent
Richardson replaced Glen Coffee. So, we came in with that two-headed
monster at running back. I remember going out and having a really
good first day of spring against a really good defense. (laughs)
Seeing it myself… I’m like, if we can do it against these guys, we
can do it probably against anybody. So, I remember leaving for spring break, uh, after that first practice feeling pretty
confident about what we were going to have on offense, and my hold on,
on the starting quarterback spot. [inaudible] So… Virginia Tech, Atlanta. I can remember coming out being so
hyped up. Like, so jacked…. Like, too prepared. Way too much information
in my study in the week leading up. The Virginia Tech game was, uh,
a tone setter. And, honestly, what gets lost in it is the
message of where we were. You know, the Clemson game the year before kind
of announced us on the national scene. We’re not going to surprise Virginia Tech.
They know we’re a good football team. We’re also in the Georgia Dome, which is where we lost to Florida
the year before. And also, where we wanted to get back
to the end of that year. I just remember answering questions.
Kirk Herbstreit, didn’t know my name, but he walks by me and he
goes, “Hey, big man, big man — are y’all going to be any
good up front this year?” You know, I love Greg to death, but he wasn’t exactly gonna turn into
Cam Newton overnight. So it wasn’t, you know, it was like—
(laughs) I mean it is what it is. You know, it’s like the first time you’re, you’re taking a-a test of some sort. Like, you’re probably going to be
so over-prepared that the
wealth of information that you have at your disposal’s gonna
weigh you down. At that point, I remember just being so bogged down
with information and then realizing — this is just football.
Like, this is not calculus. I think he showed himself
to the rest of the world. I think we pretty much knew what Greg
was. Greg was very accurate quarterback. Greg, threw a nice deep ball… And, sure enough, we play great in
the second half in the passing game. Offense gets going, and we get a big play in the fourth
quarter to kind of open it up. You know, Coach Saban has got that crazy ability
to just make you focus on what you have to do, play and play out. You know, it wasn’t until afterwards
you look back and go, wow, we played four games in the Georgia Dome
over two years and played some pretty good football teams…
including Virginia Tech.

About the Author: Garret Beatty


  1. As of now, this is the greatest run in Saban history. However Tua and the boys will change that this year, 15-0 Roll Tide Roll.

  2. I remember the season like yesterday. I never thought I would I see our team win a National championship. Let alone 5 in the past 10 years. Crazy. I really think that the dynasty with saban is over. We have a weak defense. An overrated and huge bust at quarterback. We are not going to win another until we get back to playing great defense and winning games in the trenches. This air raid offense we have now, is not what we need. Especially with a quarterback that's average. He can throw but he cannot handle pressure. We are in serious trouble. Maybe he will prove me wrong. I hope he does but after Mississippi State, Georgia and Clemson. It doesn't look good.

  3. This will always be the greatest Alabama season of all time in my opinion. Born in 1987, this is the first one I really remember. And the fact it was perfect and we had our first heisman just adds to how magical a season it was. Thank you 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide for the greatest season I’ve ever experienced in my life.

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