2009: The Beginning, Part 3 | Looking back at Alabama’s first championship season under Nick Saban

2009: The Beginning, Part 3 | Looking back at Alabama’s first championship season under Nick Saban


It was the best feeling in the world, to know that 12 months of frustration, 12 months of preparation, were paying off right in front of us. We really did have to take it one game at a time. Because the SEC that year was an absolute gantlet. We were so good at focusing on what we had to do that week… You know, that’s Saban’s thing — You don’t focus on the horizon, you don’t focus on the end goal. You focus on what you have to do to get there. But there was never a doubt that it would be Florida. We had pictures of them everywhere. We had pictures of them holding SEC signs, with, you know, confetti coming down… It was the game that we had
envisioned since we lost vs them in 08. That was our motivation. That failure. And when we’d get tired, or when we were like running sprints or lifting, like, it
was all like — What we gotta do to be better than Florida? What we gotta do to get back to that position where can redeem ourselves again? And we wanted ’em. I mean, that was — That was what we worked every day for. They were in the middle of a dynasty. It would have been a complete letdown to play anybody else in that SEC Championship. I have never felt better going into a game. I knew our plan was sound. We had a great week of practice. We had focused all off-season on what we were going to do… And I knew we were gonna go out there and play our best game of the season. When we got to that day, that game I remember the emotions were high in the locker room. Multiple guys were emotional before the
game. Like, you know, it meant a lot to us. It was exactly like the year before in
terms of lead up because it was more or less a national semifinal when we didn’t have the playoff. But, uh, you could tell sort of a shift in the feeling of who Alabama was nationally, and certainly the feel of what Alabama was to to its fan base — Because, the success of Saban had kind of sunk in. You know, a loss wasn’t acceptable at that point. I wasn’t just, you know, feeling like Alabama was SO much better than everybody else… But, I do remember thinking that it’s
going to be hard to beat Nick twice in that same game. I mean this — this was the
moment where the whole country just stopped and took a deep breath and — and watched the SEC. There’s never been two championship games like that. Alabama had a lot of good players, with a lot of good memories… Meaning, they remembered what happened the year before. And, I remember thinking to myself, them going into this game — If Florida’s gonna win this one… They’re gonna have to bring their lunch. I was supremely confident. The first play, as we came out of the game… We had Julio in the slot — which was the first time he’d been in the slot all year. He runs an over route. Kind of — kind of held up for a second, moved to my right just a touch, and then threw it to Julio over the top. And, he had created like a mile’s worth of separation between him and their best corner. Like that’s it. We got ’em. Ted Roof’s defense at Auburn, like I said, had a lot of success the week before. And, as much success as they had, you knew that Florida would probably do something very
similar, right? Like how could you not? And, sure enough, what we practiced came out perfectly. The defense collapses, they go to five down linemen, and Mark Ingram punches one in from about eight or ten yards out. I felt like everything we did worked. I mean it really was, like a, you know, you
come out for this— what you think’s gonna be a fistfight, and really… it felt like we landed haymaker after haymaker. Sometimes when you start the game well offensively, I feel like we’d exhale, like… (exhales) Man, that’s good. Alright, we’re off and running, let’s go… But, with Florida… I remember the mentality always being like — That’s not enough. That’s not enough, we gotta go get more. Because that guy on the other side, and that team on the other side, they’re not gonna go quietly. Even though… You knew Alabama was ascending, you weren’t sure. It’s still Tim Tebow. It was still Florida. I just remember going into that game… just on a personal level — I — I did not like Tim Tebow. I didn’t like him at all. I think it’s pretty clear that at that, uh, at that point I was very aware of who Alabama prioritized their recruiting. Um… I didn’t like all the accolades that he got. And, I wanted a shot at him… On a personal level, I did. And, I was really really excited to see that week that the narrative was, the only difference between Alabama and Florida was the quarterback. I’m not saying he wasn’t a better college player than me, I know that. I’m not — not that
dumb… But, I also know that it was particularly satisfying playing well, and doing some things that — that he did throughout the course of his college career that made him so special… It was fun to do some of those things myself. It’s funny because, there’s a fourth quarter drill that we do throughout the Fourth Quarter Program,
where you quite literally hop on one leg for like 15 yards. And, Coach Cochran, he’s like — ‘YEAH YEAH YEAH! HEY– I TOLD YOU YOU WERE GONNA USE IT!’ Like, alright Coach, I get it man — Like, that was clearly self-preservation right there at its finest. And frankly, me ending up on one leg, was more because I just couldn’t
quite keep both feet on the ground. And, just looking back on it, like, I can’t
believe I was able to do that. It was like, like — who WAS that guy? Like, it was just… it was just such a mentality of whatever it takes in this game. I think the biggest play for me… We ran a, sort of, trick play… where Greg kind of half rolls right… and he sets up camp and looks back to the other side of the field… Like, Greg threw the ball over Peek’s head and Peek ended up catching it like this — it was on the front of
Sports Illustrated just like this. And, it was just like, I can’t believe that just worked. You know, like — Here’s the number one defense in the country, uh…and somehow that just worked. There were so many times… where they could have climbed back into it, and against worse teams they would have. But, that team was uniquely special with the intangibles that we had, and how much we cared about each other, and — and how much
we had put into that game… is that we just wouldn’t have it. As good as Tebow was of a quarterback, Rolando McClain was that good of a linebacker… and just everything they did, it seemed like we had an answer for. And we just… We had a ton of success, um… doing things that we were good at… which was running the football,
and keeping it away from them. (Announcer) “How bout the night for Greg McElroy?” “How bout the loss for Tim Tebow…” There’s always something fun about kneeling on the football. Like, kneeling on the football’s the best. You could see, like a kid from Texas… got here, and got revenge against Florida in his first year a starting quarterback and… Um…you could kind of tell that he kind of knew that this was the place where he
was supposed to be. I think the realization of that win was — was this… That Urban Meyer was no longer the king. That Nick Saban was. And…what would happen in the future… And it didn’t take long to settle that debate. You know, that was a great feeling for us… and I feel like, throughout my whole career, even though I won national championship that was the biggest win that we had at
Alabama. This is the one you have fought for, forever. I mean — and it’s your favorite football game — it’s my favorite football game I’ve ever played in. And, we felt like we were on top of the world. I mean we really did. It was just so gratifying. And to see the happiness with Coach at that point… You know, he was not a guy that showed a lot of personality you know, to that point. (laughs) He would occasionally smile, but that was
for the camera, and that was about it. But, to see him genuinely happy, was
something I wouldn’t forget as well. I mean, he was genuinely happy, genuinely
proud of us, and, it was worth it. Like, the last 11 months, 12 months were hell… but man they were worth it. Because this feeling of elation will never be able to be replicated. Like we can win in a couple weeks but, it wasn’t gonna be the same because we never made it about the team we were going to play… We made it about the team that we just beat, and — and that was, by far, the most gratifying feeling that I can recall as a player. (Announcer) “In the closest race ever…” “The 2009 Heisman Trophy is awarded to…” “Mark Ingram of the University of Alabama.” (applause) The Heisman, when I got to Alabama, was
not something that happened. And there we were, had just beaten the reigning national champs, and Mark Ingram had won the Heisman. I just remember thinking, I never
in a million years, thought this would happen in my life. It’s like, crazy, that they never had Heisman Trophy winner out all the All-Americans they’ve had, and
all the championships… To be able to do that, uh…it was a blessing. And, I couldn’t of did it without the support of many people. There was this special bond between him and us… In his speech he thanks his offensive line — You know, “thank you to my offensive line”… And I — I cried. Like, I teared up and cried. I feel like that award was… You know, I won it, but a lot of people had their hands in it. To be able to fill that trophy case for, um, the Alabama legacy, and all the Alabama fans, and my family… You know, my teammates, my coaches… To be able to do that, that was wild. Being in college, and winning those championships and winning those awards with my guys… and um… Those are moments I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. To be honest with you, I think it took us probably a solid week or two, to where we really felt that drive to go back and compete. We knew the importance of the game
because it was the national championship, that’s essentially what we wanted. Um, but… Beating Florida, like I said, I feel like that was our biggest win. It’s so funny, because Coach made us watch the movie ‘Miracle’, uh, before the game… because, the U.S. beat the Soviets in the semifinal game, not in the championship. So like… (laughs) He had to kinda — Like, we — we kinda won the Super Bowl against Florida. You know, we just had to make sure that we stayed on point, because we were so excited coming off of a big win. Anytime that you come off a big win like that, you got to be — you got to be aware of not having a — a let down. All of a sudden, it was full go. You know, we — It didn’t matter that was Christmas, didn’t matter that it was New Year’s. None of it mattered. I mean, it was all about football. And, I don’t think we felt stressed… I think we just felt like this is —
this is, you know, our destiny. Like, we’re gonna be able to do this. I mean, this was… This was an epic confrontation of of not only two of the biggest names in
college football, but two of the loudest fan bases. And, it was at the Rose Bowl… I’ve covered a lot of college football, but I don’t remember a game that I was more excited about. I mean, this was really one of these defining moments in in time, and the game lived up to it. (Announcer) “You look down at this beautiful scene here in Pasadena…” “Two unbeatens, ready to battle for the heavyweight championship of college football…” Mentally, physically… I mean, literally I had prepared my entire life for that. And I just felt like we could not possibly be in a better position to do this than we are right now, with the group of guys we have. And, everything that you had prepared for… Everything you expected the game to look
like… Went by the wayside, as soon as Colt went down. I thought it could have been a classic national championship game had Colt still been playing and healthy. Uh, but… you know what? That’s football, right? We also weren’t sure exactly whether or not he was going to be coming back… but when he wasn’t on the sideline, everyone was kind of like alright, well… We’re going ultra-conservative. And, I can remember vividly having that conversation. Like — When it shifts from… Hey, we’re gonna be aggressive, we’ve got to go out there and we’ve gotta match ’em…to… Hey, we have an advantage in the trenches. We’re not gonna throw it unless we have to. There’s no need to. So, like — the game was kind of transitioning right to where our strengths lie. And, I remember feeling pretty excited about celebrating that thing. Once we scored before halftime… You go in the locker room, it’s raucous. You know, everybody’s just losing their minds… like we just scored a touchdown… We’re up by two touchdowns in the
national title game… I remember everyone in the locker room being like — ‘Dude….how big?!’ Like, ‘This is so great.’ Like — and, of course Coach is trying to rally us, but, you know, we’re 21 years
old. We’re… we’re celebrating already. I, as a captain, as a — you know, a guy who wanted to be a leader, it’s like, Okay, how do I put a lid on this? Like, hey, this game is only halfway over. Late in the game, you know, Garrett Gilbert had done you know, his thing… and, you know, it wasn’t necessarily out of reach… and I remember thinking — I think Texas was down 3, and got the ball back… I remember thinking… holy crap. We felt good about our playing of the field position game at that point. I knew we were gonna get aggressive defensively, and that’s when Eric Anders came off the right side Upshaw falls on it, and we’re running on the field going… If we can score a touchdown right here on, you know… from the 3-yard line we should be able to put it away. When you’re in it, and you’re going through the gauntlet of the season, it’s like, forget everybody else. All that matters is these 125 guys in the coaches. And, when we got done, I do remember there being that shift… and, it’s like, man we didn’t do this just for us. Like, we did this for the state. I must have hugged everybody in the dang football building. I hugged, you know, Coach Saban, and Greg,
and all my linemen, and — They hand Coach Saban the crystal ball, and I don’t know if it ever made it on the telecast, but, I looked at Rolando and Mark, and I was
like, you know — You won the Butkus Award, you won the Heisman… Like, how about y’all let me get this ball first? Like, how bout y’all let me kiss it first. And, Rolando goes… “Give it to Mike, Coach.” “Give it to Mike.” “Give it to Mike.” And, he just watches it cross his face with his eyeballs… and he puts it down into my hands — Coach Saban puts it down in my hands, and I just smooched it. And, I was like, this is the greatest day ever. It was awesome bringing it back to — The crystal ball, national championship, back to Tuscaloosa. I remember when we pulled in, uh… you know, driving down the strip in
Tuscaloosa, there was people everywhere. At the airport, people were everywhere… Just going to class, the students were you know — they loved it. The teachers… the whole campus was just on fire. The feeling was that, this was the team that had staying power. You knew they were going to be back next year, and the year after and… They would just start racking them up at that point…. (Nick Saban) “But I want everybody here to
know…” “This is not the end…” “This is the beginning.” (crowd cheers) It was the beginning of, I’ll say, today the greatest accomplishment in the history of college football, and what
he’s been able to do with these five national championships. At some point, it just became second nature to us to outwork everybody. It was just an incredible, incredible group of guys that weren’t all five-stars. Like, we weren’t all even four-stars. A lot of us were three-stars. But, we bought in. I mean, that’s something that does not happen just by recruiting, or by coaching, or by
just, you know, winning football games. You have to instill that. To see them go on
and have even more success over the last decade now, has been remarkable. I don’t know that it’ll ever really hit me. You know, it’s just — The 10 year reunion’s gonna be pretty emotional. Um… seeing a lot of guys haven’t in a long time, we did a lot of special things with. I think we’ll probably hammer it home a lot more than it ever has been. There’s something about that group, and the nucleus that was created within that group, and the chip that was on that group’s shoulder, and… just how close we became over the course of a 14-game season, that even if you’ve lost
touch with guys, you’re still so proud of what they’re doing in the world, and
you’re proud that we were able to share you know, those couple years together, and specifically the 2009 season together.

About the Author: Garret Beatty

10 Comments

  1. Long time #Republican Nick Saban says "it's an Honor" for #TRUMP2020 to attend Alabama-LSU game. A #WIN SATURDAY, AND THEN A #WIN IN 2020!!

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