Manns relish Alabama’s championship in Pasadena

Published 4:40 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I awoke, somewhat late, to a beautiful, sunny southern California morning on Jan. 8, wondering if it were all a dream. I realized that it was in fact true when I discovered that I had no voice, and still had the taste of the previous night’s victory cigar lingering on my palate…..If words could only describe! I will attempt to do so here.

The venue was awe inspiring, perfect weather, the towering San Gabriel Mountains looming over the northeast end of the stadium. The Rose Bowl itself is the most sacred ground in American football. As you walk out of the tunnel, look down onto the field, and listen and peek carefully you can almost see visions of Johnny Mack Brown, Fred Sington, Dixie Howell, Don Hutson and a young scrappy fellow by the name of Paul Bryant forging the Crimson Tide tradition in the days of leather helmets. Believe me it takes your breath away!

You don’t live to see many games of this magnitude. I was still in diapers in 1973 when undefeated Alabama met undefeated Notre Dame for the first time, for all the marbles. Though I was in grade school, I remember the build up to the 1979 Sugar bowl with Penn State, and parts of the game itself. I am still kicking myself for not making more effort to attend the 1993 Sugar Bowl game versus Miami, a game that was played my senior year at the University.

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That mistake was not repeated this time!

As game time approached, the butterflies began to mount. I do not know how the players slept the night before. It is bad enough on someone pushing forty, but it seems cruel to put this much pressure on 19 and 20 year olds. Such is the way in the big business of college football these days.

The game itself was not a classic. Bama had spurts of good play and bad, the same for Texas. The Longhorns grabbed the momentum early, stuffing the Tide and sacking QB Greg McElroy multiple times. No doubt it took Alabama longer to work out the early game jitters. The key play came in the first several plays of the Horns first drive, when defensive end Marcel Dareus hit star Texas QB Colt McCoy on a short running play, knocking him out of the game permanently.

Late in the first period Alabama mounted a drive behind the running of Mark Ingram and the blocking of a powerful offensive line. Early in the second quarter the Tide punctuated this drive with a touchdown and a lead that it would never relinquish.

Final score 37-21!

A wild celebration followed. I was hugging complete strangers in the rows in front and behind me. The accomplishments of this team are unparalleled in the rich history of Alabama football. This is the first Bama team to win 14 games in a season. The road to the BCS championship was certainly the most treacherous, requiring wins against the No. 1 and No. 2 teams, in successive games, both of which were undefeated themselves at the time. Other opponents such as LSU and Virginia Tech were ranked in the top ten when Alabama played them. The Tide had its first Heisman Trophy winner, Mark Ingram, and boasted six All-Americans, a feat that we have accomplished only once before, 1964. And the cherry on top? Finally defeating an old nemesis, the Texas Longhorns, a tradition rich program of its own that Bama had failed to beat in eight previous tries, in the hallowed grounds of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where our championship pedigree began on New Years Day 1926!

I cannot help but think back to the events of recent years, and how so much has changed from the beginning of the last decade, to the end. This is not my first trip to Pasadena. My first was incidentally, the first game Alabama played this decade. No. 3 Alabama lost that day to UCLA and was a bust, finishing 3-8 in 2000. Little did we know it at the time, the NCAA was already sniffing around the program following the signing of Albert Means. DuBose was fired. Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer openly bragged that “Alabama will be out of business soon.” Crippling NCAA sanctions ensued. Franchione stood us up. Then there was the disgrace of the stillborn Mike Price Bama era. Mike Shula proved to be over-matched. Six straight losses to our instate rival. It seemed as if the plague of bad luck and scandal would never end.

Then Nick Saban was hired. We all knew that he would win, but following a disgraceful loss to Louisiana-Monroe in 2007 that seemed to be a long way away.

Can you believe that Alabama returned to Pasadena at the end of the 2009 season, and once and for all, exorcised the demons of the most tumultuous decade in our history? Number one, number-ever-lovin’-one!

Morgan Mann is a 1993 University of Alabama graduate and works for Mann & Associates, CPAs in Greenville.