Alabama Football

The Best National Championship Game That Almost Didn’t Happen

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It’s now been a few days since the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs met in the College Football Playoffs national championship game. However, it still does not feel as though it’s real. What we witnessed on Monday night (really Tuesday morning), could very well go down as one of the greatest endings in college football history. As far as games goes, I still struggle with going back and forth between this and the USC/Texas BCS Championship in 2005. But in terms of overall theatrics, bizarre plot twists, and the baseball-esque walk-off ending, it’s hard to go against this one.

But, this never would have happened if arguably the greatest college football coach hadn’t have made what could have been seen as the biggest coaching blunder of his life, into the best decision that saved the day, and added to the legend of Nick Saban.

For the entire first half, Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts was struggling mightily to move the ball through the air. The pressure had to be mounting as the chatter around Tuscaloosa and among the Alabama fan community was whether or not Jalen was the man to lead the Tide in a victory over the Bulldogs. Whether or not that was the case, he played as poorly as he had played all season long, which left Saban with a decision to either let the leader find his way in the second half after some halftime adjustments, or go with the uber-talented true freshman, Tua Tagovailoa.

Ultimately, the choice to go with Tua was not a difficult one as Saban has proven over time he will do what it takes to win the game. This move and this decision was tantamount to the onside kick against Clemson just two years prior. What this did was inject instant life into not only the team, but the fans throughout the stadium who knew the skill set Tua presented.

Had Saban chose to follow his proven leader in Hurts and let the chips fall in the second half, who knows what the outcome could have been. Would we have seen the Raekwon Davis interception? Would the thrilling runs by Najee Harris have come in the same fashion? Would the nail-biting, almost game-winning kick by Andy Pappanastos been a possibility?

And more importantly…

The epicness of the overtime final drive. You see, Alabama (at least under Saban), doesn’t get the overly exciting victories like this. Yes, the 2009 Iron Bowl final drive was great, and while I almost had a heart attack, there was still time left on the clock for one of the luckiest teams in college football history to pull something out.

But this? This was bottom of the 9th, bases loaded, down 5-2, with an 0-2 count. Tua Tagavailoa stepped up for his final pitch and hit a grand slam over the center field fence with as perfect of a pass to Devonta Smith as I’ve ever seen to walk off in dramatic fashion. Ball game.

None of this happens without Saban and the belief that he has in his team. The belief he has in Tua, and the belief he has in Jalen to be so selfless and knowing he would be supportive in helping Tua win this game for the Tide.

This game was an instant classic, but it doesn’t happen without the craziness that is college football.

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