2009: The Beginning, Part 2 | Looking back at Alabama’s first championship season under Nick Saban

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We were getting to the point of the
season where we needed a break. Like, we needed a bye week. Bad. Everyone was just a little bit on edge
because we hadn’t performed offensively the way we would have liked it
dating back to the Kentucky game. So, it was like a four game stretch there
where it was like, eh, you know, we… Kentucky was rough and then
Ole Miss was not very good. And then comes, you know, South Carolina. Saturday night game on
ESPN. Nationally televised. South Carolina had a great team
coming in, coached by Spurrier. South Carolina was always a tough
football team, and that’s the, the best thing I can say is—
they were hard-nosed. Like, they were always ready to play us. Full disclosure, I had never experienced
adversity in my life as a player. I’ve never lost a game as a starter. Like, never started a game with my first
attempt being an interception. Like, that never happened. So I can remember
vividly on the first attempt of the game, trying to like check it down to Roy
Upchurch and he breaks the right… He fires over the middle… It’s
intercepted by South Carolina. I try to throw it late over the
middle. I throw it right where Roy was, not where Roy was going. And
then, the rest of the game, I was just seeing ghosts…
Like, the whole time. Play action… McElroy. Wants
it all. Going deep… And, it is almost intercepted. Whoops! High snap… Loose ball.
Look out! McElroy throws on the run…It’s been a tough night for
number 12. McElroy… Look out! They got him this time,
and the ball’s out… We struggled from the get-go
against this defense. But, there there came a point we just
put our foot down and said, okay, enough’s enough. We’re going to get the ball in
our best football player’s hands, and put it behind the offensive
line, and see if we can get it done. Mark Ingram now in the
wildcat formation… is just going to take the direct snap
and take off. And he might take off… Wow! Why not? Why not? That one particular drive,
I think they handed— I got the ball like six times
in a row. We run a wildcat, so we just kept running the plays,
calling different runs out of it, and were able to run down the field… 3rd and a yard… And Mark’s got 15… Mark’s got
10…Mark’s got 20… And it’s like, are we really about to do
this against this defense? They ride the handoff to Julio Jones,
and Ingram heading to the left side… looking for a block… down
the sideline… Ingram… All the way to 1st and goal. We was able to move the ball.
We were able to move the ball, out of the wildcat somehow… And now it’s a stadium
record. 242 for Mark Ingram. We got down to like the 2 or 3-yard line
and they threw me a toss and finished the drive off… Ingram… Touchdown! And that kinda helped push us
past that hump of that game, and getting the win. I celebrated… It is the
ugliest celebration of all time. I literally did the worst like
jump scissor kick… Like, and I only got this far off the ground. And number 22 is the hero of the night. I remember just being so thankful after
that game, but yet feeling so guilty. Looking back on it, learning
how to deal with adversity, learning how to deal
with a really slow start. That was something I never
really knew how to do. I’m also just really lucky to have had
a running game and a defense on my side that, that can bail me out of a really, really impossible spot that I put them in. It’s just, it’s a microcosm in my
opinion of what that entire season was. There was some struggles,
there were some ups and downs. We had a good football team, and in the end we put our foot
down and were able to get it done. The Crimson Tide are 7-0, and 4-0 atop the SEC West. What’s funny about the
Tennessee game… I don’t, I don’t remember a whole lot about it. Just didn’t feel like a big game.
Uh, Lane Kiffin vs Nick Saban. It’s not Rockne vs Bryant. It was Lane’s only year, um, in Knoxville. Lane was a lightning rod for a lot
of— a lot of attention. You know, and had been brash… But, I remember them saying
that there are no headphones. The headsets are not working on the
Tennessee side. That’s what I thought… Alabama will probably
have to take theirs off… Tennessee headsets are malfunctioning. Therefore both teams will have to
remove their headsets til the problem is fixed. There’s someone that disabled
their headphones, and it
wasn’t an Alabama person. I’m convinced of it. Like, that’s just
my conspiracy theorist point of view. So, McElwain is going to have to come down
onto the field. I’m like, we’re good. I got the first eight down. I got
the first 3rd down down… But, they brought a blitz on the third play
of the game they hadn’t run before… Watch out McElroy… Eric Berry! Untouched. And was it, was it cheap? Yeah, like… to get us feeling a little antsy
with the headphones going down early, I think was a little
bit of gamesmanship. I remember being completely
out of gas as a team, and I remember getting in the red zone
a few times and not being able to get in the end zone, and us being
just so incredibly frustrated. It was still a game where you felt
like, that for the first 3 quarters, Alabama was in control of the
game. And then, all of a sudden, you get in the 4th quarter
and you’re like, man, they’re going to lose this game, they
could absolutely lose this game… Cause they’re not being efficient. Not scoring on offense
like they need to score. Thankfully Lee Tiffin, makes
a couple of long kicks… Kind of puts us in good position, but you
still never felt comfortable about it. A 9 point lead against Tennessee that
year felt like an insurmountable lead for a team. You know, the one thing we didn’t do
was fumble the football. Mark Ingram, I don’t think he had a fumble all
season until that Tennessee game. Yeah, I think a 100-yard game’s important
for Ingram for the Heisman talk… Now, he uh– picked up a few
right there. There’s a fumble… Never fumbled before…
Never lost a fumble… Everything that happened after that
was so improbable. It was like, there’s no way this is going to
happen… Oh my God, that just happened. Sure enough… They go down, score, on like a two minute drive
towards the end of the game. This is Gerald Jones…
Touchdown Tennessee! And then, sure enough,
they get the onside kick. Tennessee, I think… Yes! Oh no, you gotta be kidding
me… If we lose to Tennessee, and we scored 12 points,
that’s the worst thing ever. The next thing you know it’s like,
dang, they’re in field goal range… Crompton. Good block… It’s caught! I mean, I was sick to my stomach.
And, I actually turned— when they lined up for the kick, I turned around to the opposite end zone, the jumbo-tron in the corner
of the end zone… And I just, I remember being like, ‘I’m not watching.’ Like, I can remember vividly
thinking to myself… Like, there is no chance this ball’s
going through the uprights. Lincoln for the lead… BLOCKED AGAIN.
CODY AGAIN. Oh my… ALABAMA WINS! Elation is not even a good enough word.
I mean, I literally fell to a knee, said a Hail Mary and then ran out
on the field like, ‘Oh my God, what just happened?’ I thought Alabama had lost. I was just
in a state of shock afterward. Like, I cannot believe they won the game. You can do the geometry. The
ball couldn’t have been— What would Terrence Cody’s
vertical leap have been 2?… 2.5? Julio was 13 feet in the air
behind him. It’s unbelievable. Coach Bryant once told me, you got
to have a little schedule luck. You gotta have a little injury luck.
Doesn’t matter how good you are. All, you can do is get the best players,
prepare them to play the best you can. Gotta have a little luck. There’s usually a moment
like that in a season, uh, when you win a national championship…
Not always, but, uh… that was it. But, as the season went— moved on,
it— it became just a footnote… As all Tennessee games have become. The Iron Bowl is hard to really sum up
until you’ve lived it as a starter. To feel the intensity of the rivalry, knowing that you were going to
have to go out there and perform, was on another level. It was my first Iron Bowl as a head coach,
right? What I do remember is that… We just came off a real tough 7-point
loss to Georgia two weeks earlier, and then we had an off week. And,
the year before, they got beat 36-0. Yeah, it was kind of hard to
take Auburn too seriously. The 08 season was such a
disaster. New coach in… So, Alabama fans were feeling pretty good. We put together a game plan and we
really felt solid. And matter of fact, I told them that we’re going to score
first in the game. And immediately, when we score first, we have
an onside kick built in. We’re gonna surprise on sidekick.
We’re going to go and get the ball, and go down and score again. That’s
how the game is going to unfold. Like you’ve done all year… Trickery…
Little pitch, coming around the edge… Zachary… 50… 40… WATCH OUT– 30…
Makes a cut back… 20… Zachary… 15… 10… 5… Touchdown! I said, ‘When we score, nobody, look at me.’ I don’t want anybody
giving away anything that might happen. Like, we don’t know where the
cameras are. It’s business as usual. You know when we huddle up on the
sideline, you know what we’re doing. We don’t even need to call it. Onside kick… All the tricks
coming out in Iron Bowl 74. It was clear that they
weren’t intimidated. And, and I think in year one for Gene Chizik, that was actually really
important for those players. And we actually went up 14-0. We just knew that the only way we could
defensively stay in the game was to make sure that we matched the
physicality blow for blow. They had two first
round picks at tailback, at least in our eyes – Mark
Ingram and Trent Richardson. And, we didn’t care how many people we
had to stack up around the box. If they were going to beat us, they
had to beat us throwing the ball. …and Ingram…one, two,
three, four, five. My goodness. They have been on him all day. Ted Roof was their defensive coordinator.
He was like, we told our kids, no matter what happened, that Mark Ingram was not gonna win the
Heisman in Jordan-Hare Stadium. And, he won the Heisman, but it definitely wasn’t because of
what happened at Jordan-Hare Stadium. You know, it’s, it’s like we always
say… Defensive guys always say that, you know, ‘You go into a plan, and if they beat you at something
that you know they’re great at…’ ‘If you don’t take that away, you
regret it on Sunday morning.’. We took it away, we took it away… Nothing, absolutely nothing up the gut. All of a sudden, we’re standing on the Alabama sideline
at the end of the game going… ‘Are they going to blow this— blow a
shot at winning a national championship?’ We couldn’t seem to
finish any drives. Like, we were able to get into the red zone
but had to settle for a couple of field goals… And then, it’s 21-20, and we’re backed up with our backs
to their student section. But, I remember looking up at the clock
and it being under 10 minutes, and thinking to ourselves like, ‘man,
we’ve got to put something together here.’ We literally had field position. We had everything we wanted in the 4th
quarter, and they start this ‘drive’. That ‘drive’ is as memorable a drive as
I can remember of that era. You could tell from the
moment Alabama got the ball, they were going to get the
job done. And it was— it was like death by a thousand cuts. 3rd down & three… he’s wide open….
There he is… McElroy, good protection, the catch… McElroy throws…caught…
play clock at 6… McElroy sets up and throws…Jones… [Inaudible] In motion….We’re gonna
stay on the ground…past the 5-yard line goes Richardson… I remember everything that
was not happening right for
these guys for three and a half quarters, is happening right now. We get down there, and we hadn’t thrown
a goal line pass all year. Like it just, Mark was running it… Offensive
line was a road grader… Like, we just didn’t throw a
goal line passes… And, this wasn’t quite in a goal line
situation, it was just inside the 5… But Coach says, ‘Hey,
we’re going to throw it. We’re gonna do the Upchurch throw.’ One of my favorite teammates, and I just remember when they made
that play call on the sideline, and we ran out… I thought, oh my God, he is about to be an
Alabama hero for this play. The formation is
Near-I-Left-Peter-Pass-Right-X-Corner.
And, it was… It was one of
those plays that we had run every single week of the season.
And, sure enough, week 12 — we’re finally pulling
it out of the arsenal. We said if they’re going to beat us,
that’s how they’re going to beat us. And, we stopped the run that day. But, that
one drive with the game on the line, you know, made all the difference. It’s just, you know, Greg puts
this— It wasn’t, like, a line drive. It wasn’t like a floater. It was
just the most perfect ball. And, to have that kind of moment just— I know that had to have
been heartbreaking for them, cause that was one of the
best moments of my life. It was one of those scenarios where we
had every opportunity to close the door and win it. And you know, we, we didn’t, that’s why they were the national champs. To have them, you know, get
punched in the face repeatedly… and then take the ball and go down the
field with everything on the line… I think that was, I’d say, a
statement drive for Greg McElroy, for Nick Saban, and I would say the program
because you saw at that point, after the disappointment in 08
and the SEC Championship game, that team kind of had
that killer instinct. A couple plays later,
knocked down the Hail Mary, and then we’re into the
SEC Championship at 12-0. … And Alabama, stays undefeated. Frankly, you know, great players make
great plays when games are on the line. We made them beat us left handed… The
problem is they beat us left handed. That’s what happened.

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