By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – “Having success in a football program can have two effects. You can demand more success or you can get a little complacent and be relaxed about what you have accomplished, really thinking more about what you did rather than what you're going to do.”
Those are the words of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, explaining the unique situation facing his 2012 Crimson Tide football team. That paragraph, uttered at SEC Media Days in July, is at the heart of the “process” Saban has emphasized during his tenure in Tuscaloosa.
Those two effects, and how they permeate the roster, define programs like Alabama. The Crimson Tide isn’t your ordinary football team.
They are a college football institution.
Alabama finds itself among a small but elite group of programs in the country; teams so highly thought of that anything less than a National Championship is considered a disappointment. Since Saban’s arrival on campus back in 2007, the start of a new season in Tuscaloosa doesn’t bring hopes of a winning season; it brings the desire for another crystal ball.
We’ve seen this type of mantra at the professional level in recent years, prevalent with teams such as the New York Yankees, Miami Heat and New England Patriots. In those places greatness is expected, with careers defined not by individual achievements, but team hardware. The idea that their “failures” can mean “success” for others doesn’t matter; the standard has already been set. Players who play there understand it; the fans that watch live by it.
The college level is different, as each new season brings an entire class of new players along with it. Saban can’t count on having Derek Jeter for his entire career, or having Tom Brady under center for a decade. Eddie Lacy won’t stay in Tuscaloosa for six years like LeBron James will in Miami, and that makes the task of buying into the “process” all the more difficult.
You can make the argument that the current run Saban and company are on is one of the most impressive feats in recent sports history. The sheer number of players with a role in this four-year run is staggering.
Back when Alabama won the National Championship against Texas in 2010 (for the 2009 season), the names behind that success are now ancient history. Greg McElroy was the Tide’s quarterback, with Mark Ingram getting the bulk of the carries. Defensive lineman Marcel Dareus scored a touchdown, and Javier Arenas snagged an interception.
None of those players will suit up Monday night in Miami, illustrating Saban’s point of the “effect” and how you react to it.
Just 15 percent of this year’s Alabama team (17 out of 115) are seniors, players’ part of that first National Championship trip to Pasadena.
Since then, an array of new faces has replaced them. The list is endless, with droves of talent arriving in Tuscaloosa for a few years, and in most cases ending up in the National Football League after. Each year, with each new class, the “process” has to be reinstalled, as you begin anew with a group of fresh faces that arrive on the doorstep of Bryant-Denney Stadium.
The tricky part is making sure each year’s team doesn’t live off the success of those before them. TJ Yeldon can’t coast on the back of Trent Richardson’s accomplishments, and each team must learn to forge its own identity. That’s not an easy philosophy to pass along to teenagers, especially those so distinguished as high school athletes that they were given scholarships to compete in the Southeastern Conference.
The easy choice would be to not work as hard, share in the spoils of a previous year’s championship run and enjoy college life. However, Saban demands more, and each year finds a way to inspire them to new heights.
The “effect” works both ways, as can be seen in Alabama’s history. After that first championship in 2009 (won in Pasadena in 2010), the next year’s team was overcome with the weight of expectation.
While still a strong season, 10-3 with a Capital One Bowl win, the hope of a repeat was erased in early November with a second loss to LSU. That was followed by a gut wrenching defeat to arch rival Auburn, as the Tide failed to hold on to a 24-0 lead.
Fast forward to this year.
Entering 2012, the Crimson Tide was fresh off a National Championship win. The bar was once again set high, with Alabama on the lofty perch their fans are accustomed to. The question of “effect” reared its head again, as a new team looked to define itself among the greatness that came before them.
How would Alabama react? Which side of the “effect” would take place?
That question has been answered. The Crimson Tide has advanced to the BCS National Championship Game, with an opportunity to win its third National Championship in four years. The stage in Miami is set, with old rival Notre Dame standing in the way.
Not that the ride to Sun Life Stadium was smooth. Alabama dropped a home game to Texas A&M, and needed every second to defeat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. But, most importantly, the 2012 edition of the Crimson Tide has found their own identity, forged not on the backs of previous heroes, but on the strength of its own determination.
Cause and effect is the most basic principle of philosophy. It is the study of what happens to you, and how you react to it. As Saban said, whether you look backward or charge forward.
No matter what happens Monday night, this year’s Alabama team is moving full speed ahead. Will the results of the “effect” end in championship glory?
We shall see.