Gators have to stop a great Tide team

by Gary Shelton on December 16, 2020

in general

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

Back then, they were lea\d by a somber head coach with an uncommon drive. That's still true.

Back then, they poured talent onto the field in waves. Sound familiar?

Back then, they ruled the SEC to the point where everyone else was playing for second place. Yeah, that's pretty much the same.

The years have passed, but things at the University of Alabama have not changed. Then, it was a leather-skinned coach named Paul Bryant. Now, it is the will of a one named Nick Saban. If you want, you can debate which dynasty is more impressive.

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Every year, including this one, they are near the top of the recruiting rankings. Every year, they flirt with the No. 1 ranking. Every year, except for last year, they make the college football playoffs.

In college football, empires have risen and fallen. Miami ruled the day for a while. And Southern Cal. Notre Dame. Ohio State. Nebraska. Florida State. But few programs rise to the top of the mountain twice.

Alabama has.

Which is Florida's quest in Saturday's SEC title game. The Gators have to try to knock them off.

If you're the Gators, you should be aware of the Tide's dominance. After all, your own run of excellence was mostly in the years between Bryant and Saban. Once Saban established himself in Tuscaloosa, the team recaptured the SEC.

A long time ago, back when dinosaurs were puppies and before Lynyrd Skynard made music, I covered Alabama for the Columbus Enquirer. Bryant had wrinkles older than I was, but he would sit, and he would patiently answer whatever questions I would have.

I covered that team in 1978 and 1979, Bryant's last two national championships. I thought it was remarkable how his players answered questions as if he was leaning over their shoulders as they spoke, fearful of what he might say. I heard the jokes about his cigarettes, about his love of alcohol, but he was something of a John Wayne figure, filled with swagger and Southernisms.

Those teams were a model of efficiency with their tearaway jerseys and their mass substitutions. And the fans, like the fans of every top college program, felt entitled to their deed on Saturdays.

I remember working late into the night one night and overheard two men behind me talking about the Tide's path to the title.

"You know," the first of them said, "Alabama could lose to Auburn."

"Yeah," the other guy said. "But not in our lifetime."

Sometimes, it seems that way. (While I was covering Alabama, I completed my degree at Auburn). This week, in particular, when Alabama is cruising toward the playoffs again, and Auburn has paid major dollars so Gus Malzahn won''t coach them anymore. The state belongs to Alabama. Heck, the conference belongs to Alabama.

So here they are again, on the border to another lifetime season. They have great players -- Mac Jones and Devonta Smith and Najee Harris and a half-dozen other future millionaires.

Florida has to try to stop all of that. They have to hope Kyle Trask can outduel Jones, and the team can find enough defense to pull an upset.

After all, Florida could win.

But not in our lifetime.

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