As Jalen Hurts said in his farewell to Tuscaloosa on Wednesday, this is end of a chapter, not the end of the story.
The chapter, though, was remarkable even it was just measured from Atlanta in January 2018 to Atlanta again in December, a story of rise and fall and rise in complete symmetry. The just-concluded College Football Playoff, in which Hurts played sparingly in two Alabama games, was a coda to the main work — yet it was also a prelude, in a way, as he saw playing time against his new team in his new home.
Much of what can be said was said after the SEC Championship Game. The news that Hurts would play for Oklahoma in 2019 was the final entry in his Alabama ledger, one that most Alabama fans consider overwhelmingly positive.
So what happens now that the ship has sailed? The vast throng on the dock, some waving, some weeping, some standing to talk for a time, all eventually turn and head for home. The voyage is no longer their voyage. The next day awaits and there is work to be done.
There had been a general sense Hurts would play elsewhere in 2019, even as 2018 unfolded. Lightning didn’t suddenly strike. Tua Tagovailoa has not suddenly become “The Man.” He’s been The Man for a year now, because he has earned that position.
Mac Jones, who will enter spring as Alabama’s backup quarterback, knew that was coming well before Wednesday’s announcement. The situation in 2018, with a highly-credentialed backup, was extraordinary. College teams rarely enjoy a season with such an accomplished backup (two, actually, considering that Tagovailoa was the 2017 backup.) The 2019 season will see Alabama in the same boat as the other teams with a proven-star veteran at quarterback (only a few teams even have that much) and young, less experienced backups.
That raises questions that are different, but still intriguing. How will the coaching staff handle Tua’s reps? How much work will go to Jones, or Layne Hatcher or Braxton Barker? What sort of chance will there be for December signees Paul Tyson and Taulia Tagovailoa to earn playing time? How can sportswriters ever write a comprehensible quarterback column that involves both Tua Tagovailoa and Taulia Tagovailoa? It’s going to have to be a first-name thing, like LeBron and Kobe and the AP Stylebook goes out the window.
Tua’s toughness isn’t a question but he did have a hand injury last spring, a nagging knee injury in the first half of the season and a sprained ankle in the SEC Championship Game. Nick Saban can’t keep Tua on the shelf like some Hawaiian Hummel figurine. He has to play in order for Alabama to maintain its streak of CFP appearances at “all of them.” Jalen Hurts solved that issue but now a new answer has to be found.
If it is, perhaps there will be another chapter to Jalen Hurts and Alabama, an ending even more over-the-top Hollywood fare than what has occurred so far, a Crimson Tide vs. Sooners matchup in a semifinal or a national championship game. Perhaps Alabama fans will only see him on television. There is no way to tell. Sometimes quarterbacks, like ships, simply pass in the night. That’s an early entry for Worst Pun of 2019, but it couldn’t be avoided.
The memories Hurts created in Tuscaloosa will be part of Crimson Tide lore. The cap must be tipped, one last time.
Then football, as it always does, must look forward — and move on.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.
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