Forget about the heart Alabama ripped out of Georgia’s chest when it batted away Jake Fromm’s last pass, leaving it to lie alongside its still-beating twin on the opposite side of the end zone where the Crimson Tide removed it from Georgia’s chest last year.
Remember, instead, the heart Jalen Hurts displayed all year. The character. The story. That’s what truly came full circle in that end zone at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Less than a year ago, Jalen Hurts watched as his backup, Tua Tagovailoa, became a hero and, in essence, took away Hurts’ job.
For much of the offseason, he heard whispers, and, at times, shouting that he should transfer. He shook that off, kept working in the weight room and in 7-on-7 drills. And he made the decision that he was part of a team.
He would not walk away.
He accepted Tagovailoa had won the job. Hurts not only accepted, but he yielded his position graciously. Hurts didn’t fade away. It was not just a humble heart, one that let him step aside and enjoy the perks of being a backup at Alabama as sort of an elder statesman.
His heart was also a warrior’s heart.
Quietly, as the well-deserved accolades poured down on Tagovailoa, Hurts kept working. He kept getting better. Anyone who saw the passes Hurts made in directing the two game-winning touchdown drives in the final 10 minutes — because it took two — saw something different in his passing.
Watch the 13-yard pass to Irv Smith to keep the first touchdown drive alive on third-and-12. Watch the patience Hurts displayed on the 10-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy. Watch the 18-yarder to Smith, again, putting Alabama into range for a field goal attempt. Watch the continued aggressiveness as Alabama, rather than running up the middle and trusting a field goal try, went for the touchdown. The pass to Jaylen Waddle, then Hurts’ final run, were open — but would Alabama’s coaches have had the faith to be so aggressive in Hurts a year ago, if he had not kept improving in practice after practice? Is it understandable now why Nick Saban wanted Hurts to remain on the team?
It’s not fair to say Hurts walked the path alone. At home game after home game, Alabama fans cheered Hurts, capped by a standing ovation at the Auburn game. For all the people urging him to transfer in August, there were thousands cheering him in October. Those cheers were appreciation for what he had done in the previous years, but also for choosing to stay at Alabama because he loved Alabama.
To say the win was about one heart only would be to underestimate others. The defense seemed on the verge of collapse late in the second quarter. It could not seem to get the Georgia offense off the field. But in the second half, the defense made critical stops, even when Tagovailoa struggled. When noting the heroes, don’t forget this note: Georgia did not score in the final 27 minutes of play.
But the evening belonged, in heart-stopping fashion, to Hurts. He even brought his usual stoic head coach to the verge of tears.
“It’s unprecedented,” Saban said. “He has always put the team first. Jalen is going to be a more successful person in his life because of what he has been through this year.”
He waited. He watched. He worked.
And when he got his chance, he delivered.
The circumstances around Jalen Hurts, changed dramatically over the course of the year. But what he had inside never did.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.