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In Hawaiian lore, the world begins in chaos – “O ke au i kahuli wela ka honua,” the time when the world was hot.
Then the heavens turn about.
For a half, Alabama’s world was chaos. Things were falling apart, figuratively speaking. The Crimson Tide wasn’t moving on offense and wasn’t acting with its usual poise and discipline. Reserves were barking at assistant coaches on the sideline. Mere anarchy wasn’t quite loosed upon the world, but you could see it peeking over the horizon, the defense doing its best to stave off disaster as Georgia gained momentum.
Then, somehow, Alabama – Nick Saban, Tua Tagovailoa, Raekwon Davis, whoever you want to give credit – took that chaos, reversed it and rendered it into something magnificent, something that seemed beyond anyone’s power to create. An Alabama win is rarely unexpected, but this one was straight out of the ancient annals, the stories that contain more power for us because they are so simply unbelievable in daily life.
This game was over before Saban made a decision at halftime – and not an easy decision – to replace his starting quarterback, Jalen Hurts, with a true freshman. Tagovailoa breathed life into the offense with a scoring drive. He took it away with an interception, then brought it back, hauling up hope like a fisherman casting a net into stormy waters and landing a catch, again and again.
The freshman magic kept on working. Why not, since the game had passed out of the realm of the normal? Take out Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris and replace them with Najee Harris? That works. Watch Jonah Williams limp off with an injury and replace him with Alex Leatherwood? That works. Watch Mekhi Brown, a little-used defensive end, blow up like an angry volcano at his own teammates, then put him back in to unleash that wrath on a Georgia kick returner? No problem.
Not even a missed field goal at the end of regulation was a dream-killer. Not even a sack of Tagovailoa, after a 51-yard Rodrigo Blankenship field goal, could drown the Crimson Tide. It should have. It normally would have. That’s what happens in real life.
But instead, out of all this chaos, there was the man who threw the ball, and then there was the ball flying serenely through the air, and awaiting it is was another freshman – of course – there to catch the ball, Devonta Smith pulling away from the Georgia safety and striding into history.
One of the concerns about Alabama was that, over the course of Saban’s four previous national championships, winning, even winning it all, had become mundane. There was a feeling in the air that, having avenged itself against Clemson, Alabama would chalk up this win with actuary-like efficiency.
Instead, more than any of the national title wins in living memory, even more than the one over Clemson two years ago, this one had drama. It lifted up the faithful from despair at halftime and erased the adversity of a season that was marked by injury – “we’ve never had this many players miss starts, ever,” Saban said – and made it perhaps the most memorable of all.
In time, like after all games, there will be debate – although the trophy trumps all. Did Saban wait too late to insert Tagovailoa in the action? Or did he make the switch at the perfect time to preserve team unity and show loyalty to Hurts? It’s hard to argue with the outcome.
It’s hard to argue when you see the heavens turn about.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.