Almost a year ago, Nick Saban created a phrase that entered the vocabulary of every Alabama fan, somewhere between “too full of Alabama” and “I ain’t never been nothin’ but a winner,” although of a slightly different nature than “tin horn,” which has worked its way in there as well.
That phrase? “Rat Poison.”
Technically, Rat Poison’s birthday is still about three weeks away. Saban coined it, first going with the basic “poison” and then, after no doubt running through a long list of toxins, venoms, defoliants and pesticides, going with the more impactful “Rat Poison.” The comment came after last year’s Texas A&M-Alabama game, not before it, but we’re in the same ballpark. Besides, the atmosphere surrounding this year’s team in terms of fans and media is already several levels of lethality higher than a year ago.
Last year, Alabama faithful expected to win every single game. This year, some expect to score a touchdown on every single play. Such has been the impact of Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback and the maturation of his receivers. The Crimson Tide defense is always taken as a constant and so far, despite the loss of several key players from last year’s team, it has been. But the offense is now spoken of in terms usually reserved for Mount Olympus. “Greatest Alabama offense of all time” is already being bandied about, and perhaps it is. A better evaluation can be made with a large sample size, but the measurements will begin soon. Statistically, it won’t be close so perhaps a more subjective analysis will be needed to evaluate the offense against others. There were the Wishbone teams of the mid-’70s, the Joe Namath-led teams in the 1960s (“better than Joe Namath” would have seemed like idle ranting a year ago, but no longer) or, in a thought exercise, the 1934 team with Dixie Howell and the incomparable Don Hutson, who merely changed the way the game was played for the next 50 years.
Better? Possibly. With that thought, there isn’t just some Rat Poison floating around. It is the predominant element in the Tuscaloosa atmosphere (along with heat.)
Saban hears the talk. For the best two weeks, he’s been calm about it, speaking mildly and cautiously. But he is scanning for the signs of complacency.
“The standard of excellence cannot be affected by outside voices in terms of your preparation, your intensity, the level of focus you need to have,” he said at his Monday press conference. “This is like climbing a mountain, you know. The higher you go, the more challenging it gets and the higher your level of focus needs to be and the more treacherous it can be.
“This is the best team we’ve played so far so hopefully we’ll continue to improve and have the right focus.
“So I guess in a different way, trying to be really diplomatic, I’m sort of saying the same thing.”
The Alabama players are still getting reminders, too.
“It’s not going to do us any good believing how good everybody says we are or buying into the media because that’s the quickest way to get disappointed,” said senior running back Damien Harris. “It’s not that hard because Coach Saban does a good job of emphasizing that what you guys say or the rest of the media says doesn’t really matter.”
So did Harris know that the Rat Poison anniversary was approaching?
“I really don’t remember,” he said, smiling. “I’ve heard so many rat poison speeches that it’s hard to label each one.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.