The calendar year 2019 isn’t even at the halfway point — in fact, it has just passed the one-third mark. So it is far too early to pronounce it “annus horribilis,” as Queen Elizabeth famously described a particularly bad year for the Royal Family. That was 1992 — “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,” Her Majesty said with queenly restraint, indicating she had neither seen “My Cousin Vinny” nor watched a David Palmer punt return during the previous 12 months.
This year, at least in terms of Alabama sports, did get off to a bad start. Clemson football did not just beat the Crimson Tide — that would have been manageable for UA fans, who managed to handle the DeShaun Watson loss two years earlier with limited depression. The sheer one-sidedness of January’s 44-16 defeat was different. Don’t believe it? The prominent quote from Nick Saban’s appearance at a golf tournament pro-am last week — for months after the game was played — was part of the continued psychological dissection of what happened that night.
“I felt like maybe we lost our humility a little bit and didn’t really prepare in practice like we needed to, developed some bad habits and eventually got exposed by a pretty good team,” he said.
That’s not to fault Saban for pondering the matter. That’s his job. He is supposed to relieve every one of 14,000,605 potential scenarios, looking for the one that works (“Avengers” fans know this). However, he also seemed to be explaining things in terms slightly less worrisome than “the Earth has spun out of orbit and is headed towards the sun.”
To make things worse, nothing seemed to come along to ease the frustration in Tuscaloosa. Neither basketball team made the NCAA Tournament. The men’s team, in particular, seemed to miss making the field in the most agonizing way available, losing winnable home games at inopportune times and giving wildly fluctuating efforts that ultimately led to the dismissal of head coach Avery Johnson.
Normal UA bellwethers like the gymnastics team and the women’s golf team struggled. Mic Potter’s team, to be fair, was devastated by unexpected pro turns by his best players. Baseball is improving but is in the midst of a long-term rebuilding job. The swimming and track teams have done well, and deserve more publicity, but they couldn’t dissipate the gloomy fog.
The bright spot has been softball. In a season that started with some mystery and a bit of disrespect (at least by the usual standards of one of the country’s premier programs), Alabama set records and won an SEC Championship — the brightest ray of 2019 sunshine so far.
Did that all change on Saturday night, when Florida, behind workhorse pitcher Kelly Barnhill, edged Alabama to win the SEC Tournament championship in College Station, Texas?
Not really. Winning the tournament is a fine achievement and no one is shrugging it off. The seeding value (the NCAA field will be announced Sunday night) might have been higher for Florida but Alabama certainly wanted to win.
That continues to be the case — and that’s where this team will be judged. The entire burden of 2019 doesn’t lie on their shoulders, because a year is too long and filled with competition for that. But there is still plenty of time to bounce back from a disappointment that was, by 2019 standards, a small one.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.