Many years ago, Esquire Magazine’s December issue was devoted to “Dubious Awards of the Year” and the current year — let’s say 1982 — would be proclaimed “The 29th Annual Worst Year Ever!”
In most years, that was a sort of sardonic humor. Occasionally, it was correct. And somewhere in print or online, Esquire may still be doing the feature to cap off the annual ritual of hand-wringing.
In reality, 2019 probably wasn’t the worst year ever in Alabama athletics history. The football team won 10 games, the men’s basketball team narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament in March (which accounted for some of the frustration) and some of the sports where Alabama is perennially good, like golf, were in sudden rebuilding mode. But if you were a Crimson Tide fan, then where — with the shining exception of softball and its great, unexpected No. 3 NCAA finish — was the joy in 2019?
Note: this isn’t a knock at Nick Saban, clearly the greatest coach in college football today. It’s not a criticism of Nate Oats, who played no part in the end of the past basketball season and is implementing a system against what has been the toughest non-conference schedule in the SEC. It’s not ignoring the mountain that Brad Bohannon has to climb in SEC baseball or the challenges inherent in following a legend, which gymnastics coach Dana Duckworth is doing.
But again, with the exception of softball, there has hardly been a magical moment in any of the most carefully watched sports. Basketball did beat Kentucky on January 7 but it was a peculiar game in which Alabama started quickly, nearly gave away a huge lead and has little chance to build on the momentum because of the football drubbing that followed just two days later.
The next biggest basketball win of 2019? A solid road performance at South Carolina probably. The best actual game was probably a loss at Tennessee where the team played over its head on a hostile environment but couldn’t get off a possible game-winning shot in the final seconds.
Football, with different expectations and different circumstances, had what may have been college football’s most unstoppable offense and its most dynamic player, Tua Tagovailoa. But the injury drain started in August and ultimately took away even the aesthetic pleasure of seeing Tua throw to an almost impossibly impressive corps of receivers. So the “best” win? Tennessee, probably. Maybe Texas A&M.
But there were bitter losses to LSU and Auburn. Basketball also went 0-for-4 against the rivals and the salt — or Cajun seasoning — in the wound was that one made the Final Four in basketball and the other is currently involved in the football version.
There are causes for everything, theories about why certain controllable things slipped out of control. There was also an element that seemed unavoidable. The football team that took the field for a distant-seeming first practice on August with a healthy Tua, a healthy Dylan Moses, a healthy LaBryan Ray and so on could have competed with anyone, anywhere. Part of the disappointing aura was that things didn’t work out that way and Alabama came so close to overcoming those things anyway, but couldn’t.
We will know more about 2019 a year from now than we do at the moment. History works that way and shows us what is a pattern and what is simply a part of the ebb and flow. Perhaps things will start to turn around with the Citrus Bowl, or SEC play in basketball, in the early part of 2020. For the moment, though, it’s best to be like Esquire, proclaim 2019 as the worst year ever and hope for no repeat.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt