NEW ORLEANS – It may have sounded like there was a party when a jazz band greeted Alabama on the tarmac on Wednesday morning. And the Crimson Tide won’t be far away from French Quarter as it prepares for the Sugar Bowl against Clemson.
But coach Nick Saban and the Alabama players said they have more important matters to attend to this week than New Orleans night life. Some Alabama players saw what distractions during the game week could do to a team when the Crimson Tide lost to Ohio State 42-35 in the 2014 College Football Playoff in the Sugar Bowl.
“We were trying to balance the bowl experience sort of with the whole playoff experience, not having ever done that before,” Saban said. “And I think what our players — because our players make the decisions about curfew and what they do and how they do it. I give the leadership on the team the opportunity to do that. And each year they’re more and more serious about the game and less and less interested in the bowl experience, because they’ve experienced consequences in the game — good consequences and bad consequences.
“And I think they understand that after going through that experience as I do, the thought of it all is having success, the thought of it all is winning the game. And no matter what you do you don’t remember all the things that you did, but you always remember whether you won or lost the game.”
Junior running back Damien Harris is playing in their third college football playoff. He wasn’t on the team for Alabama’s last Sugar Bowl, but knows what to stay focused on.
“This is a business trip for us,” Harris said. “We’re not looking to see what we can get into in New Orleans. We’re focused on how we can beat Clemson. That’s all this team is worried about. All the outside stuff is just stuff we have to block out.”
There may be time for Alabama to celebrate before it leaves New Orleans. But that time won’t come before the Jan. 1 game against Clemson.
“I love to see them have the opportunity to have a good time and be rewarded for having a good season,” Saban said. “But the playoffs have significant consequences and the opportunity that you have really doesn’t afford itself, the two don’t fit together that well.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.