NEW ORLEANS — Nick Saban nearly had to convince his players to take a later curfew this week. In past Sugar Bowl trips, it was a chore to get them in by 2 a.m.
That’s the mindset the Alabama coach said his team has used in its preparation this week. Saban and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney met with reporters Sunday morning to conclude their media responsibilities prior to Monday’s Sugar Bowl.
“(Each year we’ve been in the playoff) I see, from a player’s perspective, the outcome of the game being a much more significant priority than the bowl game, just like our players choosing curfew one night at 12:00 and the rest of the nights 11:00. I mean, it was a battle to get them in at 2:00 in the morning when you used to go to bowl games in New Orleans years ago.
“So I think that’s a mindset of the players that have experience in these games. And they have had success, and they understand the significance of that success. And they have also had failings and failures, and they understand that. And I think that has become a little more of a priority, at least on our team, from a player’s perspective.”
On his first night in town, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney took a stroll on Bourbon Street, the infamous entertainment district New Orleans is famous for. It’s nearly impossible to visualize Saban taking a walk on the same street. Therein lies the personality difference in the two coaches.
As the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff, Clemson had the first choice of where it wanted to practice this week. Swinney chose Tulane University and its outdoor facilities. Earlier in the week Clemson defensive back Ryan Carter said the choice was make to avoid people potentially watching the Tigers’ practices inside the Superdome. Asked whey he chose Tulane, Swinney said it was a personal preference.
“You know, the Dome is huge, first of all,” Swinney said. “Just like yesterday, you go down there and you spend all of your time kind of looking around. I just wanted a little smaller environment. And, to be honest with you, that’s where we practiced in ’92 as well. We practiced at Tulane. And that’s what I had in my mind, so it was great.”
Of course, Swinney was a member of Alabama’s 1992 national championship team.
Swinney said the newfound rivalry between Alabama and Clemson is refreshing in college football, a rivalry built on mutual respect and not hatred.
“I go home for Christmas every year, and Christmas Eve I always go shopping at the Summit. It’s just what I do. It’s my shopping day…I’m in Birmingham. And I had a lot of Alabama people come up to me with great respect. I mean, they want to win the game. But they had very nice things to say. “You guys have got a great team” and such and such. So I think there’s a lot of respect.
“I think, at the end of the day, Alabama people respect good football. And I think that they know that we’ve got a good football team, and we’re going to compete. Even when we lost a couple of years ago, we’re going to lay it on the line. And we know they’re going to do the same thing.
“So I think, at the end of the day, there’s a healthy respect on both sides…I think it’s a fun game. Again, this is big-boy football. You have got a lot of incredibly talented football players that are going to be on the field, and they all want the same thing. I don’t have any doubt it will be a great game. But from a fan standpoint, I think it’s a very healthy respect on both sides.”
Reach Aaron Suttles at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.