CECIL HURT: Playing will feel like winning for Alabama football this weekend

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News
Alabama football coach Nick Saban gets angry with defensive back Tony Brown during Wednesday’s practice.

There is no certainty that Alabama will win at Missouri on Saturday night, although the Las Vegas oddsmakers and most Crimson Tide fans agree that it would be shocking, even by 2020 standards if it didn’t.

There is also no real winning against a virus unless you are a scientist on a team that creates a vaccine or antiviral agent that wipes out. There is a scoreboard of sorts, or, more precisely, so many scoreboards that you don’t know which one to look at. Your choice on that topic determines who is winning and losing: the “number of positives” scoreboard may say one thing to one group of people, who choose to look at the “number of hospitalizations” scoreboard instead for an entirely different score.

Still, if the SEC’s seven-game Saturday schedule holds and if there is football in every venue, that has to count for something, right? Maybe not victory, but a commitment to show that the mantra of “we want to play” actually meant something.

“I think our medical staff has done a phenomenal job with our players,” Nick Saban said on his Wednesday night Zoom call. “We’ve probably done more testing here than anybody in the country. We may still be one of the few schools that are testing every day. And it’s all for player safety.”

Fairness compels mentioning an economic reality here: daily testing is not cheap, by any standard. It’s costly beyond the means of many athletic departments, so if you see that Florida Atlantic, for instance, has canceled its Saturday game, don’t bother asking “why didn’t they think of daily testing?” They did, in the same way I think of a Ferrari.

That’s not to downplay the conscientiousness of Alabama’s players. Without that, the best testing in the world is simply going to find a lot of positives.

“The players have done a good job of managing their personal bubble whether it’s in meetings, wearing a mask, keeping seats between guys so we’re not close together — we even changed some of the meeting rooms around here. We did Syntex, which is an air purifier that’s supposed to kill germs in all the meeting rooms. I think the job that you do in this is not relative to how many guys have positive tests. (Something) as contagious as this is very hard to control. But I do think that we have really emphasized through education with our players. 

“It’s an everyday, on-going, 24/7 process to manage a personal bubble, and I think the education process and the things that we’ve done internally from a medical staff standpoint has really gone well. The thing that really to me is — the answer to that question — is do the players trust and believe in the things that we’re doing so they don’t feel uncomfortable doing what we’re asking them to do. We haven’t had much of that.” 

One game is not 10 games. The presence of crowds for the games, and how they are regulated, remains an open question — not so much because fans are going to infect players at field level, but because fans may pass the virus to each other if protocols aren’t observed. To this point, the events that have had attendance, like games in the ACC, haven’t been pinpointed as super-spreaders, but this is no time to relax vigilance. 

Winning can be a relative concept, although you only have to think back to Saban’s reaction after fans grumbled about a one-point win at Arkansas in 2014 to get his thoughts on the matter. 

So maybe Saturday is too soon to proclaim anything about winning in the long haul. But I suspect that games being played will feel like winning, at least for a day.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt.

Cecil Hurt