CECIL HURT: Nick Saban dominates the scene before the Alabama-Georgia football showdown

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

No matter how explosive a virus might be, nothing in modern-day America has the capacity to rage like wildfire across the electronic landscape like celebrity.

From the moment that Alabama announced Wednesday that Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban had received a positive result from a daily coronavirus test, a combination of analysis, speculation, despair, hope, conspiracy theory, logic, guesswork and pot-stirring took hold.

By Friday, as The Tuscaloosa News reported that UA was in contact with the SEC and pursuing possibilities that Saban could be cleared, common sense dictated that a subsequent test has been negative. By Saturday morning, when ESPN's "College GameDay" went on the air, the college football world was in full reality-TV mode with confirmed reports of a second negative test and a clamoring for up-to-the-second updates.

Everything was scrutinized, from the number of emoji hearts in Kristen Saban Setas’ posts on Twitter to the flight path of the university jet as it carried Saban’s sample off to the lab.

Thankfully, the result of Saban’s third test came back from the SEC-sanctioned laboratory quickly: a third negative. To its credit, Alabama’s media relations department released the news immediately. sparing everyone the angst of an anxious afternoon. Alabama didn’t try to milk the situation, setting up a scenario where Saban was unveiled like an iPhone 12 or a wrestler making a surprise return to the ring in a blaze of pyrotechnics. The Alabama crowd of 20,000 or so would have sounded like 100,000 as the coach appeared on the Jumbotron. But the surprise wouldn’t have been worth the distraction.

Oct 17, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban removes his mask as he prepares to put on a TV headset for an interview before the game with Georgia at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Saban was cleared by the SEC to coach the game after having a positive COVID-19 test earlier in the week. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports

Instead, the two teams — No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia — got to enjoy at least a few hours in the spotlight, as it should be. Tuscaloosa has been the site of a few of these Games of the Decade or Century or at least the Year, but the last couple, including the showdown with LSU last season, include some with an extra dose of sideshow, intentional or not. The visit by President Donald Trump last November wasn’t the minute-by-minute drama Alabama experienced this week, but it did cause its share of logistical adjustment. As is inevitable these days, there were also a few protestors from all sides of the political spectrum.

On this 2020 Saturday, there were no reports of giant inflatable caricatures being attacked, although if Alabama fans had thought it would help Saban return, they would have built a giant bonfire and burned a huge coronavirus model in effigy. 

We may never know exactly how much of an affect Saban’s presence on the sideline had on Saturday’s outcome. It’s possible that we will see these same two teams in Atlanta on Dec. 19, which will provide more comparative data. It’s not even out of the realm of possibility that there could be a 2020 three-peat, with a third meeting in the College Football Playoff. Politics come into play, but there is still a fair argument to be made that these are two of the best four teams in college football. 

No matter how many times the two teams play this year, though, it’s hard to imagine a crazier 72 hours of preliminaries. 

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