Alabama football's 2020 championship run will capture hearts forever | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

MIAMI GARDENS, Florida — Heroes can fly in from the sky or rise out of the ocean or dash to the rescue running 100 miles per hour.

Alabama has seen that so many times, its amazing array of offensive talent combining the engineering genius of Mac Jones, the lithe, panther-like grace of DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris wielding the hammer of Thor out of the backfield.

All were on display as Alabama football defeated Ohio State 52-24 in the College Football Championship on Monday night.

No opponent, not even a super team, could stand in the way.

But what if the opponent was not merely another football team, even a strong team like Ohio State was in Alabama’s final test of its season. What if it was more than just a virus? What if it was something undefinable, some malevolent force that seemed determined to suck the joy out of whatever the virus couldn’t stop?

[ Relive Alabama football's historic national championship run with a special book from Tuscaloosa News ]

One by one, it took its toll on players who were not just talented but beloved: Dylan Moses, who played through pain all season long, might have been the first. Then Jaylen Waddle, the Flash, saw his year ended at Tennessee, or so everyone thought. Next, Landon Dickerson, the best center in America and the heart of the offensive line. At the end, even Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner on track for the greatest finale a Heisman winner ever had, ended his year on the sidelines, his hand heavily wrapped, his moment of personal glory shortened if not exactly taken away.

And yet, Alabama fought. Alabama stood its ground.

Alabama finished.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood hold the trophy after their win against Ohio State in an NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Alabama won 52-24. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

That will the 2020 Crimson Tide’s place in history. Possibly the best team. Inarguably the best offense. But in the hearts of those who followed the team through the journey, which was tremendous fun at some times and no fun at all at others – including those August days when it seemed there might not even be a season – there was one unshakable feeling about this Crimson Tide team. 

It was the best-loved.

[ Report card: Alabama aces Ohio State to win historic national championship ]

For much of the Nick Saban Era, teams have been viewed differently. That didn’t mean fans didn’t rally around those teams, or love Alabama as alma mater or adopted family, often adopted generations ago. But the verbiage itself often gave away another perspective. Saban was building “a machine” or “a Death Star.” “Joyless murderball” became a byword. Having a choice of any pet, many bypassed the puppy and chose the python. 

No one is making the “scrappy overachiever” argument here. Alabama’s rare depth was a factor. Watch Brian Robinson’s second-half running against the Buckeyes in the title game for an example. But there was also every chance to take a week off, to let another team close, to let the occasional error, like Mac Jones’ first-quarter fumble, grow into something bigger.

Instead, Alabama displayed maturity and singleness of purpose every single time. You can rest assured that this is the team Saban loves the most, because it came the closest to perfect focus.

Like Alabama, Ohio State had a hard year and was missing players on Monday night. Instead of a barrage of snark about the Buckeyes or the Big Ten, acknowledge them as the second-best team in this bizarre season.

Alabama, though, was the best. And, for years and years to come, it will remain the best-loved.

Reach Cecil Hurt at or via Twitter @cecilhurt