Alabama football deserves to do one thing after most grueling championship in history | Hurt

CecIl Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The first thing anyone associated with Alabama football's 2020 College Football Playoff Championship team needs to do in the wake of excitement in its 52-24 win over Ohio State should do is the least exciting thing possible.

Get some rest.

Physically and psychologically, every Alabama player and coach needs to take a small window of time to take care of themselves, whether that window is a few days, maybe is week or two, or whether it comes on Nick Saban time, which might mean the minutes it takes to drive from Lake Tuscaloosa into the office. Steve Sarkisian can’t stop, or Butch Jones although; even they need to refill their own tank along the way.

[ Relive Alabama football's historic 2020 championship run with our special book ]

As powerful as Monday night’s performance was, it took a toll. Looking up and seeing 52-24 on the scoreboard, one might think that the game was easy. It wasn’t. One of the many things that the novel coronavirus causes, aside from illness that kept Saban himself and Greg Byrne and others briefly away from their daily tasks, was that it did not allow for a less stressful regimen. The 2020 season was often described as being “shortened,” and for some teams it was. That’s not a knock at Ohio State. I was among the skeptics about the Buckeyes’ six-game season, but having been in closer proximity this weekend, I am more accepting of the fact that their journey wasn’t easy, either.

Jan 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA;  Alabama wide receiver Slade Bolden (18) celebrates after Alabama defeated Ohio State 52-24 to win the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

But in no sense was Alabama’s season “shortened.” It was concentrated. There were 10 Southeastern Conference games in the regular season, then another in Atlanta. In a “normal” year, that win over Florida would have been followed by a month off, time for exams (which still must be taken amidst it all) and a less grueling practice schedule and a less hurried Christmas break. Instead of 27 days to prepare for the playoffs, Alabama had 13, crammed with everything from Heismans to a hovering holiday spike of COVID-19 in the community. Alabama won the Rose Bowl, but had no time to smell the roses, and not just because it wasn’t in Pasadena. 

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During a game, writers often look for decisive plays, turning points that affected the outcome. Alabama’s touchdown drive after a Mac Jones fumble was an example. Instead of going “rat trap,” (it wouldn’t be a season if you didn’t use one of Saban’s favorite expressions at least once), Jones calmly came out and led another touchdown drive, never letting Ohio State build momentum. You could point to Landon Dickerson, just a few weeks after knee surgery, walking to midfield to represent his team as a captain as an iconic moment, and Jaylen Waddle’s first catch since October on a little flip from Jones that meant more than the yardage it gained.

Jan 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) makes a catch along the sideline against Ohio State during  the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

But in the postgame interviews, it was the man of few words and many touchdowns, DeVonta Smith, who found that moment.

There was Smith, his dislocated finger throbbing and resisting the tender caresses of the medical personnel seeking to jam it back into its socket. There was Waddle, clearly not 100% himself, but willing to put his team first.  

“He was just wanting to be out there, doing what he can (to) give us everything he’s got.” So injured star Smith had a message for injured star Waddle on the sideline.

”Just give us what you got,” Smith said. “We’ll take anything.”

Waddle did. Team went before self. It didn’t change the game but it inspired a team whose greatest weapon was suddenly sidelined.

Now it is time to rest. In that time, a million words will be written about what Alabama needs to do to make another championship run, about who the next stars will be and how you replace so much talent.

There will be talent again. That’s not the great unknown about 2021. The question is, how much of that undefinable-but-instantly-recognizable thing called “chemistry” can be retained and how much can be rebuilt? And what will the response be when a teammate looks at you, not criticizing, not demanding a touchdown or an interception, but requesting one thing:

”Just give us what you got. We’ll take anything.”

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