It was a tough game, Nick Saban. You had it. All you had to do was kick a field goal with about two minutes left and your Crimson Tide would have gone ahead by 10 points. Surely that would have sealed the victory over nemesis Auburn and propelled your team to its third straight football national championship. Then - and this is of paramount importance to you, Nick -- you would be compared credibly with Paul Bear Bryant, who won five national titles as coach of Alabama in the 1960s and 70s. A third straight title might even start conversation about you being a greater coach than the almighty Bear.
You had the win in hand at Auburn tonight. Your team stood on the brink of shattering Auburn's psyche yet again. Poor Auburn. Bama has crushed that community countless times.
But you decided not to kick a field goal in a key situation in the fourth quarter. Demonstrating your killer instinct and bravado, you decided your team, facing fourth down, could gain one more yard, get a first down, and run out the clock. It probably seemed to you, a man of
supreme confidence, to be a smart decision. On your offensive line you have multiple All Americans. You always do. Every season. Your running back, T.J. Yelden, is tremendously elusive and quick. You had the talent on the field to make one yard.
But Auburn stopped your team short of a first down. No matter -- you still had the lead. No way Auburn could drive the length of the field for a touchdown to the tie the game. Not against
your defense overflowing with All-American, elite college football players riding the fast lane to the NFL.
There was no way Auburn, Bama's football step-child, would score. But then, somehow, the Tiger quarterback ran to the left and, just before crossing the line of scrimmage, threw a pass ten yards ahead to a wide open receiver, who went another 40 yards for the game-tying touchdown. Your two defensive backs, so well-schooled by you on the art of smart and tough
defense, overcommitted to tackle the quarterback and left the receiver. They made a mental mistake. We all know how mental mistakes make your stomach burn. You live to yell at your players about the importance of never making mental mistakes on the field. You scare them into doing exactly what you want them to do at all times. It's a pact you have with them. You hell and scream at them. They fear you and do everything you say. It's a working relationship that works especially well for you. You control everything and perpetuate that framework.
But on that play your players lost control so, byextension, so did you. It must have sizzled your forehead and facial bones to see them not do what you have told them countless times to do. You warned them to play smart football on every play, every down, every play. But on that play
they let you down, broke your stringent rules. You hate it when your players let you down, don't you, Nick? You hate it when anyone lets you down.
With the game tied, you still had the game in a good place for your team to win and stay undefeated. With less than a minute to play, your team drove to around the Auburn 39 yard line. In field goal position, you shunned the kicker who had let your down three times in the game already by missing three field goals.
You lost confidence in that kid, Nick. He was of no use to you in that moment. Never mind his feelings and giving him another shot to be a hero in Alabama football history. You weren't concerned about him. You were concerned about you, about becoming a bigger winner in college football than you already were. You wanted to win so bad, Nick, didn't you? Not really for your players, Nick, but for you, mostly. Sure it would be nice for your players if you won. But your thoughts - if we're being totally honest -- were about you winning a third national championship and solidifying your legacy as one of college football's greatest coaches ever. You're already there and you know it. But winning against Auburn would put you in an even more elite group,
whiffing more rarified air, than you already had ascended to. You have worked so hard to get there, Nick, and you feel you deserve all the accolades you receive. Nobody has ever worked as hard as you to achieve anything right, Nick?
So you decided to have another kicker try a 56-yard field goal. It was an odd decision, Nick, one many people will be pondering for quite a while. Instead of giving your All-American quarterback, A.J. McCarron, a shot at throwing a pass in the end zone so one of your all-world receivers could jump above everyone else and catch the ball for the game-winning score, you
opted to give a second string kicker a shot from a long way from the goal posts.
It's unlikely that any college kicker can convert a field goal from 56 yards in any situation. In this situation with all that was at stake, it seemed even more unlikely, especially because he hadn't kicked a field goal the whole game. He was not your number one field goal kicker, Nick.
But you were mad at the other kid who missed earlier in the game. In your mind he didn't deserve another chance. To you, giving him another try, building up his confidence, was not your highest priority.
Unfortunately, the second-stringer missed. Surprisingly, your team wasn't prepared when Auburn return man Chris Davis caught the ball in the end zone and started returning the ball up the left sideline. Your team was not prepared to cover the return. Or if they were, they didn't execute. Either way, this was very uncharacteristic of a team coached by you, Preparation Nick.
Virtually every player on your team ran down the right side of the field and Davis, wisely, ran down the left. Kick coverage teams are supposed to fan out and cover the whole field. But yours didn't on the most important play of the season. Davis ran it back all the way for a game-winning touchdown with no time left.
The college football world is now wondering just how great a college you really are. I am glad you didn't win, Nick. You needed to be humbled. Everyone does. Too much success for Alabama since you took over there. I have a natural aversion for too many trophies going to the same
Auburn, and I don't just mean the football team, needed this one psychologically more than your team did. And they were better prepared. It was a vexing night for you, Nick, but a great and unforgettable night for college football.