Tonight the University of Georgia takes on the Nick Saban led University of Alabama. Alabama has been a model of consistency and discipline for over a decade now. They have avoided off the field distractions and sent dozens of players to the NFL. They are in a national title hunt every season.
So why do we hate them?
They are really, really good. Machine-like good.
College football is arguably harder to win consistently than other sports because of injury prevalence and of course a rotating roster by design. The personnel changes on a large scale at best every 4 years, often much faster than that. Players aren’t paid(legally), though of course boosters can provide lavish facilities and legal perks that help things, not to mention national exposure that can lead to a higher draft pick which does lead to more money. Yet – Alabama has been doing this for over a decade now.
A quick recap: Nick Saban came to Alabama in 2007 after his own successful run coaching and winning a championship at LSU, then a failed job coaching the Miami Dolphins. His second year they went from unranked to 6th in the land and lost the 2009 Sugar Bowl. That would be the end of mediocrity(anything short of playing for the National Title) in Nick Saban’s world as “The Process” took hold in Tuscaloosa.
They won the National BCS Championship in 2010 against Texas, 2012 against his former team LSU and destroyed Notre Dame the following year in 2012-2013. The 2013 season saw them losing to the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma though the real drama that year was when they lost to Auburn one of the best games I’ve ever seen, before being stunned by eventual national champions Ohio State again in the 2015 Sugar Bowl. The 2015 season saw them climb back and beat Clemson for the National Championship, before another dramatic ending in 2016 when Clemson beat them on the last second of the game.
2017 saw Auburn once again beating Alabama but Alabama still making it to the College Football Playoff controversially over Ohio State. They dismantled Clemson this time in the semi-final and now face Georgia.
Georgia meanwhile upset Heisman Trophy winning Quarterback Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma after they beat Auburn in the SEC Championship themselves to make the CFP. Yet in large part due to Alabama, there is a general hatred of all SEC teams.
Again though – why do we hate dominance?
The Yankees in baseball, the Patriots in football, and (for many) whichever team Lebron James takes to the NBA Finals in the NBA?
A recent NY Post article captured this dichotomy of hating what we actually want our teams to exhibit recently while learning about the plight of Darren Frank:
“My whole life, I hated everything about the Yankees,” mutters Frank “I mean it was all I had when the Astros were awful. I figured as long as the Yankees were losing — or weren’t winning as much as they used to — then all was OK with the world.”
Yes – we want the Yankees and the Alabama’s of the world to LOSE. We aren’t comfortable with the inevitable moment where the crowd shows a young fan in the stands struck by the surrender cobra, but we hold out hope that fan see the error of their belief before adulthood. Or simply dismiss the idea that fans of such teams have souls in the first place. I’m looking at you Jeffrey Maier.
A common refrain for fans for years is this: “My favorite two teams are the Royals (to pick one team of any) and whoever is playing the Yankees.”
Whoever is playing the Yankees. In the NFL the Patriots make it easy with scandals like SpyGate/DeflateGate and Aaron Hernandez. The Yankees spend uncontrollably and after a year where it felt like they “earned” it like any other team, they go out and sign Giancarlo Stanton. They appear to be back to the Larry Lucchino termed “Evil Empire” of 2003 – and now the Red Sox are back to their own underdog role of the early 2000’s.
This goes beyond hating Christian Laettner, who seemed physically and verbally abusive as teammates and conceited to top it off. This isn’t an easy villain brought on by cheaters like Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa. This isn’t cheating on your wife after she stood by you during cancer AND cheating cycling like Lance Armstrong. All that Nick Saban and the Tide have done is…WIN.
That is the problem – isn’t it? If you are a college football fan, you WANT to be like Alabama. They have it all right? Remember how jealous Brent Musberger was back in 2013 when a cameraman found QB AJ McCarron’s girlfriend in the stands?
“You see that lovely lady there, she does go to Auburn, but she’s also Miss Alabama and that’s AJ McCarron’s girlfriend. You quarterbacks, you get all the good-looking women. What a beautiful woman. Wow.” A horribly out of place comment, but let’s review here: the quarterback for Alabama was dating Miss Alabama FROM Auburn. Alabama gets everything! (Ms. Webb, unfortunately, could not help McCarron turn into a successful NFL Quarterback but they are now happily married).
Yet only Alabama seems to be able to actually do it. Ohio State has been a dominant team for the last decade and especially since getting former rival coach Urban Meyer. Yet the season they went undefeated it didn’t count because of their previous coach’s sins. They did defeat Alabama back in 2014, only to get trounced on by Clemson last year and this year controversially been Team Number 5 after winning the Big 10 Championship. Close – but where the chips don’t fall for them they do seem to fall for Alabama.
Teams can embrace it or try and repel it. Some teams will simply never be able to be the hated. The Padres, the Browns, the Clippers. Others will have their decade of hatred. The Lakers were hated for years and likely will be again. Right now in college football – that team is Alabama.
I believe a large part of it is the workmanlike aspect of their players and coaches. Bill Belichick and Nick Saban both do not seem to have much fun. Isn’t that the point of winning? To enjoy it? These two men seem more focused on not losing – not slipping from absolute perfection.
Dabo Sweeney of Clemson on the other hand…
So tonight we find out if Alabama can re-establish themselves as the top team in the land or if all of a sudden they will have only won one of the last four college football championships.
If they do lose – do we stop hating them and feel sorry for them? That perhaps they are coming down to Earth with the rest of us?
I wouldn’t bet on it.