I opened the e-mail and browse the project from the bosses: “Hey McGee, you’re headed to the LSU-Alabama game, so why don’t you knock out a column about this awesome season that Bama is putting together?”
Sounds straightforward sufficient, proper? I imply, Alabama actually is superior this yr. On Saturday night time, the Crimson Tide will probably be trying to prolong a 17-game residence successful streak. Alabama’s protection leads the nation in effectivity. Alabama’s offense is averaging 47.6 factors per SEC sport, on tempo to interrupt Florida’s 21-year-old convention report of 47 ppg. Alabama has received its final six straight in opposition to LSU. Alabama is Eight-Zero this yr, successful by a mean rating of 43-10.
The first CFP rankings could not have come at a greater time, with seven ranked matchups in Week 10 in addition to potential entice video games for the highest three groups.
Four years in the past, Wallace was set to stroll out on soccer. Instead, impressed by his dad, he walked on to Alabama and is now a legit draft prospect.
But here is the difficulty. I’ve already written all of that. Or stated it on the radio. Or recorded it on a podcast. Or spouted it on TV. And I have been doing all the above about this identical group, led by the identical coach, for the final decade.
I’ve written about the place this run — 4 nationwide titles and 5 SEC titles in 10 seasons — ranks within the annals of faculty soccer historical past. I’ve written about the place Nick Saban ranks among the many biggest coaches to ever prowl a sideline. I’ve written in regards to the Saban period versus the Bear Bryant period, and even damaged it down to match the Saban period to the 2 individually profitable stretches of the Bryant period.
What I am saying right here is that this: Yes, bosses, Bama is having an superior season. But it at all times has superior seasons, earned by superior gamers by the use of superior performances in opposition to would-be superior opponents. So superior, in truth, that these opponents even say that Alabama is superior. Like, actually. Over the final 12 months alone Dabo Swinney of Clemson, Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M, Butch Jones of Tennessee, Jimbo Fisher of Florida State and Dan Mullen of Mississippi State have all used that very phrase when speaking in regards to the Tide, most after having simply been badped by them.
Problem is, I’ve run out of how to say “awesome” with a script A.
“Well, let’s see here,” the librarian stated to me as she peered via the decrease half of her bifocals on the large ebook earlier than her.
Here within the South County department of the Mecklenburg County (North Carolina) Library close to my residence, I had requested for badist discovering synonyms for superior.
“We keep this edition of Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus out on permanent display in our reference section for people in a bind similar to yours,” she stated. “It appears we have 34 possibilities here. Astonishing … grand … mind-blowing … stupefying … wondrous … Would any of these work?”
I paused to suppose. As I did, I appeared over and we have been being watched by a man in a Mark Ingram jersey.
— Ryan McGee (@ESPNMcGee) November 2, 2017
Then she scrunched up her face in that inquisitive manner that appears unique to librarians. “Well, this is interesting. A lot of these synonyms are darker than I would have expected. Daunting … imposing … overwhelming … terrifying … I doubt these would work, would they?”
“Well,” I deadpanned, proudly. “I think they’d work if you were another coach in SEC West.”
I laughed. She didn’t.
“OK then,” she replied, flatly. “Is there anything else I can help you with, or are we done here?”
As I walked again to my truck, I noticed the selfishness of pity. Sure, I’ve to put in writing about Alabama quite a bit, however what’s quite a bit? Maybe a number of instances a month? The actual plight is suffered by those that should chronicle the Tide each day. The Bama beat writers, these poor souls, should fill a number of pages of their papers each Saturday night after yet one more multi-touchdown stomping of an opponent, one that appears just about just like the one per week earlier than it and all weeks earlier than that. What’s extra, a studying viewers raised throughout the web age has turn into ravenous, anticipating to click on and devour a number of “Alabama is awesome” tales not per week, however per day.
“We were just having a discussion about this challenge just today,” confessed Michael Casagrande, who covers the Tide for AL.com and its affiliated newspapers all through the Yellowhammer State. His two stints on the Bama beat add as much as eight seasons, all inside this decade of domination. “There is a point where it feels like you are covering an badembly line. On one hand, you marvel at what you are seeing, but on the other, there is the challenge of, ‘Well, it’s working so well, but it sure does look a lot like it did last year and the year before, and, well, 2009, you name it.'”
“I think we all have a great appreciation for what we’re witnessing, it’s coming up with new ways to express it,” added Alex Scarborough, who has dealt with on-the-ground Alabama protection for ESPN.com since 2012. Earlier this season he penned a bit titled “Why the Alabama Death Star is fiercer than ever” wherein Saban grouses and barks and complains after defeating Ole Miss 66-Three. “We’ve called them the Death Star, a dynasty, whatever title you can come think of. But they aren’t slowing down, so we’ll have to keep coming up with new titles. If that’s possible.”
Every coach has an early weekday badembly with the media. Depending on the group and market and their mixed energy, a lot of these rooms comprise solely a small handful of media members. Saban’s Monday morning Q&A is packed wall-to-wall, writers and broadcasters sitting in seats that, fittingly, feel and look like a professorial lecture corridor in one of many close by clbadroom buildings.
The members of that group are sometimes pegged — normally, unfairly — with that the majority dreaded of media labels.
“I go back all the time and review what I’m writing because I want to make sure I’m not doing anything to be perceived as a homer,” stated Aaron Suttles of the Tuscaloosa News. His first yr on the beat was ’09, Saban’s first nationwide title with the Tide. “I’m not going back and saying, ‘Man, I really need to be negative more often’ but what do you do when there’s really only overwhelmingly positive things happening?”
Oh by the best way, in the midst of all of it, Saban walked into that media room and stated that daring to doc that positivity was the worst factor that beat writers might probably do. You keep in mind his “rat poison” rant, proper?
Well, Coach, we do not wish to be like Lily Tomlin in “9 to 5,” however sadly, there is no Skinny & Sweet within the cupboard. All you have given us to place in your espresso is Rid-O-Rat.
For Suttles, he digs into the badytics every time he can. Even that turns into simply one other manner of claiming “Bama is awesome.” Just this week, he wrote in regards to the group’s efforts to maintain its secure of working backs contemporary versus what felt like a extra taxing workload a yr in the past. “Then, you realize that a big part of why they are able to keep [the running backs] fresh by using so many of them is, frankly, just a byproduct of the fact that they’ve only played one four-quarter game this year, against Texas A&M. But even that game was a 15-point game with 20 seconds left.”
That was again in Week 6, when the Tide received by “only” 27-19. The closeness of the competition was a little bit of a present as a result of it gave Saban one thing to legitimately complain about and thus gave those that cowl him one thing to legitimately dig into.
“Yeah, and that lasted all of one week,” Scarborough reminded. “In the two games since they’ve won 86-16.”
Added Casagrande: “The badembly line paused for a little maintenance and then started back up again.”
The identical occurred with Tuesday night time’s reveal of the preliminary 2017 College Football Playoff rankings, when the meeting line was pushed into the backseat. Alabama was ranked second, behind (gulp) one other SEC college, Georgia.
“That was on Halloween, which was also Saban’s birthday,” defined Jay Barker, former Alabama QB and now longtime staple for the state’s morning commuters because the co-host of Opening Drive on WJOX radio in Birmingham. “It was a gift to Saban because it gave him some relief from the rat poison and maybe some motivation to throw at his team. It was gift to us because it actually gave us something to talk about. But honestly, the fan base on Wednesday morning wasn’t as outraged as you would’ve expected. They were more like, ‘Well, we are still pretty awesome and we have LSU coming up this weekend, so we’ll be OK.’ I was like, ‘Man, we weren’t even able to ride that for as long as we thought we could.'”
So the place can we go from right here? The librarian, clearly accomplished with me, pointed me within the course of the sports activities part and shoved me towards a group of actually previous, dusty books penned by a number of the biggest names within the historical past of the press field.
Grantland Rice — charged within the pre-World War II days with masking the likes of Ty Cobb, Red Grange, Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey — selected to run straight into the sunshine of greatness. He unapologetically pumped air into the balloons of their legends. This is the person who in contrast the Notre Dame backfield to the Bible’s 4 horsemen. He declared that Christy Mathewson vacationed in Florida to sip from the Fountain of Eternal Youth, and to explain Cobb he, as he typically did, turned to poetry.
“There are seven Browns within the Major Leagues
And 4 Smiths on the job
There are nonetheless 5 others by the title of Jones
But there’s just one Ty Cobb.”
Jim Murray, the legendary L.A. Times columnist of the century’s second half, was identified for his unmatched humor, but in addition his unvarnished honesty. When Iowa made it to the Rose Bowl as Big Ten champs, he wrote of their followers rolling into Southern California: “… thousands of people in calico and John Deere caps in their Winnebagos with their pacemakers and potato salad, looking for Bob Hope.”
He, too, was keen to name out greatness when he noticed it, as he did when making an attempt to explain Bill Russell when the Boston Celtics have been in the midst of successful 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons. Almost determined to ensure folks appreciated what was taking place earlier than them, Murray wrote: “He is Henry Ford at an badembly line. Abraham Lincoln at a platform. Babe Ruth with a bat. Jim Brown with a football … He is Bill Russell and he owns the game of basketball in fee simple. As no one ever has and no one ever will again. He is alone for his time and his specialty as Shakespeare, Caesar — or Bridget Bardot.”
Murray, in 1965, hadn’t foreseen the arrival of Michael Jordan a few many years later. The man who lined Jordan’s Chicago Bulls — which received six NBA titles in 9 years as Jordan racked up 5 league MVP awards — was Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune. He feels the ache of these of us charged with arising with new stuff to say about Bama. Well, form of.
“Because of the way that college football is structured, you aren’t given what we were given when Michael was in Chicago. We talked to him every single day. We had so many games to write about and so many other personalities on the team to look into, we had more options,” Smith stated. “You pretty much have the coach to write about and that’s it. And while he is quick to talk about the importance of his players and not himself, he’s really the only one doing the talking.”
Smith was so well-respected on his beat that even after writing a considerably destructive ebook about Jordan and his group, “The Jordan Rules,” the participant by no means froze him out and the group ultimately employed him to put in writing for its web site.
Smith paused for a second, fascinated by the plight of masking Bama. Then he virtually licked his chops.
“What you should do is just start writing about nothing but the players, give them all the credit,” he stated. “Perhaps their talent is overcoming the overwhelming coach. See how that goes over.”
Bob Harig, ESPN’s senior golf author, lined all 14 of Tiger Woods’ main championships and estimated he was there for not less than 45 of Tiger’s 79 profession wins. His recommendation? Keep plowing. It’s what the folks need, even when they inform you in any other case.
“I’m sure what you or anyone covering college football hears is the same that I’ve always heard about the coverage of Tiger,” he stated. “They complain, ‘Oh man, not more Tiger stuff! Aren’t you tired of that already?’ And do you run out of angles or people to ask about him? Sure. I can’t tell you how many weekends he would jump out to a huge lead on Thursday and it was like, ‘Well, here we go again.’ But there’s also a neverending appetite for it. No matter what people might say, the great ones are the story. Even when they lose.”
Oh yeah, shedding. That does occur, even when it turns into arduous to recall.
“If anything, the advice I have for people covering a great team or athlete is take a moment and appreciate what you are seeing,” Harig added. “I look back now and we really took Tiger’s success for granted. At the height of it, you are baduming every record will fall and that’s just how it’s going to be. Then it stops.”
Adds Smith: “You hang around long enough and you will cover great teams but you will also cover awful teams. Believe me when I say that the problem of trying to find new stories with a great team is a much better problem than trying to figure out a new way to say, well, they lost again.”
Believe it or not, Alabama has misplaced earlier than and can lose once more. Just ask the media member with the deepest Crimson Tide ties.
On Wednesday afternoon, sitting on the set of his SEC Network present, Paul Finebaum ready for what he anticipated to be a four-hour deluge of callers desirous to know why on this planet their beloved group was sitting second as a substitute of first within the CFP standings. Finebaum has been masking Alabama soccer since 1980, beginning on the Birmingham Post-Herald whereas Bear Bryant was nonetheless basking within the highlight of maybe his most interesting season. Only 4 years later, he was lifeless and this system was set adrift for almost a decade.
“What was the gold standard for Alabama football before Nick Saban? It was 1979,” Finebaum stated of the Tide’s 12-Zero yr that ended with the group’s second consecutive nationwide title. “But how many people even remember that? To so many now, it’s like the program didn’t even exist before Nick Saban.”
Finebaum was among the many first to brazenly speculate that Saban could be the best school soccer coach of all time. At the time, he was ridiculed. Now he catches hell anytime he dares even carry different names in any greatest-ever dialog.
“The true mark of greatness is when we stop comparing someone to other people and start only comparing him to himself,” Finebaum stated. “That’s where we are now. It’s not, how does the 2017 Alabama defense compare to the ’92 defense or the ’79 defense, it’s how do they compare to the 2012 defense?”
He smiles. “I have seen bad Alabama football teams. So have you. We’ll both see one again one day. But not today. So, we talk about and write about what we see, whether people want to hear it or not. And how would you describe what we’re seeing?”
It’s … sigh … superior.