PASADENA, Calif. – The houndstooth hat is a memory — the Snake, Joe Willie and Bart Starr replaced by guys named Julio, Javier and Mount Cody.
Alabama football, though, is alive and well, thanks to a defense that would have made the Bear smile.
That defense knocked Texas quarterback Colt McCoy out of the BCS title game early Thursday night, then made a big play to save the win late and restore glory to Bear Bryant’s football factory with a 37-21 victory for the Crimson Tide’s first national title since 1992.
The Tide was the unanimous No. 1 in The Associated Press poll.
“We back,” said Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, the offensive MVP.
Hanging onto a three-point lead and with momentum on the other side, linebacker Eryk Anders preserved the victory, forcing a fumble on his blindside sack of Texas backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert with 3:02 left.
Ingram scored three plays later to give the top-ranked Tide (14-0) breathing room, then Trent Richardson added a late touchdown to make it look like a blowout it really wasn’t.
McCoy, injured on the Texas offense’s fifth play, watched most of it from the sideline with an injured throwing shoulder.
“I would have given anything to be out there, because it would have been different,” he said.
It wasn’t, though, and Nick Saban, in just his third year at Tuscaloosa, helped Alabama earn its eighth title since the polls began in the 1930s, and its seventh AP title.
Tide quarterback Greg McElroy took a knee to end the game, popped up to his feet, raised the ball high in one hand and hugged a teammate. The celebration on the floor of the Rose Bowl — not normally the Tide’s territory — was on.
“It feels good going down in history,” Terrence Cody said. “It’s hard to do, but we won.”
It was a tough game dominated by big-play defense.
Marcell Dareus will join Ingram, Cody, receiver Julio Jones, defensive back Javier Arenas and the rest in Crimson Tide lore after knocking McCoy down and out, 4:06 into the game.
“I just heard a thump when I hit him,” Dareus said. “I did lay it down pretty hard. I didn’t try to, but it felt great.”
A bit later, Dareus picked off Gilbert’s shovel pass and returned it 28 yards for a TD and a 24-6 lead late in the second quarter.
But this game was far from over.
“It was like we’d won the game at halftime,” Saban said. “But you can’t accept being average. You’re playing a team in the national championship game that knows how to win.”
The second half turned out to be anything but a laugher with Gilbert in the game — a highly recruited freshman who was Texas’ “quarterback of the future” but had thrown only 26 college passes coming into this game.
He threw two touchdown passes to All-American Jordan Shipley to trim the deficit to 24-21 with 6:15 left, and after an Alabama punt, he had the ball at the 7-yard line, 93 yards away from one of the most improbable comeback stories in the history of the game.
But after an Alabama holding penalty moved the ball to the 17, Gilbert dropped back to pass and got rocked by Anders, a senior who plays in the shadow of Cody and fellow All-American Rolando McClain. The ball went flying and Courtney Upshaw recovered.
Three plays later, Ingram surged into the end zone from the 1 for a 10-point lead. A few minutes later, after Gilbert’s third interception of the night, Richardson scored his second touchdown to make it 37-21.
Ingram finished with 116 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and Richardson had 109 yards and two scores as Alabama beat Texas for the first time in nine meetings between two of college football’s most successful teams. It also was the fourth straight national title for the Southeastern Conference.
Before Ingram brought the first Heisman back to Alabama, the Tide used to point to all its championships and say those were better than winning Heismans (Remember, Auburn?).
Now, Alabama has both.
“I don’t think anybody in the country worked harder than us,” Ingram said. “We played a great game today.”
Dareus finished with one tackle, one interception and one touchdown, but all were game-changers.
Seeking its second national title in five years, second-ranked Texas (13-1) got to the game on the back of McCoy, its All-America quarterback, who often looked like a one-man show in leading the Longhorns to 13 straight wins.
After the injury, McCoy was asking to go back in to finish his last college game. His dad, interviewed on ABC, said the injury wasn’t that bad.
But Texas coach Mack Brown decided to err on the side of caution, and McCoy spent the second half wearing a headset on the sideline, trying to encourage his teammates.
The Longhorns defense, ranked third in the country in yards allowed, kept things close while Gilbert got his feet underneath him.
And, boy, did he.
He led the Longhorns on a five-play, 59-yard drive to make it 24-13, then 60 yards for the second score, and suddenly, the Tide was falling apart, not rolling. The 2-point conversion made it 24-21.
“It’s a hard learning curve but he learned fast,” Brown said. “At one point, I thought he was going to win the ballgame.”
The Tide, however, hung on and Saban became the first coach since the polls began in 1936 to win national titles with two schools. He won the 2003 BCS championship with LSU.
The program was grounded, of course, in the hardscrabble work-ethic brought to Tuscaloosa in the 1960s by The Bear, who roamed the sideline in his houndstooth hat and painted the quintessential portrait of a football coach in those days.
His legacy still permeates almost everything at Alabama. But it was Saban, who took over a program decimated by scandals, bad decisions and NCAA troubles over the past decade, who convinced the Tide faithful they had to let go of the past if they were ever going to enjoy the present.
It took him just three short years, and now ‘Bama is back.
“Everybody has made a great team and that’s why this team is good,” Saban said. “It’s not just because of me. I’m proud of the team and proud of the way they played today and I’m really proud of the state of Alabama.”
Eddie Pells/The Associated Press