This is one of my stories for today’s editions:
TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — As an entire state focuses on Bryant-Denny Stadium today, the guys in the football jerseys and helmets should feel a little stress, shouldn’t they?
Especially for the ones in crimson shirts and white pants, so much rides on this game. Not only can Alabama retain bragging rights for another year over Auburn, the Tide needs this one to qualify for the SEC Championship Game and keep its national title hopes alive.
Leave it to Alabama’s Nick Saban, the coach known for his focus on football, to put it in perspective. Leave to him to point out why his players shouldn’t sweat so much over today’s stakes.
“None of these things are bad things,” he said. “There’s nobody taking anybody out and shooting them behind the barn.”
And that’s the key to Saban’s approach to the Iron Bowl: Don’t add to the pressure the players must feel already.
“What I see happening is people get sort of emotionally stressed out realative to their circumstances, which is where they’re ranked, who they’re playing,” he said. “And all of a sudden you get tentative and don’t play aggressively, you don’t prepare the same way. You’re worrying emotionally, which affects your ability to focus and you don’t play as well.”
In the 1990s, Alabama players under then-coach Gene Stallings said he didn’t stress out over the Iron Bowl. Instead, he treated it as he did every other week. He went 5-2 against Auburn. His predecessor, Bill Curry, had a reputation of stressing over the game and went 0-3 against the Tigers.
Without referring to any former Alabama coach, Saban said if the coaches are stressed and act like it, it can bleed down to the players.
“Play your best football,” Saban said. “Play your best football game. If you’re not good enough to win, I’m OK with that.
“I just absolutely want the players to play their best game and have the right sort of disposition about doing that, rather than be caught up in the circumstances of what’s at stake or whatever.”
The Tide players say Saban emphasizes worrying about what you can control and nothing else. They say this is how he removes stress from them.
As this is Saban’s sixth year at Alabama, the older players now pass this along to the younger players. Fifth-year senior Damion Square said he has talked to the young guys about it, especially as the season gets to crunch time.
“Just trying to get their mind right, get them focusing on the right things, things that matter,” he said. “It’s easy to focus on things that we can’t control because the media sets you up to do that.”
In Saban’s words, just play:
“Don’t get emotionally stressed out or start playing to keep from getting beat and be tentative about your approach to what you’re doing,” he said.