Alabama team captain Barrett Jones speaks to reporters at Miami International Airport. (Copyright photo by Gary Cosby Jr. of The Decatur Daily)
MIAMI — How has Alabama handled the crush of hype for the BCS National Championship Game? Chance Warmack’s smile answered that.
Let’s back up for a moment until we get to the smile.
As Alabama’s charter flight took off from Tuscaloosa, two bus loads of reporters pulled into Miami International Airport to wait for the Crimson Tide to touch down, which it did at about 4:25 p.m. Miami time. Those waiting included about 25 volunteers and workers with the Orange Bowl committee, which is in charge of organizing this year’s national title game.
Even the Miami International Airport’s director of security, Lauren Stover, waited. She had her own camera crew following her around. The Travel Channel’s reality show “Airport 24/7: Miami” tracked her every move, and if you stumbled near her, somebody with the show would run up and get you to sign a release. (I didn’t do that, but a few of my colleagues did and looked a little shellshocked at the experience).
When the team filed off the plane, Tide head coach Nick Saban spoke to that gaggle of reporters for about five minutes. Then came the team captains: Barrett Jones, Damion Square and Warmack.
Everbody was outside, and with noise from the buses, the airplanes moving around, and the wind, the reporters packed closely around each player so they could hear. So what does Warmack do when he sees all these faces and cameras ready to crowd around him as tightly as a defensive line trying to close down every possible gap?
He just smiles and says, “Heeeyyyy!” Then he answers questions as easily as if about 50 old friends just happened to come invade his personal space on the airport’s tarmac.
A pack of reporters? Heck, these Alabama players have been there, done that and answered every possible question about it.
Hype? They know all about hype. The seniors have made the BCS National Championship Game three times in four years. They’ve helped Alabama win 48 of its past 53 games.
The non-seniors have played a part in plenty of Crimson Tide wins, too.
More importantly, they’ve played a part in big games that drew plenty of attention.
Alabama played in four of the six highest rated regular-season games this year, including against Georgia at No. 1 on the list (9.8 Neilsen rating), LSU at No. 3 (6.8), Texas A&M at No. 4 (6.6) and Michigan at No. 6 (4.8).
The Crimson Tide played in the highest-rated bowl game last year against LSU and the highest-rated regular season game, also against LSU. In 2010, the highest-rated regular-season game was Alabama vs. Auburn. In 2009, the season’s highest-rated game was Alabama’s win over Texas for the national championship.
When reporters asked Saban about the experience factor during his own media session on the tarmac, he declined to make much of it. He did as he often does with those questions — turned back to the old Michael Jordan quote he likes.
“He said it doesn’t matter how many game-winning shots you’ve made in the past,” Saban said. “What matters is the next one.”
But he did concede this much: “Since (the players) have been there before, they might be able to handle the distractions better.”
Notre Dame enters this one as just about the polar opposite. The Irish haven’t won a national title since 1988 or played in a game of real national significance this late in the season since 1993.
Still, if you want a comparison that goes in Notre Dame’s favor, consider the Sugar Bowl 20 years ago. Unbeaten Alabama hadn’t played a game of real significance in a long time (just like Notre Dame now), and Miami entered having won two of the previous three titles and an overwhelming favorite for another (just like Alabama now). Alabama won that one by three touchdowns.
But Saban is guarding against being too comfortable with the hype, too. After all, if he has used that Jordan quote so often with reporters, imagine how often the team has heard it.
In addition, the over-confident, too-relaxed Miami players 20 years ago weren’t saying anything like Jones did when he got off the plane Wednesday:
“People ask me all the time if you get tired of playing for a national championship,” he said. “Of course not. Every game is a little different, and this one is going to be a big challenge for us.”
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