On Monday night I watched all 40 minutes of the Alabama Crimson Tide victory over the LSU Tigers in the 2011 BCS national championship game. On Tuesday morning I tried to figure out how I stuck around for that long.
The BCS title game has given us either greatness or, more often than not, zonks throughout its 14-year existence. The 2002 battle between Ohio State and Miami, the 2005 instant classic between Texas and USC, or last season's Auburn vs. Oregon showdown come to mind as great ones while USC's thumping of Oklahoma in 2004 or the 2006 through 2009: "SEC-beats-up-on-some-other-conference's-champion" era reminds me of how change-the-channel worthy these games can often be.
Make no mistake, Monday night's clash of SEC rivals was a boring football game. Well, unless you are either A) an Alabama fan or B) an avid defensive-minded enthusiast.
To put Alabama's defensive performance into the perspective for any offense-oriented fan, this was the equivalent of Clemson scoring, not 70, but 90 points, the Miami Heat dropping 155, or the Boston Bruins scoring 10 goals in a game.
Exaggeration? Not really. The Crimson Tide gave up 92 total yards on 44 plays. That is a measly 2.1 yards per play. Alabama gave up five, count 'em, five first downs and treated the 50-yard-line as if THAT were the end-zone (LSU didn't cross until just under eight minutes left in the game). This was the best a defense could possibly play, and to do it on that big of a stage, against an LSU team who secretly averaged 40.9 ppg against teams not named Alabama, was something college football fans should remember for the rest of their lives.
What impressed me the most, though, was how ESPN kept me in front of the TV from start to finish. In all reality, this game was over at halftime. A 9-0 deficit means nothing in a Stanford vs. Oklahoma State type of game, but for these two teams, nine points is an eternity. LSU needed four quarters PLUS overtime in their previous meeting, and the way Alabama's defense was playing Monday night, it would have taken them years to reach the 10 needed to win.
Yet there was the score. 9-0. Still single digits to, well, no digit. There's still a whole half left to be played, and in my mind I'm thinking, "If LSU just gets a safety (plausible) and a touchdown (less-plausible), this thing is tied right up!"
Then I watch the start of the third quarter. I watch it get to 12-0. I watch it get to 15-0, and I begin pondering what else might be on TV. See, when you are watching an LSU vs. Alabama game, you have to put the score through a type of money-translator/inflation/deflation machine. 15-0 is a normal game's 35-0.
This is when ESPN threw their first subtle hint to stick around. The bottom ticker had an NCAAF story about how talks would take place after the season to consider changing the BCS system. It was almost like an apology note saying, "Hey, we're really sorry this game didn't turn out well, but just tough it out for another quarter and we'll give you something better next year."
The next move was a few epic camera shots of Jarrett Lee. Suddenly, and albeit completely irrationally, I'm ready for Lee to come in and magically be Tim Tebow-in-the-fourth-quarter type of clutch and lead the Tigers to a late-game charge (despite the fact that in the regular-season start he was 3-7 for 24 yards, two interceptions, and a QB rating of 14.5).
I was somehow convinced this game was going to morph into the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXVIII, when the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers put up a combined 37 points, completely out of nowhere, in those final 15 minutes.
So I stuck around. There I am nearly yelling at the TV for Les Miles to put in backup Jarrett "Tom Brady" Lee into the game. Soon enough, Jordan Jefferson has his big scramble, the LSU offense is kind of rolling, and there's that score again. 15-0. It's still only two touchdowns away!
Fumble. Turnover. Trent Richardson scores on a great run. 21-0. Ok, I should be able to walk away...
Here come the stats about the last time there was a shutout in a National Championship game and how this would be the first in the BCS era. Urggh, well I guess I have to stick around for this.
Then comes my favorite part of the game. After Jefferson throws an incomplete pass, a pass for a loss, then gets sacked (the usual 1-2-3 punch for LSU Monday night), LSU goes for the punt. Punt goes up, but so too does a penalty flag. If it's on Alabama, it's their first of the night.
Sure enough, it is on Alabama. Offside. Five-yard-penalty. Re-kick. Camera goes to Nick Saban and he is absolutely pissed. He's screaming, he's pacing the sidelines, he looks ready to make his whole team run wind sprints right there in the Superdome. This Alabama player had spoiled perfection and nothing on Saban's face looked like that of a man three minutes away from his third national championship.
In a perfect segue, ESPN began building up the inevitable Gatorade dump. The last time Alabama won it all, the dump was handled poorly and Saban gave the players the same dirty glare he was now wearing after the offsides penalty. What if they screwed up again with the Gatorade? Would Saban dodge it all together? Would they be afraid to even—why am I this concerned about the Gatorade dump?
The 2011 BCS national championship game should always be remembered for the incredible defensive performance put on by Alabama, but I will remember it as the night ESPN made a 21-0 game (which translated to normal games was more like 45-0) feel like either team could pull it off. Previous boring title games sent me off to bed early or on to other TV shows, whereas Monday night's game kept me excited all the way up to the smoother-than-expected Gatorade bath.