TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — AJ McCarron only watched the first half of this year’s SEC Championship Game.
The two-time national champion didn’t really want to sit around and watch the team that denied him a third national championship run up and down the field any longer.
Besides, he hates watching football.
“All it does is it really ticks you off and makes you want to go get better, really,” McCarron said on Tuesday. “I mean, you start thinking about things you could have done and areas you could have played better in. That's probably the biggest thing.”
It’s hard to imagine the sting of that improbable Iron Bowl going away any time soon for members of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Clips of Chris Davis sprinting down the left sideline as time expired have been played almost on repeat on ESPN and are sure to continue now that Auburn is headed to the BCS National Championship Game.
But could the “Nightmare in Jordan-Hare” turn out to be a good thing for Alabama?
It’s difficult to see it that way, especially with the memory still so fresh in everyone’s minds. But history might suggest otherwise. A crushing loss like that might be just what Alabama needed to keep the dynasty alive.
First, let’s back up three years.
Cam Newton and Auburn strolled into Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2010, undefeated and gunning for a national title. The Tigers never wavered when they fell down 24-0 in nearly the blink of an eye and mounted an epic comeback, beating Alabama in its own home 28-27.
Alabama was out of the national title picture at the time after two losses already that year. Players had cited entitlement and complacency for the slip after the 2009 title, Alabama’s first under Saban, even though the 2010 team was largely believed to be a more talented group.
So that offseason, signs popped up in the Alabama locker room that showed a picture of Alabama players celebrating on top of a picture of Newton and some teammates hugging and cheering.
In the middle were two words that became the motto of Alabama’s 2011 season: “Never Again.”
The Crimson Tide lost in overtime to LSU that year, but losses around them allowed the Tide to get back to the title game, a rematch with LSU. Its first business, though, was with Auburn. The Tide thumped the Tigers 42-14 before beating LSU 21-0 a month later.
In a way, “Never Again” carried over into the 2012 season. There was a sense that the team was getting a do-over for the 2010 disappointment, another chance to see how it would respond after a national title year. Alabama, of course, won its third championship in four years last season.
Which brings us back to this year.
It’s hard to look at this year’s Iron Bowl and not think that Alabama was outplayed. Despite entering as a double-digit favorite, it didn’t dominate the line of scrimmage like we’re used to seeing an Alabama team do. It couldn’t covert field goals and gave up nearly 300 yards rushing. I haven’t talked to an Alabama fan yet who didn’t think the Tide would lose had the game gone to overtime. It was all uncharacteristic of a Saban-coached Alabama team.
But the 2013 game could have the same effect that 2010 did and spurn another run to the dynasty.
For the last two seasons, Alabama players have had nothing but success to look back upon. Two recruiting classes have only known winning a national championship. Now, Alabama could be hungrier than ever.
McCarron will play his last game in a Tide uniform in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. He won’t be able to do anything about getting Alabama back to glory.
But for the ones who will, the pain of losing to Auburn again, and potentially watching the Tigers win a national championship, might just be what gets Alabama back to the top.