Gather 'round readers, and I will tell you an epic tale of Biblical proportions. It is the story of how the Alabama Crimson Tide was ripped from the Promised Land and enslaved in the land of mediocrity. The tale does not yet have an ending, as you will see, but the story is no less intriguing.
Friday night, Jan. 1, 1993. Alabama players lifted Gene Stallings on their shoulders and walked him toward midfield to meet Miami’s dejected coach, Dennis Erickson. Gene basked in the cheers and gave a fist pump toward the crowd, which only made the ovation louder. It had been 13 years and three coaches coming, but the joy was back in Tuscaloosa!
I see that image every morning on a painting when I walk into my office. It forever reminds me that Alabama can achieve what others thought we couldn’t. Images like that will have to sustain us all as we persevere to endure this long journey back.
But on that magical night in New Orleans, so long ago, there was no thought of anything but enjoying the moment and the days to come back in the Promised Land. Alabama was back on top of the mountain, and we all assumed this was just the beginning of another long and dominating run in the tradition of our gloried school.
Like the Israelites, we finally left bondage and were once again set to return and stay in the Promised Land. Never again would we suffer so long to be atop the mountain. Or so it was thought.
An almost Biblical epic was about to befall us.
We did not realize that this was the beginning of one of the darkest periods in Alabama’s history. For little did we know that, in the celebration that followed in the streets and bars of Bourbon Street, a renegade sports agent would secretly sign an underclassman to a deal that would bring about the full wrath and scorn of the NCAA to be dropped on us like the plagues delivered to Egypt.
The great 'Bama Nation was so busy enjoying the fruits of our release from the bondage of mediocrity that we were blinded to what was to come.
Quickly—far too quickly—were we once again ripped from our rightful place and once again cast into the land of mediocrity.
By the time the final rulings, scholarship cuts, lack of talent due to those scholarship cuts, bowl bans, and other punishments were finished, we had gone through 14 years and four coaches and were still a team in chaos.
No coach provided an answer, but the fans, though disgruntled with everything, kept coming, kept supporting the boys, and kept praying. We believed in one another, but it was not enough.
For the fanbase of the 'Bama Nation, we felt we understood what it was like during the Biblical Exodus from Egypt. Except, unlike Moses, who stuck out the whole journey, some coaches even turned their back on us and left. Losses we all felt were exempt in our reality began happening, and the luster of our once-proud program was tarnished. We needed a leader.
Then, after what felt like 40 years in desert, but was actually 14 years and two days, Nick Saban agreed to come to Tuscaloosa and lead our nation back to the Promised Land. He was not greeted as a coach but as our hero and savior. His every move was news, and his first appearance on a sideline that the public was allowed to attend saw over 93,000 people max out Bryant-Denny Stadium to watch a practice game.
Surely, this was the man to lead us back to the Promised Land after so long. He had taken another group there already, and we felt they were far less worthy and deserving than us. If he could lead that team, he could surely lead us. Suddenly, the whole 'Bama Nation was raised up in joy. We would finally go home!
Some began to waiver in their faith in our return to the land of milk, honey, and crystal trophies when another seven and six season followed. The Israelites worshiped false idols and caused God to make them wander for more years as retribution. Likewise, 'Bama had players who failed to see and follow the true light.
Saban cast out those players that worshiped laziness, apathy, and malcontent. We—players, coaches, faculty, and fans—were now all on one page, following one route.
Now, almost 16 years into the desert, Saban has indeed led us to the mountain top, where we can see the green grass of the Orange Bowl waving softly in the gentle southern breeze. But we are seeing it from a distance. There is still much to do and other major obstacles to conquer before we get there.
Ahead of us, blocking our path, is the team that Saban himself showed the way. And last year, they returned to the Promised Land yet again, even without him. They resent Saban leaving them and daring to take another team to the land that they feel is theirs, so they will do everything to stop Alabama. But they have grown tired and weak from their merriment in the Promised Land and will fall.
The following week lay the trapping of a scorned coach, whom we refused to let lead us, named Sylvester Croom. He and his Mississippi State Bulldogs have battled and beaten our beloved Tide the last two years, and he would love to continue having us for company out in the desert. But Alabama will leave them behind with cleat marks scattered over their bruised bodies.
Surviving that is the team that has cast the blackest plague on Alabama, a team that has beaten them for the last six years. That team is Auburn. To have its most storied rival beating us six times in a row is like having Pharaoh lash your back for 60 years. Payback is finally at hand and punishment will be severe.
Then, before we can enter the gates of the Orange Bowl, we must face an Orange-and-Blue clad team that also has recently tasted the fruits of the “Garden of the Great” and they are anxious, ready, and willing to not only stop us from entering but take out place! This will be the great battle.
Can Saban part the Gator-filled waters with this group and return us from all these years of wandering? That remains to be seen. But for now, the view from the mountain top is majestic and from there, all things seem possible.