Without a prompt, without notice, University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban deviated from the normal coach speak Sunday morning, drifting into a message aimed at downplaying the championship or bust expectations surrounding his football team.
“We’re very excited to have the opportunity to try and get this team to perform as well as they possibly can to hopefully reach their full potential” Saban started. “I know it is an exciting time for you as well, but you have to keep perspective on what is going to make that happen.”
The statement continued before Saban started heating up.
“I know you have all of these comparison questions, where you’re ranked, how many games you are going to win, what’s going to happen with this guy, and which guy is going to make the biggest impact on the team. All of these predictions you all make, they hijack the game.”
“Why do we play the games?” he continued. “To answer the questions.”
As he continued to expound on the statement, the intensity and enthusiasm continued to rise with each and every word. Then, a pause.
There was once a commercial for the University of Alabama that eventually became a fixture in pregame festivities inside Bryant Denny Stadium. It showed players wearing jerseys with numbers to signify the quantity of All-Americans, bowl appearance, bowl victories, SEC titles, and national championships. As the camera scrolled through the jerseys, it paused before a voice proclaimed “At some places they play football, at Alabama we live it.”
With no professional sports team in the state along with a tradition and legacy entrenched in the minds and hearts of much of the state’s population, this is a fan base that lives for college football.
This is a fan base where thousands travel to Tuscaloosa on hot September afternoons and crisp November nights with or without ticket for a reunion with family members they never knew existed. The scent of bourbon and barbeque fills the air, as evaluations of Saban’s most recent recruiting class and talk of championships, past and future, rain down from every direction.
While that scene will soon reappear under the shadows of Denny Chimes, the comparisons of this years team the Saban’s 2010 team have been in full swing since January 10th. Preseason All-American teams have been plastered on the covers of magazines, while win-loss predictions have long been debated on talk radio.
Inside the football complex, focus is not an issue. But eventually those players must leave the facility where they’ll flip on flip on their TVs and read articles littered with praise, diverting them from the directives of their head coach.
The media and fans will always be sending a message and with statements like Saban’s Sunday speech ensures that the message his players hear come from him, and not someone else. Time and time again, in a world full of clutter, it is those statements that reinforce his team’s focus
Saban eventually continued after that pause, wrapping up his statement before talking questions from a room of reporters. However, his message had already been delivered.