Alabama’s outside influence on the NFL continues. Super Bowl 51, between Cyrus Jones’ and Dont’a Hightower’s New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons with Courtney Upshaw and Julio Jones, will guarantee an Alabama alumnus a Super Bowl ring for the fifth consecutive year.
It’s no coincidence that most of those names come from Alabama’s absurdly stacked, program-changing 2008 recruiting class — the group that changed the landscape of football, according to this excellent story from Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report.
Best part of interviewing people for '08 'Bama recruiting class piece was the way everyone sorta nonchalantly acknowledged Julio's absurdity
— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) January 22, 2017
Adam’s story does a much better job of synthesizing that class’s stature than I ever could, but I will add one thing: I grew up in and went to high school in Mobile, Ala., one of the most talent-rich areas in the region, football-wise. In Monte Burke’s biography of Nick Saban, the area is singled out as the cornerstone of Saban’s recruiting empire. Some of the great names in college and the NFL played in that region, from Ken Stabler to Nick Fairley.
In my generation, there were two players who were spoken of with that breathless reverence that told you they were destined for the NFL, if they didn’t get sidetracked. Julio had that reputation from his earliest high school days, and by the time he was a junior, it was easy to see why. He was the kind of player who you had to alter expectations for, who you had to concede would reach 200 yards as a matter of course. Beating Julio’s teams meant not letting him score more than three touchdowns, usually.
For a wide receiver to have that kind of game-changing effect at that age was astounding. The only other player I remember coming close? T.J. Yeldon.
- Greg Byrne is the son of an athletic director, and not intimidated by Alabama.
- His new position makes him one of the most prominent ADs in the country. He plans to use that stature for good.
- One of his duties? Decide on Coleman Coliseum’s future.
- Byrne once stepped away from athletics into the “private sector.” He only lasted a year and came back hungrier than ever.
- Roll Bama Roll breaks down the film from the national championship game …
- … and previews the coming baseball season.
- And the New York Times has a moving and troubling story about former Alabama player and ALS victim Kevin Turner’s parents.
The Alabama basketball team got whipped on the road in Auburn on Saturday afternoon, partially fueled by Auburn’s gross advantage at the free throw line. In some ways, the game is a write-off. Even on the road in Auburn, a 42-19 free throw split is an aberration, to say the least. The most troubling sign was not the final score, 84-64, but the way Alabama got absolutely manhandled in the post and fell apart down the stretch.
Back-breaking threes are only back-breaking if you let them be. When Mustapha Heron hit a three-pointer to put Auburn up four with six minutes to play, Alabama needed a stop and a make to keep it close. It couldn’t get it, and got basically no stops from then on out, letting what had been a close game balloon out of control.
From another point of view, it’s as bad a result as Alabama’s had all season. The Crimson Tide entered Saturday with the upper hand in the battle for supremacy in the state. With Bruce Pearl and Avery Johnson both attempting to sell recruits on the merits of their respective programs’ new way forward, Alabama can’t afford to drop the home leg of the matchup. It’s the closest thing Alabama has to a must-win game this season.
Built by Bama
- Jones posted 180 yards on 9 catches, including 2 touchdowns, as his Falcons beat Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s Packers, 44-21, in the NFC Championship.
- Dont’a Hightower recorded 3 tackles as his Patriots beat the Steelers in the AFC Championship.
Sticking the Landing
The Alabama gymnastics team recorded its first win of the season on Friday night, going on the road to Missouri to beat the Tigers, 197.225-195.5. The performance was encouraging for several reasons: Alabama posted the third-highest road score in the country this season, behind only Florida and LSU. The Crimson Tide managed to stick several more landings than the previous week, especially on vault and balance beam. Freshman Wynter Childers responded to falling in her first home meet by posting a 9.925 on beam on the road, pacing Alabama to a 49.6 total on beam, equalling the best score in the country this season.
Alabama did all this despite unusually shaky showings on uneven bars and floor exercise, where it typically excels. The Crimson Tide scored a 49.1 on floor exercise, unusually low for what has historically been a floor school. It also got to rest its best all-around worker, Kiana Winston, and still posted its best score of the season.
In the end, the meet was an example of Alabama’s great potential and ability to grow quickly. I’m not sure anyone can beat Oklahoma this season, but the Crimson Tide have all the tools they need to be great.
Around the Capstone
- Women’s basketball beat Ole Miss, 65-57, on the road behind 22 points from a freshman.
- It was a rough weekend for both men’s and women’s tennis.
- The Alabama club hockey team swept Auburn, 10-0 and 8-3, to win the “Iron Cup.”
— Alabama Hockey (@AlabamaHockey) January 22, 2017