A John Cougar Mellencamp song filled Bryant-Denny Stadium as Alabama true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts dazzled the Tide faithful all season.
Four months later, the words take on a new meaning. Losing does, in fact, Hurt So Good.
Complacency plagued me this Alabama season. It was hard to get excited about games I knew we would win. The joy brought by last-minute wins was but a distant memory as the Tide seemed to annihilate opponent after opponent.
Something happened halfway through the first quarter. The complacency of my emotions seemed cured, somewhat. The excitement returned. This was an actual, competitive game. I couldn’t predict the outcome. It was going to be a struggle.
Losing offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin made a noticeable impact on Hurts as a young quarterback. Tight end O.J. Howard was not the Howard of last year’s national championship game. The offensive line struggled. Many expected that before the opener against USC in September, but the Tide managed to mask it most of the season.
Halftime came and went. An Alabama win seemed all but a done deal. Number 17. Nick Saban tied with Bear Bryant at six. The word “dynasty” plastered in headlines everywhere.
Then “it” finally arrived. There was an “X-factor,” something that coaches can’t simulate in practice. “It” equated to Clemson playing with raw emotion. Also: Alabama’s offense couldn’t convert third downs. In the 15th game of a grueling season, the Tigers wore down the Alabama defense. NINETY NINE OFFENSIVE PLAYS. That is insane. It’s also the most Alabama’s defense ever has faced. The defense suddenly became like the Titanic, the unsinkable ship which did in fact sink.
It became hard to watch. My eyes covered, watching between my fingers, the need to win returned.
“What is happening?”
“Why is Jalen throwing the ball?”
“Run the damn ball!”
All of the normal catchphrases came shouting out. Sark planned the game around Bo Scarbrough. The running back got hurt, and Sark didn’t have a good backup plan.
When Alabama scored in the fourth quarter to regain the lead, it scored too quickly. The “L” word lingered. Deshaun Watson, who should have won the Heisman Trophy, drove his team down the field. Forget a field goal, the former Alabama “crawl-on” receiver-turned-Clemson head coach said. Go for it.
Then it happened. The walk-on star of the night (Hunter Renfrow) made a play that will go down in history. It brought back memories of the USC vs. Texas national championship. It was an incredible play and an incredible end to a game. The confetti in the cannons changed to orange and purple. And there we sat, in complete and utter disbelief.
How? How did that happen? Did that just happen?
Yes. Yes it did.
As hard as the loss was — maybe it is more a state of shock — it was difficult to be completely devastated listening to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney talk about his team, its heart and how it played. It got very dusty in that room.
Clemson earned this win. It outplayed Alabama in every way. Incredible game. Boy, does it “Hurt So Good.”