Nearly eight years ago, the Alabama football program collapsed.
Nick Saban was in his first year at the helm. The Crimson Tide had been ranked — twice — before dropping two straight to No. 1 LSU and Mississippi State.
Late in November, Louisiana-Monroe was a welcome reprieve from the SEC gauntlet. The Warhawks were 24 ½-point underdogs that had already dropped six games. They fell behind, 7-0, before their offense could touch the ball at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
But — like Appalachian State earlier that year — the boys from Monroe put up an unexpected fight. The Warhawks went into halftime tied, 14-14, added another TD in the third, and then shut out John Parker Wilson and the Alabama offense for the remainder of the game.
The final score: Louisiana-Monroe 21, Alabama 14.
“This win means everything to our program right now,” Warhawks running back Frank Goodin told the Associated Press afterwards. “It’s the biggest win as far as I know for this program.”
For Alabama, it was a nightmare.
Saban compounded the trouble with unbecoming remarks the following week.
“Changes in history usually occur after some kind of catastrophic event,” Saban said. “It may be 9/11, which sort of changed the spirit of America relative to catastrophic events. Pearl Harbor kind of got us ready for World War II, and that was a catastrophic event.”
A year removed from a failed NFL stint with the Miami Dolphins, Saban received plenty of backlash for those comments, and swiftly apologized. But the message remained: Alabama was in for a change.
The results came quickly; The Tide finished 12-2 with a Sugar Bowl appearance in 2008, and then won a national championship — Alabama’s first since 1992 — the following year.
Saban coached two more champions in 2011 and 2012, and has built arguably the most impressive college football program in the country since Louisiana-Monroe last visited town.
Saturday marks the Warhawks’ return.
Alabama (2-1) is ranked No. 12 in the country. The Crimson Tide are favored by 38 points over Monroe (1-1), which is three weeks removed from a 51-14 thrashing at Georgia.
All signs point to a big win for ‘Bama.