When Alabama football reflects on its 2017 national championship season, it will remember the heroics of freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the grace of quarterback Jalen Hurts.
The Crimson Tide may also, however, recall the faces of the ecstatic Auburn faithful swarming the field in Jordan-Hare Stadium after Auburn handed Nick Saban’s team an Iron Bowl loss.
But does a single scratch in the loss column mean anything with another national championship trophy hoisted high?
Depending on how deep someone’s roots are in this fight, you might get different answers. For the most part you’ll get the same one: winning the Iron Bowl matters in the state of Alabama.
In the days following the College Football Playoff title game, Gus Malzahn was vocal about how there was only one squad that could trip up the Tide — and he was absolutely correct, though it looked like at times other teams could have pulled it off.
“We felt all along this year that we were the only team that could beat Alabama, and, of course, it ended up being that way,” Malzahn said on Houston’s The Triple Threat radio show.
There was a time when not only Auburn, but the entire world of College Football seemed like it couldn’t stop the Tide from rolling. Nick Saban led his group to titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Notice the missing year, though. That, of course, is when Auburn claimed its own national title win with help from Cam Newton. Again, the Tigers, during a stretch of perfection in Tuscaloosa, had their own reasons to celebrate.
A full 365 days is a long time to hear about an Iron Bowl win. It’s a long time to hear about a championship, too. More importantly, it’s a period of time for each program to get prepared and for the motivation and anticipation to build.
The 2016 Iron Bowl, which Alabama fans didn’t even seemed that enthralled with — Bryant-Denny seemed far more pumped about a rendition of The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside“ than the actual game — is a distant memory.
Auburn, always the underdog, has started to pull recruits from the Crimson Tide’s grip (and from Georgia’s, too). They have in the past, but now there are more stars in front of certain names. There are new Tigers who are hungry and will ferociously seek a win over Alabama.
A win in this game, whether on the Plains or in Tuscaloosa, puts student-athletes in the spotlight. If truth be told it always has.
Auburn took down the No. 1 Crimson Tide inside Jordan-Hare Stadium to cap a thrilling November. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects 2017 is that Malzahn, after topping two top teams, was handed a striking contract. His job is secure for seven years — or, at least a while longer.
There’s no telling how long Nick Saban sticks around. After all, he’s got a freshman quarterback who’s ready to repeatedly step into the history books.
These two coaches, different in so many ways, have reenergized a rivalry that didn’t really need to be restored. It’s different now.
Alabama winning the 2017 title didn’t soften the Iron Bowl. It just made it that much more entertaining.