MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — At the end of a long, exhausting, strange and uncomfortable college football season, there was finally a little bit of normalcy as the final seconds of the game scored Monday night at Hard Rock Stadium in the college football playoffs: Alabama lifts another national championship trophy after a dominant historic victory.
Only a small portion of the approximately 14,000 fans were allowed to enter the facility, subject to existing restrictions, to attend the festivities. Every two years, friends, family, media, photographers and organizers gather on the field for a huge party three feet deep on a makeshift stage. On Monday night, the lone player made snow angels out of fallen confetti while his teammates were content to hug the team staff.
Alabama’s victory seemed to be the inevitable end, especially since the most dominant coach in sports assembled the most dominant team with the most dominant players. Anyone who watched the AT&T National University Football Playoff Championship against Ohio State on Monday thinking they were watching a game in progress saw Exhibit 13, which showed why the Buckeyes simply didn’t stand a chance.
DeVonta Smith, winner of the Heisman Trophy, owned Ohio State so much that he stole several game records before halftime and would have broken even more had he not sprained a finger on his right hand. Behind them was Najee Harris, bursting onto the field with such force that their collective will was inevitably broken. Quarterback Mack Jones, who organized another nearly flawless offensive play and set his own championship records along the way, led the way.
Red Tide could not be stopped during the season. They were unbeatable in a 52-24 championship performance that no one will soon forget.
I think this team has accomplished more than any other team, said Alabama coach Nick Saban, who won a record seventh national title. We played 13 games and went undefeated, despite all the setbacks we’ve had this season. I think there’s a lot to write about the team’s legacy.
This Alabama team will have its own place in history, and rightfully so. What this team has accomplished goes beyond points, great stats and Heisman. Players in all sports have made more sacrifices than ever; they have suffered more than ever; they have faced physical and mental challenges that are still persistent.
You played football during the pandemic.
We may not realize how remarkable this season was until much later, perhaps years later, when we reflect on the extraordinary circumstances in which it all took place.
It’s been an unprecedented year with a lot of adversity, Alabama forward Alex Leatherwood said. But we stayed the course. We tried to stay focused, we took matters into our own hands on a daily basis and really involved everyone in what we wanted to achieve – and we won.
Ohio State also lobbied for the opportunity, believing they also had a competitive team with Justin Fields at the helm. Although the Buckeyes started their season later than Alabama, they’ve had to deal with a lot of coronavirus issues to get to this point – and even debated delaying the championship game because they had more COVID-19 issues last week.
All of this is a testament to the uncertainty that has surrounded this season. No one really knew if college football would stop because the coaches told anyone who would listen: You’re no better than your last test. The season was becoming more uncertain by the day. Coaches, players and support staff held their breath as they waited for the results of the coronavirus test.
This only increased the stress for the players as they tried their best to follow all the safety protocols to continue playing. While the SEC teams fought the outbreaks and Saban himself fought the coronavirus, only one team felt truly safe: Alabama, thanks to Smith, Harris, Jones and all the others. Yes, there were some low blows along the way. But this is a team that hasn’t scored 40 or more points twice and had three players in the top five for the Heisman – and you could really say it should have been 1-2-3 today.
Of course, this doesn’t happen by accident. Saban recruits the best players and then develops the best. But this kind of abuse wasn’t meant to happen either. Saban saw a change in college football as the offense began to use more players who could score at will, and with that, the Crimson Tide became an unstoppable offensive force. Remember the first two times he won a national championship with Alabama: The Tide scored 58 points, six more than Monday night.
Error! The file name is not specified. DeVonta Smith won the Heisman Trophy and set a record in the first half of the title race. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Steve Sarkisian, Alabama’s offensive coordinator, led another masterful game. Knowing that Smith will play every game, he will put him in a new and different formation to get the ball. But mostly Smith was right behind and in front of Ohio State defenders. By the end of the first half, Smith had 12 strikes for 215 yards and three touchdowns, broke three SEC career records, set a BCS/CFP championship record, tied another and set a school-bowling record.
Saban said Sarkisian was very good at running the game. He knows what the other team is doing, he knows how to attack them, he knows where to line up the players to put them in position to make those plays against what the other team is doing. He just did a fantastic job this year.
Meanwhile, Jones threw for 464 yards, beating Joe Burrow’s record for the BCS/CFP championship with five touchdowns in passing.
A year after college football experts declared Burrow’s LSU team the best offense of all time, Alabama claimed the crown. None of this should come as a shock. Alabama missed qualifying games a year ago and saw division rivals Tigers come out on top of everyone. Did anyone think Saban didn’t care?
Jones, who had much of the second half under his belt and was still making perfectly placed passes in succession, went a step further and said Alabama was the better offense.
I think we’re the best team that’s ever played, Jones said. No team will ever play in this SEC program again. But at the same time, we are so excited to win this game and put the icing on the cake. There wasn’t much pressure, we just wanted to play the game we’ve all been playing since we were 5 years old.
Despite all the unknown details of how this season has unfolded, the Crimson Tide have committed to each other.
We had a mission, Smith said. Everyone wanted it to end well. We all went to work every day and just put the work in place. We got the result we wanted.
And in the end, we all could have predicted an outcome.