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Thursday Thoughts on the Crimson Tide



By: Larry Burton

This has been a busy news week for the Crimson Tide. Perhaps the biggest news was that of Sarah Patterson stepping down as head coach of the ladies gymnastic team after 36 years as the head coach. What most people missed in that story was the fact that Coach Patterson was the last link to the Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant legacy. Patterson was the last hire he made as athletic director.

Bryant actually hired Patterson to simply fill the time between her hire and the dismantling of the entire ladies gymnastic team. With so little success Bryant didn’t see it as worthy enough to keep it. It was his intention to do away with the program, but Patterson, a plucky little 22 year old had different ideas and turned the program around. Not only did she save the program, but she made it a virtual juggernaut and one of the top programs in the country for almost every year of her entire lengthy career.

Good job Coach Patterson, but not goodbye. Thanks for staying around a while longer though as a special assistant in the athletic department. May the staff you so carefully groomed carry on not only your good work, but enjoy the success we’ve all become accustomed to thanks to you.

When the news broke that Alabama would kick off the 2016 season against Southern Cal at Jerry’s world outside Dallas, Tx. in the “Cowboys Classic” game, the first thought I had was not the re-uniting of two storied programs that used to play one another, but wondering how the game would sit with Lane Kiffin, if he’s still in Tuscaloosa at that time.

I’d love to know the back story on this and if Lane may have actually helped get the two together or if he would have secretly been against it. The only thing I’m sure of is that none of us will ever know all the details.

By the way, since nobody else reported it, let me catch you up on this series. In the seven games played, Alabama has won five and lost two, but one of those losses helped Alabama football perhaps more than any win ever did. In 1970 USC, with an all black backfield, played against the all white team of Alabama and was thoroughly whipped 42-21 in front of a stadium of shocked Alabama fans and a national TV audience.

Following the game, Bryant asked Sam “The Bam” Cunningham, the USC tailback, to come to the Alabama locker room. Bryant told his team he wanted them all to see what a “real” football player looked like. That game, including the outcome, was just what Bryant both expected and wanted to help him ease the process of integration at Alabama.

It worked.

The following year Bryant’s team played the return game in California and shocked the Trojans 17-10 with John Mitchell, the first black to dress out and start for the Tide helping lead the way. Because of these two games, the integration of Alabama’s team was both complete and seamlessly done.

For the record the two teams have played five times in the regular season with Alabama winning three of those.

1938 – Alabama 19 – USC 7

1970 – USC 42 – Alabama 21

1971 – Alabama 17 – USC 10

1977 – Alabama – 21 – USC 20

1978 – USC – 24 – Alabama 14

They have met twice in bowl games, the 1945 Rose Bowl, which Alabama won 34-14 and the 1985 Aloha Bowl, also won by the Tide 24-3.

In other news, Las Vegas is saying they don’t care that the Crimson Tide lost it’s quarterback, important offensive linemen and their go to receiver Kevin Norwood on offense. They don’t care that on defense the team captain is gone from the defensive front and that the secondary is presently a patchwork of first year starters. They don’t care that the best offensive coordinator Alabama’s had in a while has also left.

The betting boys and girls in Vegas all see the Tide in this year’s playoffs with a chance to win it all yet again. According to the bettors, the top three expected in the playoffs are Florida State, Alabama and Ohio State with no other team coming as close as those three.

Not only Las Vegas is putting praise on Alabama, but the coaches of the SEC are also placing the mantle of front runner on the Tide’s shoulders. So far in Hoover at SEC Media Days, all have acknowledged that the team from Tuscaloosa may just be the team with the best chance to win it all in the SEC.

That must infuriate Auburn fans who instead return all the key pieces from their SEC Championship Game victory back to campus this year. Even as the reigning SEC champions, it seems Auburn can never step out of Alabama’s shadow. In fact, Vegas has the Tide a big favorite in that game as well.

In a similar note, no one of any note has Blake Sims winning the so called “quarterback battle” against Jacob Coker. The Maxwell Award, given to the college football player of the year, put Coker on their watch list along with 35 other quarterbacks and 40 other positional players including three others from the same Tide team.

In so doing, they acknowledge him to be not only the clear cut guy to be the quarterback at Alabama, but one of the best in the nation. Big praise for a guy who never started a game. Especially when Saban is still publicly stating that the quarterback race is still wide open.

Speaking of Saban, his appearance at SEC Media Days today gave little news to what everyone already knew, but he did drop the story that two players, running back Kenyan Drake and defensive lineman Jarren Reed were suspended, but still on the team. Both players were expected to be big contributors, with Reed perhaps having a real shot at starting or being an every game contributor at least.

For Drake, this is just one more reason to justify him being as low as he is on the pecking order despite the higher yards per carry average Drake always posts.

Both will remain on the team, unless they have further transgressions and will be available after a game or two suspension.

But perhaps the most insightful thing that Saban said today was in reminding the assembled media who voted Alabama as the expected SEC champion, that they have only been correct four times in the last 22 years, the last time was when they picked the 2008 Florida Gators.

So it was that Saban got a final dig in to the press, who he has always had a less than affectionate relationship with, by telling them that they rarely get anything right. But the Crimson Tide faithful hope that this time, they get things right.

Larry is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in almost every college football venue. Now he primarily writes for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter

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