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November 13, 2012
HURT: Perfect seasons hard to come by
Stereotypes about Tuscaloosa are as thick as our August mosquitoes - see, there is another one - and as a general rule, I try to avoid them. In this instance, though, I am going to break that rule and do what most outsiders think we do all day long, every day.
I am going to quote Paul "Bear" Bryant.
The topic? Undefeated football seasons.
I don't pretend that I knew Bryant, beyond a scant professional acquaintance, but I was the No. 2 Alabama reporter at the Tuscaloosa News in 1982 - my first year as a reporter, his last season as a coach. I would occasionally interview him after practice, and twice had longer talks in his office.
In one of those visits, being young and bold and not too bright, and with the Crimson Tide off to a fast start, having just knocked off Penn State, I asked a question about "going undefeated." It was October, far too early for such a question, and had Bryant been in a different mood, I would probably have earned a quick ushering through the office door.
Instead, the venerable coach took pity on the rookie reporter, and answered the question in a way that I have remembered - checking the microfilm archives confirmed that the memory was verbatim - ever since.
Bryant explained that it wasn't enough to have the best players, although that certainly helped. It wasn't enough to have the best coaching, although that certainly helped. But he had teams of great talent - teams with Joe Namath, and John Hannah, and Ozzie Newsome - that didn't make it unscathed through the regular season and the bowl. And the greatest coach in college football explained that, no matter how well you recruited, or how diligently you prepared, no matter how much you reduced the margin of error in those ways, you occasionally had to get a break.
"You've got to have injury luck," Bryant said. "And you've got to have schedule luck."
This week, I have wondered if the Alabama team of 2012 had enough of both. That doesn't mean that Texas A&M was lucky, or that Alabama made no mistakes in last Saturday's loss. Bryant wasn't looking to make excuses for any of his teams that fell short. He was just stating facts.
How much would a healthy Jalston Fowler have changed Alabama's offense this year? Would his presence in the backfield have made the Crimson Tide more likely to run the football, and more successful when it did? There is no "answer" to those questions, but it is fair to state that his absence has had an effect.
"Schedule luck" is even more obvious. That doesn't mean scheduling "easy" games. It does mean playing the right teams at the right time. In the past two weeks, Alabama faced its most physical opponent and the team that is its most formidable psychological rival, LSU, on the road. Then it had to come home to play the league's hottest offense, an entirely different attack for which to prepare, while dealing with those emotions.
It was far different playing Texas A&M in that spot than it might have been in September. That doesn't mean there was anything "unfair" about it. It doesn't mean A&M wasn't the better team on Saturday. It was, precisely, the luck of the draw. It just wasn't good luck for Alabama.
Whether this Alabama team can regroup and join the UA pantheon of great one-loss teams - 1964, 1973, 1978, 2011 - remains to be seen. It is entirely possible that the exposed flaws that must be corrected will cost Alabama another game before the season ends. But it is too soon to simply dismiss the team because it did not go undefeated.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.
Join Andrew Bone Wednesday night at 6:00 p.m. for the weekly recruiting chat. Join Chase Goodbread on Thursday at 8:00 p.m. for UA team chat.