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December 23, 2012

1992 championship still resonates

TUSCALOOSA | They still get recognized on the streets, and not just streets in Tuscaloosa.

They still pose for pictures in restaurants that end up everywhere from Facebook to scrapbooks.

When the University of Alabama football team won the 1992 national championship, it had been 13 years since legendary coach Paul W. "Bear" Bryant had delivered the previous one. And it would be another 17 years before current coach Nick Saban would deliver another.

So when the Crimson Tide players from that 1992 team find themselves in the position of semi-celebrity status 20 years after winning that championship, it's of little surprise.

"It happens an awful lot. Being part of a great team from Alabama, you get recognized," said linebacker Antonio London, who now runs a facility management company, Championship Enterprises, in Alabaster. "But the whole University of Alabama athletic tradition, not just with football, creates a great atmosphere. It was the best choice I ever made, coming here."

Many younger fans of that team were too young to remember much about Bryant's 1979 national title team. So as those fans watched nearly two decades pass before the next national crown, the 1992 championship team became more and more theirs to claim.

"It's crazy. I have little kids, probably just born at that time, tell me, 'My dad - or my granddad - watched that game or watched that team,'" defensive end John Copeland said.

Earlier this year, the 1992 team reunited for a ceremony at Bryant-Denny Stadium before the Crimson Tide's 33-14 win over Ole Miss, and drew raucous applause. Artist renderings and photographs from the 1992 season hang on restaurant and tavern walls all over Tuscaloosa. Players from that team are a draw for charity golf tournaments, and the team's win in the Southeastern Conference's inaugural championship game was documented in a film this year on ESPN.

It's a certain adulation the team's players may well experience for the rest of their lives.

"The thing that opens my eyes, still today, about how people feel about that championship, is that I'm 42 years old now; I am still at least seven, eight times a year, asked to come do autograph signings," Copeland said. "We're 20 years removed from that championship, and people still want to come get autographs, talk about that championship and how great that team was."

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