Alabama players using 'participation trophy' as motivation this season
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Four years ago, Alabama made headlines when former strength coach Scott Cochran took a sledgehammer to the runner-up trophy the Crimson Tide received following its loss to Clemson in the 2017 national championship game. This year, Alabama is taking a different approach when it comes to dealing with defeat.
Friday, starting offensive guard Emil Ekiyor Jr. revealed that Alabama is displaying its “participation trophy” from last season’s national championship loss to Georgia by making it front and center in the team’s cafeteria.
According to the offensive lineman, the Crimson Tide has added a sign under it that reads: “Participation trophy, are you happy with it?”
"Just a little motivation to see that every day and it reminds you, OK, this is what we're really working for to change the outcome of the season," Ekiyor said. "Focused on being the best we can be this year to ultimately have a different outcome at the end of the year."
The Crimson Tide posted a 13-2 record while beating Georgia in the SEC Championship Game but ultimately ended its season on a sour note as suffered a 33-18 loss to the Bulldogs in the national championship game. During his post-practice press conference on Thursday, Nick Saban spoke about his player’s mindset coming off the loss, stating that he hopes it provides a chip on their shoulders heading into the new season.
“I’d like for players to have that kind of edge for who they want to be, how they want to play, to be the best players that they can be regardless of what happened last year, whether they won and had success like we did the year before,” Saban said. “Whether we lost. It was a little humiliation in terms of pride in performance and not being able to finish the way we’d like. Losing the game in the fourth quarter. I think all those things are motivating factors for players.”
Saban went on to say that he hopes his players play up to the Alabama standard regardless of the result on the field. However, he did acknowledge that losses can lead to better responses from the team.
“Is that what we want? No,” Saban said. “But I think that’s probably something that is pretty normal for most of us human beings.”
If nothing else, the daily runner-up reminder still leaves a bitter taste in the team’s mouth every time it sits down for meals.
“It’s kinda hard to turn the page," Ekiyor said. “Obviously, it was a tough loss. We worked all year to achieve that goal. In a way, we still haven’t turned the page because it’s always in the back of our mind.”