PASADENA, Calif. — The word is the old ghost still roams the halls at the University of Alabama. When the thunder rolls in the distance, there are those who swear they can hear the familiar deepness of his voice in the background. As long as the locals think touchdowns are a good idea, his shadow will cast over the Crimson Tide football program.
On a night like this, then, you kind of wonder what Bear Bryant would think of this Alabama team.
Probably, he would exhale loudly, nod his approval and say:
"You know, all of this feels kind of familiar."
At long last, the Crimson Tide rolls again. After 17 years of watching other teams celebrate, Alabama has regained control of college football. With the same relentless running attack and the same merciless defense that defined Bryant's finest teams, the Tide held off a wounded Texas team 37-21 for the BCS national title Thursday.
Another Alabama coach is lifting a trophy toward the stadium lights. And doesn't that take you back to the old days?
Yeah, Bryant would like this, all right. He has been gone for almost 27 years now, longer than any of these players have been alive, but Bryant always liked to watch backs run, and he always liked to see defenses rise up in the crucial moments when they needed a play. Frankly, he was kind of fond of winning, too.
Oh, give credit to Texas for making it a show. Most of the argument seemed to be over on the Longhorns' fifth offensive play, when quarterback Colt McCoy, Texas' lone star, injured his right (passing) shoulder on a running play. When Alabama raced to a 24-6 lead, that seemed to be that.
Without McCoy, it was easy to think, this might as well have been the Alamo Bowl for all the drama that remained. And after seeing freshman backup Garrett Gilbert in his first few series, it was easy to wonder if Texas would be a Top 25 team, let alone an unbeaten contender, without McCoy. There for a while, Texas might as well have changed its name to the third-and-Long Horns.
Oh, Gilbert came back to throw two second-half touchdown passes, and he took Texas within a touchdown of Alabama. But in the end, throwing a kid in against Alabama's defense was simply too much to ask him to handle.
Of course, nothing about the Texas quarterback situation will lessen the joy in Alabama, nor should it. After all, injuries happen. And let's face it. While McCoy might have made things more interesting — certainly, the Longhorns' early lead might have been greater than 6-0 — he wouldn't have had much to say about the way the Tide ran the ball.
Here's an idea: Next season maybe they should wait to play the SEC title game until after the BSC Championship Game. After all, that seems to be where all the drama is. For four straight years the SEC champion has gone on to win the national title, and this was only the second time the title game was closer than the SEC title game.
It gets harder every year to argue that any other league is close to the SEC, doesn't it? And for the moment, Alabama is the lead car in the race. Don't look now, but Heisman-winning running back Mark Ingram, receiver Julio Jones and quarterback Greg McElroy all return next season.
Against Texas, the only real trouble Alabama had was overcoming its own brain cramps. For instance, what was with that fake punt on fourth and 23 on the Tide's opening drive? Not to say that was silly, but when Texas' Blake Gideon intercepted the ball (and he should have knocked it down), he was still 6 yards short of the first down.
That cost the Tide three points. Not bothering to entertain the ensuing kickoff cost it another three.
After that, however, Alabama rediscovered Ingram, who not only ran through the Longhorns but through any notion of a Heisman jinx. Seven of Ingram's first nine runs were for at least 8 yards, and one of the others was a 2-yard touchdown run.
Yes, Bryant would like Ingram just fine. He'd like his toughness. He'd like his decisiveness.
Bryant would love linebacker Rolando McClain. He would love this offensive line. He would love Jones. He would love defensive back Javier Arenas. Heck, he'd even like McElroy, but maybe not so much Thursday night. Everyone talks about how Bryant coached Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler, but they forget he won titles with guys such as Pat Trammell and Jeff Rutledge and Steadman Shealy, too. McElroy is that way. He hasn't lost a game since pee-wee football.
And yeah, Bryant would like Nick Saban, too.
Not everyone does, of course. Saban is a perpetual bad mood stuffed into coaches' shoes. He doesn't smile, and he doesn't joke, and he doesn't seem aware that other people do. The suspicion is that Saban has barbed wire wrapped around his veins. His sense of fun was evidently left at one of his previous coaching stops.
But Bryant was kind of a dictator himself, if you remember, and victory didn't turn him into a standup comic, either. In my younger days, I covered two of his national championship teams, and all I remember was skin like leather, a voice like gravel and a trophy held in the air.
For Alabama fans, the winning was always enough.
This time, it will be, too.