Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jones: Alabama will forever remember Tampa as the 1 that got away

TAMPA — They sat at their lockers, seemingly more stunned than sad, more shocked than upset.

They exchanged long hugs but very few words. They shook their heads but shed very few tears.

They stared at walls. Stared at floors. Stared at nothing.

Like the rest of us, the players of the Alabama Crimson Tide surely must have been wondering:

Did this really happen?

We're floored at what we saw. Even years from now, we will look back and still be amazed how it happened, that it even happened at all.

This was the best team in college football. Perhaps the most dominant team in the greatest dynasty in the history of the sport. With, absolutely, the greatest coach of his era and maybe of any era.

This team was built for moments like these. This team was built for games like this.

So, we will wonder forever, how did this team for the ages cough up a two-touchdown lead in the one game it was meant to win? How did it blow a fourth-quarter lead? How did it lose with one second left? How did it let this one get away?

Dare we even think it? How in the world did almighty Alabama choke away a national title?

"One game doesn't define a team," Alabama coach Nick Saban said after the 35-31 loss to Clemson. "I think our team demonstrated time and time again this year that they were winners."

Still, this Alabama season won't be remembered for 14 victories, no matter how impressive those 14 were. It won't be remembered for continuing a tradition that every program in the country craves. Alabama will, instead, be haunted by the final game. It will be haunted by one second.

One second.

That's what separated Alabama from what would have been a fifth national title in eight years — a number that could have entrenched the Crimson Tide as, perhaps, the greatest dynasty the sport has even seen.

"I think every loss is painful," Saban said. "And my loss is really for the bad feeling that I have for the players who have worked so hard to create this opportunity for themselves and not to be able to finish this is very disappointing for me."

But how did it happen? How did Alabama come up short? How did a championship that seemed preordained end up being celebrated in the other locker room?

While the final nail of Alabama's coffin was driven in with one second left, the loss came over the previous 59 minutes, 59 seconds when Alabama's true freshman quarterback spent large chunks of the night looking like a true freshman quarterback. That shouldn't have been all that shocking, especially after Jalen Hurts' uneven performance in his team's national semifinal win against Washington on New Year's Eve.

What was surprising was a vaunted defense that cracked and simply couldn't hold off Clemson's sensational quarterback, Deshaun Watson, in a fourth quarter that will go down in college football lore.

"It was a full 60-minute game, and we knew going into this game that it was going to be that," Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen said. "(Watson) made the plays when they needed, and we didn't, so you've got to give Clemson the credit. They won the game."

Still, it will be hard for Alabama to remember this as a Clemson victory rather than a Tide loss. After all, the Tide had a 14-0 lead less than two minutes into the second quarter. It had a 24-14 lead after three quarters. It had leads of 28-24 and 31-28 in the fourth quarter.

Yet the best defense in the nation couldn't hold on.

"We just didn't make a play when we needed to," Saban said. "We needed to get a sack. We needed to get a takeaway. We needed to get a stop in the red zone, and they made the plays and we didn't."

Meantime, don't let Alabama's offense off the hook. Despite scoring 31 points, the offense had chances to put the game away throughout the first three quarters, but its one-dimensional attack allowed Clemson to hang around long enough for Watson to shift into high gear in the fourth quarter.

Hurts finished a rather pedestrian 13-for-31 for 131 yards, and 68 yards came on a busted-coverage touchdown pass to tight end O.J. Howard. Take that away and Hurts was 12-of-31 for 63 yards. The Tide was a putrid 2-for-15 on third downs.

Roll Tide? Hardly.

Keep punting the ball back to Clemson and, eventually, even a great defense is going to break.

And a great team is finally going to crack.

Clemson is a deserving champion. It played hard, didn't quit and, for all the fussing about who should have been in the playoffs, it clearly was the only program capable of toppling mighty Alabama.

But this special night will long be remembered as much for the team that lost as the team that won. For all its accomplishments, Alabama leaves Tampa with a permanent scar.

The one that got away.

Stunning.

Jones: Alabama will forever remember Tampa as the 1 that got away 01/10/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2017 9:50am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays let early lead get away again in loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As pleased as the Rays were to win consecutive series against the contending Red Sox, Indians and Yankees and to get briefly back over .500, there was a lot of talk in the clubhouse before Monday's game against the Angels that it was time to do better.

    Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Charlie Montoyo (25) high fives designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) as he rounds third on his lead off home run in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, May 22, 2017.
  2. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Monday's Rays-Angels game

    The Heater

    OF/DH Corey Dickerson missed out on a good birthday gift when AL player of the week honors went instead to Detroit's J.D. Martinez. Dickerson hit .385 with five homers, nine RBIs and nine runs; Martinez went .389-4-9-7 and got the nod.

  3. Rays journal: Alex Cobb learning to work with what he has

    Sports

    ST. PETERSBURG

    If this were 2012 or 2013, even 2014, RHP Alex Cobb would have problems. He would find himself working with only two of his three pitches, with the missing pitch being his trusty changeup.

    Alex Cobb, working mainly with his fastball and curveball, is 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA over his past five starts. The Rays right-hander tries to continue his strong stretch tonight against the Angels.
  4. Rays vs. Angels, 7:10 p.m. Tuesday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Angels

    7:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Alex Cobb #53 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays photo day on February 18, 2017 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Floida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
  5. Fennelly: This season's Chris Archer is a pleasure to watch

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG

    At this time last season, through 10 starts, Rays pitcher Chris Archer was 3-5 on his way to 9-19.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) throwing in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, May 21, 2017.