NEW ORLEANS — They kicked the top team in the nation to the curb. They pulled the plug on an electric offense. They dominated from the first down to the last.
Yeah, the players of the University of Alabama were No. 1 enough for everyone.
Their coach was again the smartest guy in the game. Their defense looked like the biggest bullies on the block. And although they spent most of the night scoring three points at a time, they won easily.
In other words, yes, the Crimson Tide players were convincing enough to be champions.
The questions are over now. The cynics are out of questions, and the critics are out of doubts. By the end of Monday night's BCS championship game, a surprisingly easy win over former No. 1 LSU, there was no longer any debate left about this year's national champion.
Most of the night, LSU's high powered offense couldn't find enough space to breath. Remember, this was an offense that scored 35 points or more 10 times in 12 games, but against Alabama, it was as someone had shut off the electricity. There always seemed to be two tacklers in the hole, two defenders on the intended receiver. It was brutal, and it was punishing and, yes, it was enough.
Before this game, some wondered. There were AP voters who suggested that if Alabama wasn't convincing enough in victory, they might just go ahead and vote for LSU despite the final score. How feisty of them. Sure, voters should follow with their consciences, but it was always a silly argument. Both teams knew this game was for the championship. What happened in November only mattered if the world didn't get around to having a January.
"I think that's for the voters to consider," LSU coach Les Miles said. But even he didn't sound as if he believed it.
After this performance, how can you deny this Alabama team? How can you ignore a defense that pushed around LSU's offense as if it was, say, Ole Miss? How can you not acknowledge the sight of Nick Saban, the Nicktator, hoisting another trophy?
Put it this way: Around Alabama, where the fans lay claim to 13 national championships, they know the sight of a championship team by now.
In case you are wondering, yeah, it looks a lot like Monday night.
Start with the image of Saban, hoisting another trophy. This was his third national championship, and second in three seasons, but this must have been the sweetest. Like his players, Saban had to wear a chip on his shoulder for 65 days after losing a 9-6 game to the Tigers in November.
That might have been the difference. Over that span, there might have been a day or two when LSU's players didn't think about that game; you get the feeling there wasn't an hour that went by when Alabama's players weren't annoyed by the memory.
Add in all the attention that LSU was getting with its No. 1 ranking, and all the debate over whether Alabama even deserved another shot, and the result was a defense that played as if it was thoroughly ticked off.
"It was tough losing that game," Saban said. "That demonstrated the character to come back form losing that game and finish the season like they did."
Before the game, Saban had a question for his players. "How bad do you want to finish? How much effort, enthusiasm, toughness are you willing to play with?"
Answer: Plenty. For the night, LSU crossed midfield only once. It finished with five first downs, with 39 yards rushing, with 92 total yards. The Tigers couldn't run. They couldn't pass. They couldn't hide. It was Alabama's night, and in the end, Alabama's season.
Much of that, of course, is a credit to Saban. It's tough enough to beat him once in a year, let alone twice. Say what you want about Saban; the stories of how cold and bloodless he can be have followed him around for years. As a coach, however, Saban is absolutely consumed by games such as this. He outcoached LSU's Les Miles by about, oh, 21-0.
"I did not see it coming," Miles said. "That's my fault. I wish I could have done something to help them."
After this, there shouldn't be any doubt about Saban, either. He's the best coach in college football. This was his third national title, more than Bobby Bowden won, more than Joe Paterno (officially) won. In Alabama, Saban still isn't Bear Bryant, but he has moved ahead of everybody else.
As he lifted another trophy, you could not help but wonder how many of these he might win. College football is a place where a coach can build a kingdom, and Alabama is a place where a good coach is more admired than a good governor. You get the feeling that if he wants, Saban can win another one or two of these trophies. Who is going to stop him?
For now, this is enough. The Tide has captured another championship. It is No. 1 once more.
Anyone who says otherwise wasn't paying attention.