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With another title, Alabama's Nick Saban approaching Bear Bryant status

MIAMI — The rolling was over now. Another title had been won, and another opponent had been trampled, and another college season had come to the same familiar finish of watching Alabama football players celebrate beneath the fireworks.

This is who they are, and this is what they do. They are America's best program, and they always seem to be at their finest on America's biggest stage. This was the third title in four years for the Crimson Tide, and who wants to bet against it next year?

Consider Monday night, when Alabama won the easiest national title game you could ever imagine, 42-14. As simple as flexing a muscle, the Tide made Notre Dame, previously the No. 1 team in the country, look like an escapee from the Peach Bowl.

And so Tide players celebrated. By now, they ought to know the steps. Call it the Dynasty Hustle.

Not far away from the party, the best performer of them all looked on. This was his team, and this was his title, but at the moment, Nick Saban seemed happy to be a spectator. There was a predator's smile on Saban's face. You imagine that Attila once wore the same look as he watched the Huns in their victory dance.

He is the best in the business, you know. At a time when it is tougher to win in college football than ever, Saban has won more than anyone else. Another team, another title, and yes, it is fair to argue that he is the finest football coach his school has ever seen, and yes, that includes the legendary Bear Bryant. Even him.

This is how far Saban has brought the Crimson Tide, not to mention his own legacy. Not even the ultimate comparison is out of bounds anymore. For most of the past 30 years, the quickest argument you could find in Tuscaloosa was to suggest that someone — anyone — was the measure of former coach Paul Bryant. Who else won six titles? Who else forged the South's best football program in his own image?

Not even Bryant won three in four years, however. (Notre Dame did it in the 1940s, Nebraska in the '90s.) Despite scholarship limits, despite players leaving early for the NFL, despite playing in a conference that has now won seven straight championships, despite so many programs who take the sport seriously, Saban has built a dynasty.

For all of his accomplishments, Bryant also never won a championship game by four touchdowns. Certainly not against Notre Dame, which beat him all four times the teams played.

These days, the more time an opponent gives Saban to prepare, the more trouble it seems to be in. Notre Dame seemed to show some rust from its layoff. Not Alabama. It overwhelmed the Irish from the outset.

"Whether I look it or not, I'm happy as hell," Saban said. "I'm extremely pleased and happy. It's not about me. It's really about seeing all those people be happy and proud."

They share DNA, Bryant and Saban. They both like to win, and they both tend to growl, and they both collect trophies. For the record, Bryant still has more than Saban (6-4), but Saban is still working. How many more of these titles may be in his future?

Granted, this is going to be difficult for some fans to swallow. It has been a long time since Bryant lost a football game, and for most of that time, he has been considered far and away the best coach ever. Besides, Saban himself argues the case for Bryant.

"I don't agree with (surpassing Bryant) at all," Saban said a few days ago. "I don't think it would be fair to Bear Bryant and the tradition of excellence he created and sustained for years and years. There's no one I know who should be spoken of in the same circumstance."

Perhaps. But Saban is clearly the coach of his generation, same as Bryant was the coach of his.

Why wouldn't you compare them?

Do you wish to argue for Bryant? Sure, you can do that. He won more games, and more titles, and the Alabama he inherited needed a lot more building. During his time, he built Alabama into one of the signature programs in the country by the force of his personality. Bryant was a large, intimidating presence with his gruff voice and his leather skin, and if you were around him, you were convinced he could breathe fire.

Saban doesn't quite have that charisma. He does strike you as a man consumed by the bottom line. This week, South Florida papers have been filled with old Saban stories, such as the time he instructed Dolphin employees not to tell him "good morning" unless he said it first. When his defensive coordinator says that Saban "is driven," it sounds about right.

Consider Saban's rage with 7:51 to play Monday night, when his team didn't get a timeout before a delay of game penalty. Saban had a meltdown. You can only imagine what it would have been like if his team hadn't been ahead a 42-14 at the time.

That's the key for Saban. He doesn't coach like he knew the score. He wants to win every play of every game of every season.

Don't expect Saban to slow down now. He is 61, and he looks younger. When you consider that Alabama has among the top recruiting classes for this season, it's easy to envision him back in the big game again.

After all, he is the best there ever was.

Who is going to stop him?

With another title, Alabama's Nick Saban approaching Bear Bryant status 01/07/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 1:06am]
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