TUSCALOOSA — Alabama head coach Nick Saban is well past his self-imposed 24-hour rule regarding his conference championship victory as a player at Kent State in 1972.
However, there are still times the head coach finds himself looking back at his days with the Golden Flashes. Even this week, as he studies tape for Saturday’s game against his alma mater, Saban can’t help but notice the banner in the end zone that reads “1972 Tangerine Bowl.”
"That's not something that you ever really forget how special it is to be a part of that,” Saban said. “Each one that we've been a part of since, because of the great group of people, the coaches and players, the togetherness, the team chemistry, all those things are what you always work for and I was always proud to be a part of that.”
The momentos found in old tapes and photographs serve as a special treat for Saban, who will turn 65 next month.
“I watch these games and these tapes and look out on the field, and I played there,” Saban said. “And I can't remember too many games that I played in there. I guess I'm getting old.”
It’s been a long time since those Kent State days, especially to a man so focused in the present. Saban said he can’t remember the last time he’s been back on campus in Kent, Ohio. But make no mistake, the university still holds a special place in his heart.
“I don't think there's any question about it,” Saban said. “I got a degree from there, and have a lot of mentors that really influenced my life at a time when you're growing up, you're 18-22 years old and especially from a football standpoint and a personal standpoint.”
Saturday will be the second meeting between Kent State and Alabama. The first came in 2011 when a Saban-coach Crimson Tide beat the Golden Flashes 48-7 in its season opener. Saban claims scheduling Kent State this season had less to do with it being his alma mater and more to do with what was beneficial for both teams.
“We were looking for a game, they needed a game,” Saban said. “It was helpful to them and it was helpful to us. I guess it was good for everybody.”
However, it’s hard to imagine there wasn’t at least a little bit of sentiment in the decision to pencil the Golden Flashes (1-2) into his schedule.
Saturday, there will be no time for nostalgia. Saban will return his focus to his improving No. 1 Alabama (3-0) in his quest for a fifth national championship with the Tide. On the opposite sideline, he will face a fellow Kent State alum in Paul Haynes, who's trying to establish the same culture of success in his fourth year as the Golden Flashes’ head coach.
Coming off his first win of the season, a 27-7 victory over Monmouth last week, Haynes called Alabama a “machine” during his news conference Monday.
“They don’t have a lot of weaknesses,” Haynes said. “And if you try to pick one out, you watch it again and it’s not a weakness. They’re the defending national champs for a reason, they’re No. 1 in the country for a reason. When you have the culture of winning, it’s a machine and it keeps flowing and flowing and flowing.”
With Alabama entering the game as a 43.5-point favorite in Bryant-Denny Stadium, that machine should continue to run Saturday. This week Saban has stressed to his team the importance of respecting their opponent and treating Kent State the same as any other team on its schedule.
Though for the head coach, this one might mean a little more.