It’s about handling disappointment — much better than Alabama handled it last time.
And it’s eerie, how similarly the situations between Alabama’s current postseason and that of 2008 set up?
In Alabama’s last game, the Tide had a rival and national contender on the ropes. A Heisman Trophy quarterback showed his Heisman form in leading said rival’s comeback.
It was Florida and Tim Tebow in the 2008 SEC Championship, and the Gators’ comeback denied then-top-ranked and unbeaten Alabama a national-title shot.
We all know what happened after Florida’s comeback in Atlanta. Alabama had a come-apart in New Orleans.
The Sugar Bowl matchup with Utah changed the mood. It was bad enough for the Tide to see Florida move on to the Bowl Championship Series final, but a BCS bowl game against a team from non-automatic-qualifying conference turned “Yea, Alabama!” to “Meh, Alabama.”
Then came a major distraction. First-team All-American offensive tackle Andre Smith, the Outland Trophy winner, was suspended four days before the game over improper contact with an agent.
One could sense it was crimson and over, and Utah saw crimson and clover. The Utes took advantage of their shot at an SEC power, 31-17.
Did the Tide learn the lesson from all of that? It’s hard to say, because everything went right in 2009.
Alabama blocked two field goals to beat Tennessee, mounted a game-winning drive at Auburn and survived a scare against LSU. The Tide dominated its SEC final rematch with Florida and routed Texas for the BCS championship.
All was right with the world.
A year later, all is not right. Disappointment came back like a regifted regift, and an Alabama team ranked No. 1 for the season’s first six weeks didn’t even make a BCS bowl.
The 9-3 Tide’s last outing just made it worse. Rival Auburn and Heisman Trophy quarterback Cam Newton erased a 24-0 deficit and beat Alabama 28-27 at Tuscaloosa.
It was only the biggest lead Alabama ever lost, and it happened in the most-watched college game of the season.
Then the Tide sat home while Auburn went on to rout South Carolina 56-17 in the SEC final. Yes, that’s the same South Carolina team that beat Alabama 35-21 in Week 7, knocking the Tide from atop the polls.
Now, Alabama is preparing to face Michigan State in a game with nice storylines but little meaning, and recent history begs the questions. How much disappointment can the Tide take? How will Alabama handle it?
It looks like Tide got a second chance to get this one right.
Alabama can bag its third consecutive season of double-digit victories, something that hasn’t happened since 1978-80.
More importantly, the Tide can set a tone by treating the Capital One Bowl as the first game of next season.
All that’s required is for roster full of Jimmys and Joes everyone knows to show five-star heart. If they don’t, then mark this season down as a five-star disappointment.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Jomedstar.