- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Maybe the old man can finally get some rest. Three coaches and one decade to the month after the death of Bear Bryant, Alabama won its 12th national title and its first in 13 years. After biting their lips for a week while the Miami Hurricanes woofed and howled their contempt for the Crimson Tide, the Alabama players dominated and, perhaps more satisfying, muzzled the defending national champions with a 34-13 win in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's. Now that they can once again lay claim to college football's throne, perhaps Tide fans, who have been known to pray for Bryant's resurrection, will let the Bear lie in peace.
Pay no attention to Alabama coach Gene Stallings's stubborn refusal in the days leading up to the game to concede that his team was an underdog. This was an upset of magnificent proportions. Crimson Tide quarterback Jay Barker could not be counted on to pass his team to victory, and, in fact, he would complete only four of 13 throws for 18 yards and suffer two interceptions. Likewise, the outside running game would be an exercise in futility. As long as Jessie Armstead, Micheal Barrow and Darrin Smith have started at linebacker, no team has been able to turn the corner on Miami.
Alabama would have to run between the tackles—football's truck route—behind a smallish, undistinguished line that, until recently, 'Bama fans had maligned. At 6'3" and 250 pounds, center Tobie Sheils is slight for a major-college lineman. Left guard George Wilson shot off half of his left foot in a 1989 hunting accident. And six nights before the game, right tackle Roosevelt Patterson was verbally assaulted in the French Quarter. "You must be an offensive lineman, you fat, sloppy ——," Miami linebacker Rohan Marley had shouted at the amply padded, 290-pound Patterson.
Chalk one up for the shrimp, the gimp and the blimp. Behind them, Derrick Lassic rushed for 135 yards on 28 carries, the most yards a back gained against the Hurricanes this season. "They said we were one-dimensional," said Sheils after the game. "We are one-dimensional. Sometimes you only need one dimension."
More shocking than Lassic's success was the failure of Miami quarterback Gino Torretta (box, page 30) to lead his offense to a single touchdown. A fifth-year senior, Torretta had gone 26-1 as a starter by deciphering coverages and keeping his cool. Both talents deserted him in the Superdome.
Even more remarkable was that Lamar Thomas was finally forced to curb his tongue. Thomas, Miami's spindly-but-dangerous senior wideout, had appointed himself team woofmeister in New Orleans. At a press conference he put his two national championship rings on either side of the microphone. The third one, said Thomas, "will be icing on the cake." Instead, he wound up with egg on his face.
Thomas started the press conference off by running down the SEC. "Not what it was," said Thomas. He then questioned the manhood of Alabama's defensive backs, who, Thomas had noticed, played lots of zone. "Real men play man," he said. Of course, he added, he understood why secondaries stayed in safe zones against the Ruthless Posse, Thomas's moniker for the Hurricanes' corps of wide receivers—himself, Horace Copeland, Darryl Spencer and Kevin Williams. "The best receiving corps probably ever assembled," was his humble opinion. "Anytime we get a team in man-to-man, it's unfair."
When roving bands of players from both teams had a Close Encounter of the Word Kind on Bourbon Street, Thomas zeroed in on Lassic. "Who are you? Who are you?" he shouted. "You know me. Everybody knows me."
In fact, millions would know Thomas after Friday night, though not for reasons he liked. Unbeknownst to Thomas, he had diligently set himself up for one of the more spectacular comeuppances in the history of sport.
How very much at home these Hurricanes seemed in the French Quarter. Their swagger and, for that matter, their curfew—1 a.m., as opposed to 11 p.m. for the Tide—was perfectly suited to the City that Care Forgot, which, last week, was also the City that Gun Laws Forgot. While composing his column on Tuesday night, Tommy Hicks of the Mobile (Ala.) Press Register was interrupted by a bullet passing through the wall of his 16th-floor hotel room. Police found the slug under the bed. Hicks made his deadline.