Let me start with the baby.
She was asleep in her Baby Bjorn, because infants don't really even know what time is and haven't made a waking/sleeping relationship commitment with the sun. I don't even know if you're supposed to have a baby in a carrier at that age, and I'm sure this is something people have VERY STRONG and LARGELY UNVERIFIABLE LOUD OPINIONS ABOUT.
We were at the metal detectors outside University of Phoenix Stadium when I got close enough to ask her mother how old the baby was.
Her answer: "Do you really want to know?"
The baby was three days old, and the woman and her entire family in line were Alabama fans. The dad got held up at security for having a can full of Copenhagen he wasn't willing to throw in the garbage.
That baby only knew the shame of being a championship-free Alabama fan for 72 hours or so before it watched the Crimson Tide win their fourth title in seven years. For the baby's sake, let's review what happened on the fourth day of its life.
- Deshaun Watson had 478 total yards of offense and four TDs by himself.
- Wayne Gallman took a short pass and ran through the entire Alabama defense by himself on one play in the fourth quarter.
- Derrick Henry actually looked sort of tired after his 50-yard scoring run in the first half. He couldn't take over the game in the second half like he has all year.
- Alabama had to flip its game plan to rely on an occasionally shaky quarterback and a tight end who had four total catches in the month of November.
Somehow, dear Alabama baby now baptized in glittery confetti fired from party cannons, this all worked.
That tight end, O.J. Howard, had five receptions for 208 yards and two crucial TDs, often wandering uncovered through the Clemson secondary. That quarterback, Jacob Coker, threw for 335 yards and did not turn the ball over once. It worked because Alabama called an onside at precisely the moment when it would simultaneously work and break Clemson's brain long enough to get another uncovered Howard TD. It's so perfectly placed, it looks like a fade route booted off someone's toe.
Clemson turned the ideal Alabama box score inside out, made Alabama play a game it's not supposed to be comfortable playing, and only turned the ball over once against the nation's best defense. The Tigers still lost.
Nick Saban once complained in a GQ profile that the national title game "damn near cost [him] a week of recruiting." Against Clemson he had to coach during the game, something that might have enraged him enough to call an onside kick and let Lane Kiffin off the leash in grandiose fashion. (And literally: Kiffin was left behind off the team buses.)
Clemson made Alabama work for 60 minutes at non-managerial football, and the result was a delightful thing to watch. When Alabama is pressed, even its star-crammed depth chart has to work. When the other team has Deshaun Watson at quarterback, it has to work very hard. For large stretches, Alabama played as a fast-paced spread offense. That is breathtaking camouflage; Alabama can become whatever team it needs to be.
It is also not the intended product.
Watch Alabama roll out of the tunnel.
The smoke cannons firing over the team entrance could run empty before the entire support staff finishes running onto the field. The coaching staff will go directly from the title game back to recruiting, the thing Alabama might be better at than football itself.
Ask other coaches about Alabama's staff. There are tales of endless video and support people, mysterious quality control gurus, analytics types, and player performance staffers. "I'm not even sure what that guy does" is a phrase you'll hear. The official admin roster lists eight people as "Football Analysts." Relative to a lot of college football programs, it is a huge staff, one totally unafraid of former head coaches as assistants. As of last night, there were three: Kiffin, offensive line coach Mario Cristobal, and special teams coach Bobby Williams.
Inside that huge program, none of this stops, ever. There's corporate personality profiling. There is film study so infinite and exacting, some NFL coaches might beg off it, even for opponents like Georgias Southern or State. There are motivational speakers and protein shakes and a nutritionist who texts players photos of the fajita bar so they'll show up for their 10 p.m. feedings.
Say that to yourself. This is a football program with a 10 p.m. fajita feeding. There are no accidents in a world where late night fajita bars are part of the plan.
If you want to know how to beat Alabama, the answer is simple. You need five turnovers and need to make none yourself. You need a lottery ticket, a lightning strike, or both. You need a whole bureaucratic apparatus devoted to reducing any possible loss to a gross accumulation of statistical anomalies.
Even if you get that, Alabama can do things like dusting off a five-star junior tight end it's barely used, featuring him like he was there all along.
Alabama can do that, and you probably cannot.
Even then, you don't get the two things that make this all work.
The first is Saban. He is not a renewable resource, as far as I know, but his transformation of Alabama into a ratings-killing certainty so oppressive it might have blacked out the sun for an entire generation of rickets-stricken coaches and players is complete. There is no adjustment against him. He will outwork you or hire people to outwork you and the people you hire. No one is more committed to building Football Walmart and bankrupting your mom-and-pop programs. No one.
Give up on this idea of doing his thing better. Hire a bandito with a spread passing attack and zero fear of death. Hope for five turnovers or the NFL to poach him away*. Life is about being brave in the face of inevitable doom. Until someone does, Saban will charge you all unfair rates for sunlight.
*Urban Meyer excepted. Go Bucks.
The other thing is the one that got Saban here in the first place, started a tailgate club of people named after Bear Bryant (and there are quite a few), and made Harvey Updyke commit crimes against foliage in the name of deranged football passion. There's a direct line from all this to Saban's bank account to Alabama's organizational domination, and it's more than a theoretical one.
I want to say this other thing starts from birth, but I saw it start 72 hours into someone's life. If the question is, "How do I beat Alabama?" the answer is another question:
Do you really want to know?