The Colorado State game was a landmark event for me on a personal level.
Ever since my son was born, I’ve been anxious to take him to his first Bama football game. Not that I haven’t also wanted to take his twin sister, but let’s just say that her personality doesn’t necessarily lend itself to things like sitting and watching. The willpower for movement is awfully strong in that one.
So after finally convincing mom that the time had come, LJJ (as I refer to him…short for ‘Little Julio Jones’) and I set out for the downtown parking deck and trolley ride to the stadium.
Little Julio just turned two in July.
He wears jersey number 16. Number of nattys, tribute to the scrappy Jake Coker, and although he can’t verbalize it yet, I can tell by the look in his eyes that he intends to be twice as good as the #8 responsible for his given nickname.
Once in our seats, and after a few willpower battles of ‘no, you can’t get down to walk back and forth on our row’ and ‘no, I’m not gonna stand up the entire game and hold you’, we settled in. (If you don’t think standing and holding him for awhile isn’t a challenge, then before the next game, run into Publix and buy a 35 pound bag of dog food and carry it into Bryant-Denny. Sure, people will look at you sorta funny, but I bet it won’t require a ticket. Just make sure you get the 35 pounder that comes in a clear bag, lest you have to park it at the gate…)
He liked the crowd, liked the crowd noise and would yell and clap when everyone else did. (He especially liked the Dreamland nachos.) Much of the time he was able to see the field action from the vantage point of my right leg. The goal was to make it to halftime without an absolute meltdown, and he passed that challenge with flying colors.
Every football coach will tell you that each game usually comes down to several plays that determine the outcome.
After making it safely home, I tuned in to watch the second half of the highly anticipated Clemson-Louisville matchup. If you recall, last year Louisville was literally a foot away from converting a 4th down play that would have given them a 1st down inside the Clemson 10 yard line to win the game, but the receiver was knocked out of bounds just short of the sticks. We all assumed that this year’s game could also be that close, especially since it would be played in Louisville, and with reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson off to an even better start than last season.
Nobody ever knows when these key plays in a game will present themselves. It’s why coaches like Nick Saban drill the mindset into the psyche of every player: ‘Forget about the last play. Play the next play’.
The reason these plays are so crucial is that they usually influence a huge swing in momentum.
Louisville is trailing in the 3rd quarter 19-7. Jackson broke loose for a 59 yard run, setting up a first down inside the Clemson 10 yard line. With Clemson on its heels, Louisville was poised to punch it in and pull to within 19-14.
Game on, right? Wrong.
Back near the line of scrimmage, there’s a flag. For some reason, a wideout decided he’d thow a ‘chop block’ behind the play. His block didn’t assist the play in any way. Ok, it assisted Clemson.
So instead of ‘1st & goal’, with a chance to pull to within 5, Louisville has ‘1st & 25’ inside its own 25 yard line.
Two plays later, Jackson throws a pick 6. Clemson 26 Louisville 7. Ballgame.
Foster and I headed for the exit in section N-2 just after watching Robert Foster score on a 52 yard catch and run just before the half. Although not as impactful as the penalty play in the Clemson-Louisville game, this response touchdown pass by Jalen Hurts was huge in terms of preventing a shift in momentum.
After leading 17-0 early, Colorado State clawed back into the game and scored a touchdown to make it 17-10 with a little over two minutes left in the half. If Alabama doesn’t respond, you have a huge underdog on the road against the #1 team in the country going into the locker room only down 7 at half. Mike Bobo would have taken that every day and ‘twice on Sunday’ as the saying goes.
That’s how upsets happen.
You don’t give underdogs hope. Hope leads to belief. Belief leads to confidence. Confidence leads to energy and that second wind. Instead of guys from a drier climate wilting in the oppressive deep south humidity, they regain a sense of purpose they they can actually do this. Then you look up with 5 minutes to go in the game and the underdog is still within a possession, only needing one play, one break, one oblong shaped ball to bounce in their direction.
Their coach would not be intimidated by big time SEC football, having been a standout quarterback at Georgia. His offense held its own and more all night, against a deep and talented Bama defense.
Let’s thank Jalen Hurts and Robert Foster that we came out of the locker room to start the 3rd quarter with a 24-10 advantage instead of only 17-10. Would Bama have won anyway? The odds would be overwhelming in that direction. But the momentum shift created by the two minute drive just before the half can’t be understated.
And although I’m not ready to remove the nickname Little Julio, I may need to look at getting him a #1 jersey with FOSTER on the back…
Michael J. Upton, Attorney at Law