Ever heard Nick Saban describe his team as ‘scrappy’?
In his post-game interview on the field with Tom Rinaldi, Coach Saban employed this term to describe his defense.
Scrappy? Scrappy is the three star recruit that has to walk on at Alabama. Scrappy is the overachiever that didn’t get any D-1 offers. Scrappy is ‘Rudy’. Scrappy is nearly every Patriot wide receiver Tom Brady has thrown a ball to except Randy Moss.
A roster loaded with 4 & 5 star recruits doesn’t naturally bring that word to mind. But what is ‘scrappy’, really? When you have it, what do you actually have?
Sometimes to define a term, you first need to look at what it’s not. Scrappy is not entitled. Scrappy is not complacent or comfortable. Scrappy doesn’t assume anything.
What scrappy does do is work. Scrappy brings a lunchpail, so to speak. And a hardhat. Scrappy earns everything and yields nothing. Most importantly, scrappy is hungry.
Some say the past is a good indicator of the future, and Nick Saban’s tenure at Alabama has been marked with notable swings of the pendulum between complacency and hunger.
After being ranked #1, then falling to Florida in the 2008 SEC title game, what was the response? The following season, Bama ran the table, avenging the loss to the Gators (and leaving a trail of famous tears on the Georgia Dome bench) on their way to a dominant win over Texas in the Rose Bowl for their first national title since 1992.
That team was on a mission, fueled by disappointment from a year earlier. Probably not so much ‘revenge’, because revenge connotes a particular target. Make no mistake, returning players wanted revenge against Tebow and company.
But you don’t get that opportunity without the hunger to battle a little harder in the offseason, the spring, summer workouts and fall camp.
We’d surely defend our title in 2010, right? Loaded with future NFL all-pro talent like Julio Jones, Mark Ingram and Dont'a Hightower, Bama was all set to go back to back.
So what happened? Three losses to teams that really had no business beating us. The last one, a comeback in our backyard, still haunts most Bama fans, especially after fumbling away a chance to go up 31-7 before the half.
Is hunger a switch you can flip on? If the next game is any indicator, the answer would be a resounding yes. If the bowl game against Michigan State were a heavyweight fight, not only would the referee have called it in the 2nd round, an ambulance and a stretcher would have been summoned to ringside. It was only 49-7 due to Saban’s mercy.
The players returning for the 2011 season definitely carried over that fire from Orlando. Shutting out LSU in the title game to avenge a 9-6 overtime defensive clinic during the regular season gave Bama its 14th National Championship.
The period of time between the moments after thrashing LSU 21-0 and the 42-14 demolition of Notre Dame needs to be put under a microscope, studied, written about, bottled & sold.
Because this is the one time period that the pendulum did not swing back. Hunger didn’t fall prey to complacency. There was no comfortable. No fat and happy. You often hear Saban talk about the battle against complacency the year after a natty.
Hey, it’s human nature in any sport.
The formula for success always begins with hunger. But when you’re full, you stop eating...you stop being hungry. What was different about the 2012 team?
But for a blip on the radar named Johnny Football (and the inexplicable decision to run three straight pass plays from the 3 yard line...) the 2012 team, led by guys like A.J. McCarron & Barrett Jones, marched through the season with that same intensity that began in a mid level consolation bowl vs an overrated Big Ten team two seasons earlier. The Orange Bowl vs Notre Dame was Bama’s third consecutive complete mismatch in a bowl game.
And all you need to know about the intensity of the 2012 team took place late in the game. With Alabama up 42-14, McCarron and Jones nearly got into a shoving match on the field. The quarterback and his center were visibly pissed off at each other.
‘YOU’RE TEAMMATES, MINUTES AWAY FROM A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP AND YOU’RE YELLING AT EACH OTHER ON THE FIELD’...
Man...I absolutely loved that moment. That is intensity. That’s not scoreboard watching or patting each other on the back. That’s called finishing. They were wearing blinders, and nothing else mattered until the clock said 00:00.
They were hungry. Despite being minutes away from a second championship in a row, they were still hungry.
Fast forward to the end of 2013. A three-peat was not only in our sights, it was talked about ad nauseum. Lack of intensity? Lack of hunger?
Let’s be objective about one thing. Yes, it was a heads up play that gave Auburn their highlight of a lifetime. But that game should have been a mismatch. That game should never have come down to a hail mary field goal attempt. But it did.
What it also did was fuel yet another swing of the pendulum. Ok, so Bama didn’t win the 2014 title, but everyone agrees that making it to the inaugural College Football Playoff far exceeded the expectations for that season. (And who knows, with Derrick Henry rushing for 27 and 28 yards the only two times we actually ran the toss sweep, maybe if that play is dialed up a few more times, Bama would have been the team running roughshod over Oregon instead of Ohio State.)
In 2015, months removed from the sting of the Ohio State loss, a team still searching for an identity early in the season seemed to flip the hunger switch in the form of a scrappy transfer quarterback named Jake Coker. Losing that early season game to Ole Miss ironically fueled another National Championship in 2015, capped off by an exciting win over Clemson in the desert.
So where does the 2017 team stand? Eight months removed from a heartbreaking loss to Clemson in a title game rematch, will this team continue to be driven by the last second loss?
If the past (2008, 2010, 2013, 2014) is any indication, there is unfinished business from the disappointment that took place in Tampa on January 9. And in the present, our sophomore quarterback has made the Clemson celebration as the screen saver on his phone. There is no shortage of motivation.
After what I would describe as a very ‘Stallings-like’ 24-7 win over a talented Florida State team, the 2017 team has all the makings of a hungry team. A hungry Bama team does not bode well for ‘the field’...especially if this team also plans to be scrappy.
Michael J. Upton, Attorney at Law