Sept. 2, 2014
The 2014 Season Officially Kicks Off in Atlanta
The Alabama Crimson Tide defeated West Virginia Mountaineers in an entertaining kickoff to the college football season. Neutral site games have been good to Alabama, especially since Coach Saban arrived at the Capstone. Playing a highly ranked non-conference team in the first game of the year is not something every coach wants to risk. But since Alabama opened with Clemson in Atlanta in 2008 the Tide has appeared in nationally televised season openers five times, winning them all, and establishing its presence at or near the top of the college football rankings in each of those years. When the game against West Virginia was booked the Mountaineers were a highly-ranked team, coming off a huge Orange Bowl victory. They were unranked at the start of this season, but on Saturday they showed they are a great offensive team that, if depth allows, could finish the season ranked and in a bowl game.
Our team played well with an inexperienced quarterback situation and won, 33-23, with a balanced attack that controlled the ball on offense the majority of the game. It was a good start to the season. West Virginia’s offensive schemes are complex and challenging. They are particularly difficult in opening games, as you have to prepare for everything, and usually face a lot of formations and plays that they haven’t shown in the past. Opening with a victory and having a lot of areas in which to work toward improvement is a good thing. I like where our team is at this point and look forward to our next game. We have a lot of good players that didn’t get to play as much as the coaches would have liked, who will make a contribution in the coming weeks. It is shaping up to be a most exciting season as the College Football Playoff era gets underway.
Opening up in these neutral site games has not only put us in the national mindset early in those seasons, it also has enabled us to create a national presence for the entire University at the end of summer in each of the past few years. As you know, we have games in Arlington, Texas, slated with Wisconsin in 2015 and Southern California in 2016. These types of season openers have become a tradition for us, in many ways, and something that adds a little extra punch to the start of the season. Thanks to the outstanding job that Coach Saban, our players, and our coaches have done, it also has been a very positive and enjoyable way to get each season started. Last Saturday was certainly a continuation of that.
Honoring Our Greats This Saturday
We have several recognitions that are planned for this Saturday at our home opener against FAU, some pregame and others during halftime. Just prior to kickoff be sure to welcome back our honorary captains, former Tide linebackers Cory Reamer (2006-09) and Eryk Anders (2006-09), who will be recognized prior to the pregame coin toss. At halftime, we will recognize Coach Patrick Murphy and our 2014 SEC champion softball team as they will be presented with their SEC title rings.
Also at halftime, three of the 2014 Paul W. Bryant Alumni-Athlete Award winners will be recognized, honoring former athletes for outstanding accomplishments since leaving the University. This year’s honorees are Dr. Jeff Laubenthal (baseball), L.W. “Red” Noonan (football) and Fred Sington, Jr. (football). Dr. Laubenthal was a baseball standout for us, the 1992 SEC Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and has been a prominent physician in Tuscaloosa since completing medical school. He currently serves as a team physician for our baseball, softball and soccer teams. Red Noonan started at fullback for the Tide in the late 1940s, played in the 1948 Sugar Bowl (versus Texas) and graduated from the University in 1949, going on to earn both his master’s and law degrees from the Capstone. He spent much of his career with Merchants National Bank of Mobile, where he was vice president and trust officer. A recipient of the Freedom Foundation’s George Washington Award, he represented Alabama State Senate District 24 from 1971 to 1978, going on to serve as Probate Judge of Mobile County from 1983 until his retirement in 2001. His wife, Ruby, will be accepting the award on his behalf.
Former National Alumni Association president Fred Sington, Jr., was a football letterman in 1958 and 1959. He holds bachelor’s and law degrees from the Capstone, as well as a master’s degree from Cornell. He is currently the director of the Northeast Alabama Regional Airport and chairman of the Gadsden Airport Authority. His civic engagement spans across the Gadsden community, as he has served as president of the Northeast Alabama Red Elephant Club, president of both the Golden Fifties Club and Etowah County Alumni Association, and past captain of the Gadsden Quarterback Club. He also has served as a longtime sportscaster for Gadsden High School and other Etowah County high school games.
The trip to Atlanta for me brought back memories from the past. Two of the most prominent memories from my playing days at Alabama happened in Atlanta. One was a great win and the other a difficult loss for our team. In those days Georgia Tech and Tulane were members of the 12-team SEC, and the idea of the Georgia Dome had not even been conceived. These two games were played on Grant Field, against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets coached by Hall of Fame coach Bobby Dodd.
The first was my sophomore season in 1960. At the end of the first half we went into the locker room trailing 15-0. We were in shock! Coach Bryant didn’t come into the locker room for several minutes. When he finally entered the room he was whistling and rattling the change in his pockets with his hands deep in his baggy pants. He had a calm look on his face and said, “They’re not as good as I thought they were, we have ’em right where we want ’em, and we’re going to come back and beat ’em in front of their home crowd. All we have to do is a few little things.” Then he walked over to the blackboard and started drawing up alignments and plays and x’s and o’s. We were extremely relieved, and went out and played “lights out” in the second half.
We got the score to 15-13 late in the fourth quarter when our starting quarterback, Pat Trammell of Scottsboro, got hurt. Bobby Skelton (Pell City) came in and led the final drive. He completed a pass to Butch Wilson (Hueytown) that got us in field goal range. Our field goal kicker, Tommy Brooker (Demopolis), was also hurt and Richard “Digger” O’Dell (Lincoln) came in and kicked the winning field goal as time expired. It was an ugly kick, but the results were beautiful! That 16-15 win was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.
In 1961 Alabama went undefeated and won the national championship. The next year, 1962, we were back on Grant Field playing Georgia Tech again. Ohio State had lost the week before and Alabama had made it back to number one in the Associated Press (AP) and United Press (UP) polls. The game was a weird one in many ways. We each came out to start the game in a shotgun formation, which neither of us had run before. It was a defensive struggle, especially after our sophomore quarterback, Joe Namath (Beaver Falls, Pa.), was injured. We were down late in the game, 7-0. We mounted a drive and scored with a few minutes left on the clock. We went for two, but the Tech defense stopped us short of the goal line. We were able to get the ball back and moved into field goal range, but we threw an interception that ended the game. That 7-6 loss eventually cost us the national championship. That was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had.
Needless to say, it was really great to leave Atlanta last Saturday with another big win!
One Last Look at 2013-14
We enter the 2014-15 academic/athletic year coming off one of the finest overall years in our athletics history. Alabama won its second consecutive NCAA title in men’s golf and won four Southeastern Conference championships, tying our record for the most in a single academic year. Nationally, we enjoyed success at the highest level as seven of our teams finished in the top 10 nationally, while we had four other teams finish in the top 20 nationally. Individually, seven student-athletes brought home eight NCAA championships – the most in a single year in Alabama history.
As good a year as we had athletically, our student-athletes were even better in the classroom. We led the nation in Capital One Academic All-Americans with a school-record 13, three of our student-athletes earned the prestigious NCAA Elite 89 Award and we led the nation with seven NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship recipients. That success is further evidence that we are witnessing a golden age of Alabama athletics. Last year we had five national championship head coaches on our staff at the same time, a truly amazing fact. Overall since 2009, Crimson Tide teams have won nine national championships in five sports and 16 SEC championships in seven different sports.
In the classroom, Alabama is tied with Stanford for the most NCAA Elite 89 Awards in the five-year history of that honor with 13. Alabama also leads the SEC, and is second only to Stanford, with 20 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships over the past four years. We rank fourth nationally since 2000 in Academic All-American honors with an SEC-leading 91. All of this success has been built on the foundation of our tradition of excellence and our legacy of champions while following the tenets of our ongoing Mission – to recruit and develop student-athletes to compete at the highest levels in intercollegiate athletics; to educate and prepare our student-athletes to compete at the highest levels in life after graduation; and to accomplish all this with honor and integrity.
The Total Program
I was very pleased to see a piece on ESPN.com last week in which the Crimson Tide leads the nation in a rating of college football programs judging the ability to balance academic results and on-field outcomes. On August 19, ESPN published a story about ESPN Grade, a new way to evaluate college football polls (read about it here).
The ESPN Grade report determines a top-25 football program’s ESPN Grade by combining its ranking in The Associated Press and USA Today coaches polls, then adding its position in a top 25 sorted by football graduation rates. As the story states, “if a university is fifth in one poll, sixth in the other and 10th in graduation rates, its ESPN Grade would be 5 + 6 + 10 = 21. Only teams receiving a vote in either the AP or coaches’ poll are ranked in ESPN Grade – it’s an academics-adjusted ranking of the power teams, not of all teams in college football.”
Alabama ranks number one in that assessment. It is yet another testament to the incredible job that Coach Saban and his staff, our student-athletes, and our Academic Services staff are doing in fulfilling our Mission. I am very proud that Alabama is being recognized for such legitimate success that has been earned the old fashioned way – through hard work, dedication and sacrifice. The ESPN Grade will be updated again midway through the football season, when the NCAA is expected to release the next set of graduation statistics, and a final ESPN Grade will be published at the end of the season.
We need the support of our fans and hope to see you in the stands as we play three home football games over the next three weeks. It will be exciting to see this year’s team continue its development. This is a critical time as we build depth and experience at all positions. Also this weekend, we have a pair of soccer games on campus this Friday and Sunday, and the volleyball team is on the road at tournament in Virginia.
I hope that those who are able will consider financial gifts as we continue to build championship-level facilities and build endowed scholarships for our teams. The capital campaign from 2002-07 paved the way in facility improvements that has been a key factor in our latest run of championships. While we are proud of everything we have accomplished, we are always mindful that our competition is fighting hard to duplicate our success. Getting athletic and academic facilities to championship levels is one thing, keeping them there is another. If we’re not moving forward, we’re falling behind. Our goal is to provide our coaches and student-athletes with the resources they need to compete for championships and build champions on and off the field for life.
I am blessed and proud to be your athletics director during this time of historic success. I am proud of the outstanding quality of our entire athletics department staff. They are as dedicated a group as I have ever been around. The leadership at the top of the University is terrific and our fans are the best in the country.
Our soccer team hosts defending ACC champ and 2013 NCAA semifinalist Virginia this Friday night at 7. Todd Bramble and the team need a big crowd to help them take on one of the nation’s finest teams. Coach Bramble’s team is off to a good start in the early going, with a 2-1-1 record heading into this weekend (read about it here). Obviously, they take a step up in class this Friday and they are excited about the challenge.
Coincidentally, Ed Allen and his volleyball team will be on the Virginia campus in Charlottesville at the same time taking part in a tournament on Friday and Saturday. Coach Allen’s team had an excellent season in 2013 and is off to a great start this year, going 4-0 thus far while winning the Hamilton Classic in St. Louis last weekend (read about it here). This program is developing into a consistent winner under Ed’s guidance. They could use your support if you are in the Virginia area. Their first home match is upcoming on Sept. 16 against UAB.
Here’s a summary of athletics events over the next several days (times listed are for the location of the event):
Friday, September 5
|4:30 p.m.||Volleyball||vs. Navy||Charlottesville, Va.|
|All Day||Men’s Golf||Carpet Capital Collegiate||Dalton, Ga.|
Saturday, September 6
|11:01 a.m.||Football||Florida Atlantic||Tuscaloosa|
|12:30 p.m.||Volleyball||vs. LIU-Brooklyn||Charlottesville, Va.|
|7 p.m.||Volleyball||at Virginia||Charlottesville, Va.|
|All Day||Men’s Golf||Carpet Capital Collegiate||Dalton, Ga.|
Sunday, September 7
|7 p.m.||Soccer||Jacksonville State||Tuscaloosa|
If you are in Charlottesville, Dalton or Tuscaloosa, please support the Tide. Let’s all do our part to Keep the Tide Rising!