After the battered bodies cleared the field, after the hoarse throats departed into the night to find soothing relief in a liquid of choice, Alabama and LSU was like a reception before the ring.
Newspapers parroted the hyperbole spoken by many, plastering “Game of the Century” and “Biggest Game Ever!” on front pages.
Airwaves and local hangout spots across the country were consumed by the possibility of the Crimson Tide and Tigers playing each other again in the BCS national championship game, hours before the first contest even kicked off.
And long before Bryant-Denny Stadium emptied after a 9-6 LSU overtime victory, it was embarrassingly apparent that both narratives were woefully premature.
Not because they were necessarily inaccurate, but because they were indisputably forced.
Both Alabama and LSU have teams worthy of playing for — and winning — a national championship.
But the hope in this space is that they don’t face off for the crystal ball, if only to prove the most important point: We shouldn’t be subject to manufactured drama or the whims of the BCS caretakers.
SEC sycophants will plead for Saban vs. Miles in New Orleans, regardless if they identify with crimson or yellow or not. At best, it’s an epic championship game with storylines slaves of the deadline could only dream of. At worst, it’s another opportunity to brag that this is an SEC world, and the rest of college football merely survives on one-year leases.
But out west, the Stanford Cardinal will make a strong case that they deserve to compete with anyone. And after the “offense” on display Saturday evening at Bryant-Denny, it’s hard to argue that a squad led by Andrew Luck — that utilizes as complex a system as any team in the country — couldn’t beat Bama or LSU.
The folks in Stillwater will say that the SEC powers haven’t seen an offense led by a Brandon Weeden and a Justin Blackmon, and they would have a point.
The Broncos of Boise State will ask what they have to do to earn their shot? Yes, their schedule rises in the oven and on special days is punctured with a candle, but how many wins over multiple seasons does Kellen Moore need to earn before he convinces people that the firepower, the offensive creativity, the intellect is real?
After the way Bama-LSU played out, a flurry of hits, turnovers and putrid field goal attempts, there should be no more posturing, no more acting like media-generated storylines are inarguable truths.
If we learned anything from Bama-LSU, it’s that college football needs a playoff because we clearly — “we” being fans, alumni, pundits, BCS voters, fry cooks, whoever endlessly and passionately debates college football — have zero idea who deserves to play for the national championship. And, frankly, on Nov. 5, we shouldn’t know the answer. We shouldn’t have to.
In the days leading up the game, Saban and Miles continually preached narrowing the focus for their teams so they wouldn’t succumb to the emotion of the moment, the weight of 100,000 championship dreams filling the Bryant-Denny stands.
“We preach ‘See a little, see a lot, see a lot, see nothing,’” Saban said early Saturday morning on ESPN’s College GameDay. “It’s just like in baseball, see the ball, hit the ball. You have to focus on the little things in games like this.”
It was a message Saban repeated on the field moments before kickoff against LSU, because he knows the manufactured emotion of nights like these eventually wears off. He knows that after the first hit, as many players say, it’s just another football game.
Miles, despite his lovable idiosyncrasies and ability to downplay his coaching acumen and become simply “The Mad Hatter,” employs similar practices because they are practices that work in the world of sports. Boring works. It wins.
“This is just LSU and Alabama, nothing else,” Miles said over and over in the preceding days.
As Drew Alleman’s 25-yard field goal cut down the center of the uprights, a sword to Alabama’s soul, Miles was escorted by sheriffs to the center of the field. Within moments, a reporter had a microphone pressed up to his mouth, and he knew the question about a rematch was coming.
Miles didn’t wait for the conclusion of the question. He attacked it like his defense had done to the Tide.
“I’d be honored to play that team again” Miles said.
Miles didn’t say it because he thought his Tigers are now suddenly promised a championship berth. There’s too much football left for that. Too many kinks to work out — chief among them being the quarterback play.
The Crimson Tide can say the same, but our attention and words will turn to those questions now. On a night billed to be the biggest in college football in this century — because apparently we didn’t think the other 89 years would bring any good football games — we didn’t learn all that much.
We didn’t learn that Alabama isn’t the best team in the country. We didn’t learn that the 9-0 Tigers are. We didn’t learn that these teams shouldn’t play each other for a national title, and we didn’t learn that they should.
As the BCS bickering begins, the only thing we learned in Tuscaloosa is that the media and voters shouldn’t be allowed to hold college football hostage with false drama and forced outcomes.