The current Alabama football dynasty began with a game against Clemson in 2008. The Crimson Tide record after Gene Stallings and through Nick Saban’s first season in 2007 was 74-61.
Alabama football fans remember the low points of the Dubose, Franchione and Shula seasons. Mike Dubose teams lost to Central Florida and twice to Louisana Tech. The Tide lost to Northern Illinois in Tuscaloosa and to Hawaii in the Mike Shula years.
Gene Stallings had the chance of building an Alabama football dynasty in the 1990s. He didn’t because the University of Alabama administration decided to dial down the power of the football program. Chafing under the constraints of a complicit athletic director, Stallings walked away with dignity.
The 2006 season did not include any quality wins among the six victories. The Crimson Tide worked hard to beat Bobby Johnson’s Vandy team 13-10. The Alabama football win over Ole Miss is tainted by Ed Orgeron being the Rebels’ head coach. Six SEC losses and a loss to Oklahoma State in a bowl took the final record to 6-7.
Following Mal Moore’s dismissal of Mike Shula, the mood of Alabama football fans was later described by Rick Bragg,
The Alabama faithful were done with waiting, with mediocrity and with disappointment. They were sick of Auburn, which had beaten them five years in a row; bone weary of NCAA investigations and probations reaching back to 1993; and finished with coaches who could not gut out the expectations
Mal Moore turned the slide around, after almost failing to do so. Saban was the savior. Of that, Moore was certain.
The 2007 Season
As the new Alabama football coach, Nick Saban told fans he “didn’t believe in predictions.” He told his team to quit talking about national championships when they didn’t even “know how to get out of the rain.”
The highlights of the 2007 season were an overtime win over Arkansas, a beat down of Phil Fulmer and Tennessee and a bowl win over Colorado. At the end of the 7-6, 2007 season, there was scant indication the Saban rebuild would be immediate.
Even the loss to Louisiana-Monroe did not diminish the belief Saban had the Tide moving in the right direction. Expectations for 2008 were a chance at 10 wins and maybe even a spot in the final AP Top Ten. Any thought of quickly creating another Alabama football dynasty was wild fancy. Nick Saban brought Alabama football back to national relevance quickly in 2008. The foundation of the current Alabama-Saban dynasty was laid in that 2008 season.
The Dynasty Begins
From outside a later defined interval, dynasties are a chimera, illusory until concrete. Alabama football fans felt good going into the 2008 season, but no one was saying a new dynasty was about to unfold.
On Nick Saban’s reputation and a solid 2008 recruiting class, the Tide was picked as the No. 24 team in the preseason AP Poll. The opening game was against preseason ranked, No. 9 Clemson.
The lead up to the game continually described Clemson as the best team in the ACC and the Crimson Tide as perhaps the fifth best team in the SEC. As Alabama football fans remember, the pre-game narrative could not have been further from the truth. Clemson could not run on the Tide defense. The net rushing total for the Tigers was zero yards. Clemson also could not stop the run as Alabama football rushed for 239 yards. Intermixed with the Tide rushing was an efficient passing game that netted another 180 yards.
The time-of-possession was staggering – over 41 minutes for Alabama football, less than 19 minutes for Clemson. At the end of three quarters, the Tide led 31-10 and was on cruise control. Clemson’s only TD came on a kick return.
Afterward, a deflated Clemson head coach, Tommy Bowden said,
We got whipped both sides of the ball for about the whole game.
It was the biggest understatement of the 2008 college football season. Bowden only made it through six games that season. The loss to the Crimson Tide effectively ended his coaching career. In mid-season, Dabo Swinney took over the Clemson program.
In the late evening of Aug. 30, 2008, Alabama football fans were giddy. Hopeful no more, we suddenly knew Nick Saban had Alabama football headed toward more championships.
Rick Bragg had already explained what would happen, back in the spring of 2007. Speaking of Saban, Bragg said,
he would take them (the Alabama program and fans) forward by taking them back to the glory of their past
And that is EXACTLY what he has done. On that August night in 2008, we did not know when or how frequently the championships would come. Finally, not knowing was acceptable, so confident we were in the Crimson Tide future. When the championships came they were not a surprise, they were expected. What we did not know at the time, was the 2008 Clemson game would mark the start of arguably the greatest CFB Dynasty – ever.
When will the current dynasty end? Will there ever be another to match it? Not only do we not know the answers, the answers don’t even matter. Just sit back and enjoy.