SportsPulse: Do we really still want Alabama in the College Football Playoff? Trysta Krick asked everybody at the Orange Bowl media day. To no surprise, Alabama answered in the most Alabama way possible.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings was on a westbound flight to Los Angles before Christmas when he struck up a conversation with his neighbor, a Harvard graduate interested in whether the 6-foot-3, 266-pound junior played sports, and where.
Yes, I play football, Jennings answered, and I play at the University of Alabama — aware of the response that almost inevitably follows.
Replied his seatmate: Are you guys ever going to lose?
“I understood what he was saying: I’m tired of you guys being so good,” Jennings said.
On Twitter and elsewhere online, in person, back home and on the road, Alabama players face an onslaught of negativity diametrically opposed to the vitriol saved for rivals, sad sacks and also-rans: Crimson Tide student-athletes wear a target as college football’s greatest power, leaving fans outside of Tuscaloosa to unkindly wonder when, or if, the dynasty will ever end, sometimes in words not fit to print.
“There are Alabama haters everywhere,” said sophomore wide receiver DeVonta Smith.
Call it Alabama fatigue, and it’s not a unique development. The New England Patriots went from plucky upstarts in the franchise’s first Super Bowl win to the NFL’s version of the Evil Empire. Likewise with the Golden State Warriors; once celebrated as an NBA game-changer, the Warriors’ early-season swoon, in relative terms, has been greeted with happiness from those tired of the franchise’s powerful run.
Alabama occupies the same head space in college football, the byproduct of a stretch unmatched in the sport’s modern history. The Crimson Tide are college football’s version of the Patriots, Warriors, Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees, only more successful — the program hasn’t lost more than two games in a season since 2010 and have captured five national titles in the past decade. Think Notre Dame, but with the added factor of Notre Dame winning championships.
“It is what it is,” said senior center Ross Pierschbacher. “When you win a lot, people don’t really care for you. It’s like the Patriots or the Yankees. Either you hate us or love us. No one is like, ‘Oh, I kind of like ‘Bama.’ It seems like that’s what is with nothing in between.”
At least Alabama players can understand the sentiment, if not identify with it outright. Sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was a “Tim Tebow guy,” he said on Wednesday, and rooted against Alabama in multiple SEC championship game meetings with Florida and again in the BCS championship game six years ago, when the Tide faced off against Notre Dame and linebacker Manti Te’o, a fellow Hawaiian.
“Even more so, I just didn’t like Alabama,” he said, because “they were winning. Nobody could stop them.”
Fast-forward to see how the roles have changed: Tagovailoa is now Alabama’s greatest star — perhaps the biggest star the program has had in decades — and the face of the program’s ongoing dominance.
“It’s fun winning games, now, don’t get me wrong,” Tagovailoa said. “It’s fun winning games but I grew up knowing that ‘Bama fatigue is real. ‘Bama fatigue is real.”
A portion of the college football landscape may hate Alabama’s dominance, but most still can’t look away. With roughly 17.5 million viewers, the most-watched game of the regular season was the Tide’s matchup with Georgia in the SEC championship. In third with 11.54 million viewers was Alabama’s meeting with LSU in November. In sixth was the Iron Bowl against Auburn. The Tide were involved in the most-watched game of Week 10, Week 11 and Week 14, and the second-most of Week 13, behind Ohio State and Michigan.
So Alabama fatigue is real — but only to a point. As a whole, college football loves to watch the Tide but largely hates to see them win.
“When you’re No. 1 in the country for a reason, you know everybody has that target,” said senior defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs.
In true Alabama fashion, the Tide have not only accepted this part but embraced it. The most-hated label is a re-engineered version of “rat poison” for Nick Saban, eternally on the lookout for a button to push as his teams navigate through schedules that alternate through tough tests — LSU, an Auburn — and blowouts of outmatched competition. Be what you feed off, Saban will tell the Crimson Tide.
“That’s something that we’re very used to here,” junior tight end Hale Hentges said. “And that’s what makes Coach Saban so great. He knows that’s what happens, and he pushes us to be our very best every day.”
The difference? Saban is famous for sharing news clippings praising Alabama, of which there are many. On this topic he flips the script: Saban pokes at the Crimson Tide by highlighting the haters. The end result is the same, however.
“We just try to continue what we do,” said Jennings, “and dominate.”