It’s a universal tradition in football, and one of those important things about the game that must be respected above all else.
When the clock expires at the end of the third quarter, teams hold up four fingers to signify the beginning of the most important 15 minutes of the game. The fourth quarter is when games are won, and legends are made. Fourth quarters are why players work so hard in the offseason with the weightlifting and the running.
Fourth quarters are sacred stuff, and winning the fourth quarter is the mantra of champions.
“Hold those four fingers high, gentlemen,” says every coach in America before every fourth quarter.
Football comes down to toughness in the end, and teams take great pride in being the toughest in the fourth quarter.
Four fingers has a whole new meaning at Alabama, though.
The Crimson Tide has been holding up four fingers this season to remind their opponents how many touchdowns they’re going to need to get back into the game.
The math checks outs.
Entering the SEC championship game on Saturday, Alabama has outscored its first 12 opponents 433-106 through the first three quarters of games. That’s an average score of Alabama 39.4, Team Helpless Baby Seals 8.8, and an average scoring margin of 30.6.
Maybe it’s time to start judging this Alabama team by different standards. Never mind Alabama losing, which seems absurd at this point. Is a fourth quarter ever going matter again for the Crimson Tide?
Is Georgia going to make the SEC Championship game interesting beyond the first 45 minutes of the game?
Georgia is the last team to make Alabama’s four-finger salute actually mean something. That was 10 months ago. Preposterously, Alabama’s last meaningful fourth quarter was in January’s national championship.
Alabama trailed 20-10 entering the fourth quarter of that game, and won it 26-23 in overtime. Since his epic throw to win that game, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has attempted three passes in the fourth quarters of games.
Tua being Tua, all three of those throws were for completions. The most recent was a 22-yard touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs III a mere 31 seconds into the fourth quarter of Alabama’s 52-21 victory against Auburn. After that, Tua’s Iron Bowl was over.
Alabama only led Auburn by 17 points entering the fourth quarter, which is the closest any team has come to making four fingers mean anything against the Tide. Weighed against every other team on Alabama’s schedule, that’s a pretty good accomplishment for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
That perspective, of course, is only worth one finger at Auburn these days. The Tigers gladly will take four-fingers worth of whiskey, however, to make it all go away.
Tagovailoa’s only fourth-quarter touchdown pass this season was his fifth of the Iron Bowl, which set a record for the rivalry game. His six total touchdowns against Auburn (one rushing) set a single-game record for Alabama. It begs the question: How many touchdowns could he score if he actually played every fourth quarter?
Well, with Heisman Trophy voting due after this weekend, the good people inside the Alabama sports information department have figured that out.
“Tua has only played the equivalent 8.06 of the Crimson Tide’s 12 games so far this season,” noted Alabama this week in their always-helpful games notes packet. “In that limited amount of time, Tagovailoa has thrown for 3,189 yards and 36 touchdowns, which multiplies out to 4,467 yards, 54 touchdowns on 281 completions, if he had played every snap as the Alabama quarterback.
“That is an average of 23 completions for 395 yards and 4.5 touchdowns per game.”
Some quarterbacks win the Heisman Trophy for their clutch performances in the fourth quarters of games. Tua is going to win his for not really having to play in any.
This is all hypothetical, obviously, but wouldn’t it be fun if Tua actually played an entire game?
For once, those four fingers would actually mean something.
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group. He’s on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.