Much like most folks in this area it hurt me deeply to watch the Georgia Bulldogs lose to Alabama in the SEC Championship game. It hurt even more to see that loss handed out in the exact same fashion as the Bulldog’s loss in last year’s National Championship game.
It has taken me the better course of the week to process the game’s results, argue against the flawed college play-off system, and deal with the “yet another Sugar Bowl” thoughts to realize that I was missing out on one of the greatest stories in college football of not just this season, but of any season.
After a season in which he only saw, at most, one quarter of action per game, (sometimes less or none), Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts stepped back onto the big stage, with only that one quarter left to play, and led his team to a come from behind victory and secured his place in the annals of sports.
For those that don’t recall, Hurts was the starting quarterback for every game of the Crimson Tide’s championship run in 2017 and led his team through three quarters of the title game until he was pulled by Coach Nick Saban in favor of newcomer, and then freshman, Tua Tagovailoa at the beginning of the fourth period.
At the time Alabama was trailing and it appeared that the Bulldogs were on their way to pulling off the impossible win as an underdog against the Crimson Tide.
Tagovailoa did exactly what he was called upon to do and, in heartbreaking fashion, brought Alabama back to tie the game in regulation and win it in overtime crushing both the dreams of the Bulldogs and stealing the starting job from Hurts in the process.
Hurts appeared to humbly accept the outcome in post-game comments when he indicated that he agreed with Coach Saban’s decision and reveled in the joy of winning the NCAA National Championship.
As the off-season progressed rumors surfaced that Hurts was looking to transfer to another school but in the end, he decided to stay on with the Crimson Tide and help guide Tagovailoa through the intricacies of being a starting quarterback.
While the swirl of Heisman talk got louder and louder around his young teammate, Hurts quietly rode the bench and finished out the games that Tagovailoa had put out of reach by fourth quarter, and there were plenty of opportunities as the Tide rolled over team after team during the regular season.
The SEC Championship game loomed as fans began to question the ability of Tagovailoa to stay strong over four quarters as he faced his toughest challenge of the season in the Georgia Bulldogs.
Under relentless pressure Tagovailoa was unable to find a solid rhythm and was eventually forced out of the game with an injury towards the end of the third period.
The moment Hurts had been waiting for had finally arrived, his moment, and he made the most of that moment as he rolled out of the pocket to extend plays, threw the ball with pin-point accuracy, and covered ground with his legs when needed and led his team in a come from behind last-minute win to propel the Alabama Crimson Tide into the college playoffs.
In short, he played lights out football and proved that he could win on the big stage.
No matter how you look at this story it is an incredible display of the humility, grace, and character that we should expect from our finest athletes, and it should be used as the example of what a good sportsman and teammate should strive to be whenever such an example is needed.
In fact, telling this story to my daughter, who swims for Chestatee High School, made me realize how important these lessons are for a young athlete. After a less-than-stellar day of swimming, Ann was feeling down on herself and down on her ability, which is a place that any teenager knows well, and athletes know far better. Like any dad I cast about for a way to make her feel better and put the day into a positive light, and, like any dad, I floundered.
I floundered, that is, until I started talking about Hurts and what he had done as an individual and a teammate. Ann is not a big football fan. I would venture to say she is not a little football fan either, but she is a good listener. She listened to me talk about the way in which Hurts dealt with all the adversity he faced over the year, and how he rose up and seized his moment when it came, not knowing if it ever would, she began to smile and things didn’t seem as bad as they had just a moment ago.
Too often we forget that the biggest part of being on a team is not what you can do to be better, but it is what you can do for those around you to be better.
Thank you, Jalen Hurts, for the vivid reminder.