I try to be objective in my job, but it’s no secret I have two degrees from the University of Alabana, the second coming solely because I wanted to stay one more year to be the sports editor of the campus newspaper so I could cover Paul “Bear” Bryant winning his then-record 315th career game.
Years later, in the mid-2000s, I watched as Tommy Tuberville and Auburn win five straight against the Tide. I had covered Bryant’s final national championship game (against Arkansas on Jan. 1, 1980) and attended the 1992 title game against Miami, a big upset win for the Tide.
So, as a fan of Alabama, I had no right to expect a return to the glory days of Bear Bryant and seemingly a national championship bid almost every season.
But I did hate that Bama seemed irrelevant in the college football world. That’s what I hoped would change when the Tide hired Nick Saban on Jan. 4, 2007. Like most Bama fans, I was excited, but I distinctly remember telling a close friend, “I just hope he makes up relevant again.”
That he did. That first season, Alabama went into the LSU game with a shot to win the SEC West with a victory. I remember thinking LSU just looked so much bigger than the Tide, but somehow, Alabama hung with LSU until the second half.
But that loss sent the Tide falling. It finished 6-6 with an embarrassing loss to Louisiana-Monroe and a sixth straight loss to Auburn. It did win the Independence Bowl to finish 7-6.
Losing to Louisiana-Monroe, losing again to Auburn and then playing in the Independence Bowl just perpetuated the notion that Bama was not relevant.
But Saban was recruiting big time, and I felt good about that. Just give him time, I thought.
The next season, Bama went undefeated before losing to Tim Tebow and Florida in the SEC Championship Game. The Tide also lost to Utah in the Sugar Bowl, but it was plain to everyone, Bama was relevant once again, as a national championship the next season proved.
I write all that to demonstrate what I was thinking on the sidelines Friday night as Arab played Guntersville at Phil Isom Stadium. The game was going back and forth. Arab led, then Arab trailed. Then Arab led again.
Neither offense could be stopped. Arab’s crowd – larger than the home team’s – was energized. The band was loud, the cheerleaders and fans excited, hanging on every play.
Arab would go up, and there was ecstacy. The Knights would fall behind, and heads dropped.
Afterward, Arab coach Lee Lozmint addressed both teams at midfield.
“This is what I like so much about football,” he said. “It feels so good to win and it feels so bad to lose.”
I’ve only been back to Arab a few years, and while I can say Arab’s fan support is second to none – especially on road games – I just wonder if a general lack of success in recent years has sapped the spirit of this fan base and this city. Arab has had five winning seasons since 1994. The Knights have lost seven straight to their biggest rival Guntersville.
But under Ozmint, things just feel different. The team plays with emotion (which sometimes hurts with costly penalties). The offense is a joy to watch. There are some real playmakers out there. It’s exciting.
You’d like to see better results in the won-loss column, but maybe that’ll come, even as soon as this season. Ozmint and his players aren’t laying claim to any moral victories.
But no one can deny this: Arab football is relevant again.