There is no easy way to say this so we’ll just say it: We won't see Tua Tagovailoa in an Alabama uniform ever again.
A heartbreaking scene unfolded late during the second quarter of Mississippi State’s game against Alabama. The Crimson Tide quarterback, crushed underneath two Bulldog bodies, was unable to stand upright. He injured his right hip and he suffered what appeared to be a laceration to his nose or mouth. Alabama staff members, one on each arm, held him upright while another covered his face with a towel, soaking up blood, tears and painful screams that were loud enough to be heard by ESPN sideline reporter Molly McGrath. Unable to walk, he loaded into a medical cart, curled into a fetal position and was gone.
This is the last image, at least in college, of one of this sport’s greatest champions.
Tagovailoa, a sure-fire first-round NFL draft pick, is out for the season after dislocating his hip with a posterior wall fracture, The Athletic reported. Even if he was able to come back, he might be better off saying sayonara to the college game—and to the coach who left him out there with the Tide up 35–7 in the waning seconds of the first half. We can question whether or not he should have still been playing, and plenty will do so. After all, he was a game-time decision this week and last, all stemming from a sprained ankle he had surgically repaired on Oct. 20. In a halftime interview with ESPN, coach Nick Saban revealed that coaches planned to pull Tagovailoa from the game after that series. “That was going to be his last series. We were going to put Mac (Jones) in and we said ‘Let’s put Tua in before the half for two-minute (drill) just for practice,’” Saban said.
Saban will get burned for this. He’ll get harshly criticized on sports talk radio and in sports publications. And maybe he should. It already began minutes after the injury. “I don’t think Tua Tagovialoa needs anymore practice,” Brian Griese, the ESPN color analyst at the game, told a national audience as the second half resumed. “If it were me, he wouldn’t have been out there. … I’m not sure why he’s out there.” How many other coaches would have done the same? Just let the starter complete the first half. There are arguments to be made on both sides. But we’re not only here for this argument.
We’re here to talk about a kid who’s wowed us all for three years, with his incredible accuracy, big arm, quick feet and smart decisions. He’s responsible for one of the more defining championship moments you’ll ever see, entering in the second half of the 2017 national title game and leading the Tide to a comeback win over Georgia in overtime. Don’t let his talents overshadow his toughness. Last week, he played on a twisted ankle repaired just three weeks prior. Last year, he played much of the SEC championship game with a twisted ankle before spraining the other. In a game at LSU last November, he limped at one point while running into the end zone, fighting through a knee injury to deliver a rousing 29–0 victory over the Tigers.
And now what? What of Alabama’s season? The Tide are still very much in the playoff conversation and finish the year at Auburn. What of Tagovailoa? He was transported from the stadium in an ambulance. The network showed a live shot of the ambulance with its rear door open waiting to be loaded, but the shot was quickly shrouded in secrecy. Staff members moved a State banner in front of the open door to block all views.
And now it’s back to that argument: Should he have even been playing? It appears that Alabama’s staff planned to pull Tagovailoa from the game before his last series. Jones, the backup, was warming up, and Tagovailoa was seen shaking hands with teammates on the sideline, all signs that the quarterback’s day was done. “Seems like (Saban) had made a decision to go with Mac and for whatever reason he changed his mind,” Griese said on the broadcast. “Up 35-7, why would he?” For Saban, it’s a decision he’ll probably regret for a long, long while, especially if it impacts the NFL future of one of college football’s best players. In fact, one NFL scout reached out to Sports Illustrated on Saturday afternoon questioning if the player is “injury prone.”
Either way, this was a sad day for college football all the way around. The game lost one of the toughest and best performers we’ve ever seen. We can argue on and on about Saban’s decision or talk endlessly about Tagovailoa’s pro prospects, but how about we do this: remember the way Tua has made college football great, because he has.