Minutes after stepping off the field at Lucas Oil stadium in the 33-18 loss the Georgia in the national championship, Alabama's two true sophomore team captains, Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr., sat down behind the podium to answer questions from the media with their head coach Nick Saban.
Both players were clearly emotional after their team had come short of its ultimate goal of winning a national title. However, they both field questions from the press via Zoom and the moderator told them they could return to the locker room. Young had thrown a career-high two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown that essentially sealed the game for Georgia, and was continually trying to take the blame for the loss throughout the press conference.
In a now viral moment, Saban held up Young and Anderson from leaving the press conference and asked the moderator if he could say something.
"These two guys sitting up here, they're not defined by one game, they played great for us all year, they were great competitors, great leaders on this team and they contributed tremendously to the success of this team," Saban said in the postgame. "And we would not be here without them. And both of them take responsibility for the loss, but both of them contributed in a lot of ways, in a positive way, to giving us a chance to win and a chance to be here to have an opportunity to win.
"So, I just want to thank them for that and let everybody know how proud I am of these two guys."
Realizing how important those two players were to the success of the 2021 team, and knowing that as sophomores both guys would be back in 2022, Saban sent a loud and clear message to the fans, to the media and to Anderson and Young themselves. Even though the Crimson Tide did not finish the way they wanted to, Young and Anderson have already built a legacy in Tuscaloosa and have the opportunity to leave a stronger one at Alabama this fall.
On Tuesday afternoon, Young spoke to the media for the first time since the national championship and talked about what that moment meant to him.
"Hearing Coach stand up for me and Will, to hear the things he had to say about us and the entire team, it just makes you want to play for Coach that much more as we obviously all already wanted to do," Young said. "When you have a coach that has your back, that’s able to understand to talk to the media and just carry himself with the respect for us, that makes us want to play our hearts out for him.”
At the end of the day, it can be easy to forget that college athletes are just that: college kids age 18-22. They are working toward being professionals, but are not quite there yet. Even with new NIL rules that allow players to make money, it does not make a student athlete a professional. They often have the pressure of millions of eyes watching what they do on the field, but answering questions from the media can still be a challenge and a different type of pressure, particularly after a difficult loss.
Saban, however, is a professional and has been in the coaching industry for nearly 50 years. By this point he has been in hundreds of hours of press conferences and has likely answered thousands of questions. Saban doesn't lose often, but he is more experienced than any player on the Alabama roster at having to talk to the media after a loss.
At 70 years old, one might assume that he would be too out of touch with college-aged student athletes. But Saban's actions in Indianapolis continued to prove to Young that he's exactly where he's supposed to be playing for the coach he wants to play for.
"Just to be able to be coached by Coach Saban, by the greatest day-by-day, it’s always a huge blessing for me and us as a team," Young said.