When Alabama fans think back to 2011 the emotions run deep, and for a lot of reasons.
If the disappointment of not returning to a BCS bowl wasn’t enough motivation for the Crimson Tide, it got an overdose of tragedy.
Topping that list was April 27, when a series of horrific tornados struck the state, killing 53 people in Tuscaloosa alone and more than 250 throughout the state.
You just don’t live through something like that and not be affected.
The Crimson Tide rallied, both on an off the field, knocking off opponent after opponent as it made its way toward the BCS Championship Game in nearby New Orleans. Alabama wasn’t ranked No. 1 at any point of the season, beginning at No. 2 and never dropping below No. 4, but all that mattered was where it ended.
The dip in the polls was due to a 9-6 overtime loss to No. 1 LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 5th, which had been billed as the Game of the Century. It was if you’re a fan of defensive football, as the Crimson Tide lost despite not having yielded a touchdown.
Yet still Alabama managed to reach the title game to the chagrin of the rival Tigers, who wanted anything but a rematch. But with every other top contenders losing down the stretch the Crimson Tide got its second chance and dominated the rematch with a 21-0 victory in LSU’s back yard
Led by defensive MVP Courtney Upshaw, who had seven tackles and a sack, Alabama finished with a 21-5 edge in first downs, 69-44 in plays, and 384-92 in total yards.
LSU’s longest possession went just 23 yards and its biggest play was for 19. It went three-and-out six times, with an interception by linebacker C.J. Mosley on the second play of a possession, and converted just two third-down opportunities.
LSU crossed the 50-yard line only once, and then promptly went backwards and fumbled away the ball. In comparison, Alabama failed to cross midfield only twice, one of which resulted in a punt from the 46, as it chipped away.
“I've never coached a team that was more determined, more dedicated to overcoming adversity than this group of guys,” Nick Saban said after the smothering defense pulled off the first shutout in BCS history, never mind the title game. “I've never seen a more dominant performance than what they did in the national championship game against LSU.”
Meanwhile, with first-year starter A.J. McCarron passing a lot on first down he became the first sophomore quarterback to lead his team to victory in the BCS title game and was named the offensive MVP.
“We knew coming into the game somebody else had to step up, and coach just gave me an opportunity,” said McCarron, who completed 23-for-34 attempts and 234 yards and had no turnovers. “I don't think I did anything special.”
If so, he was the only one.
“Tonight, he was on a whole other level, he actually blew me away,” center William Vlachos said. “He talked to us at halftime, he talked to us pregame, he’s on the stage getting offensive MVP. The guy is unbelievable.”
After making five field goals Alabama scored the one-and-only touchdown between the two teams in eight quarters and one overtime, when running back Trent Richardson recorded his 21st rushing touchdown of the season by bouncing outside on a 34-yard run with 4:36 remaining.
By then, half of the stadium, which had just been renamed the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, had already emptied out to Bourbon Street.
“That was probably the most fun touchdown I’ve ever scored,” offensive lineman Barrett Jones said. “Two games of frustration of not finding the end zone, just to seal the deal, that was a great feeling.”
But that didn’t keep the Crimson Tide from relishing the finality of the moment and all it had accomplished. For example, after playing in his final game for the Crimson Tide, Vlachos refused to let go of the game ball, even in the locker room, while offensive coordinator Jim McElwain walked arm-in-arm with his family off the field and subsequently stepped into his new job as the head coach at Colorado State.
Everyone else headed back to Tuscaloosa where the rebuilding continued as another crown jewel was prominently displayed, and a championship like none other celebrated.
“It means a lot, we went through a lot this season, last year,” Richardson said. “The tornado, we lost a teammate, it was big for our team. We needed this here and we’re glad to bring it back to Tuscaloosa, and try and bring hope and faith back to our town.
“That accomplishment is big. You dream of stuff like that, some dreams don’t even be that big, but when stuff like that happens it’s incredible. That tells you about the program we have here and the kind of program we built here, and we’re still building. We’re not done yet.”
This is the ninth story in a series that will appear before New Year's Day, counting down the top 10 Alabama football moments of the 2010-19 decade.
Some of the information in this story originally appeared in "Decade of Dominance"