This time, the potential pitfall wasn't an unexpected screen pass or a tricky play-action fake. McClain saw teammates loitering by the beverage coolers on the sideline and knew they intended to dump the contents of one of those coolers on Crimson Tide coach
"I told them if we win the national championship, you can put whatever you want to put on him," McClain told reporters later. "But until then we're not going to drench coach with Gatorade. I dumped the water and the Gatorade out. It wasn't the right time for it."
And why did the rock-solid 258-pounder from Decatur, Ala., presume to know how Saban would react? Because despite their physical differences, McClain and Saban think so much alike that Crimson Tide players swear the men share a brain. "Just picture coach Saban being huge and able to play football," said cornerback
Saban, who played defensive back at Kent State, notices the similarities as well. "I'm a perfectionist, and I think he's a perfectionist," Saban said. "He likes to get things right. He likes to have it down pat. He likes to have a great understanding and know how he's expected to implement it during the game, and he's very conscientious about that. I'm the same way."
Proving Adcock's point, McClain summed up the similarities between himself and his coach in 13 words. "We have a low tolerance," he said, "for guys who don't know what to do."
That's why McClain is able to act as a surrogate for Saban on the field. When sophomore linebacker
McClain understands the defense so well because he obsesses over every mistake. He always has. "He's his biggest critic," said Adcock. "He's always harder on himself than anybody else." McClain harps so much on his own mistakes that in 2007 Saban -- whose rants can peel paint from the walls -- realized he couldn't possibly rip his freshman star worse than McClain would rip himself. So Saban abandoned the idea of criticizing McClain. Chances were, if McClain did something wrong he would have already noticed the mistake and figured out how to fix it.
Take, for example, Alabama's 22-3 win over then-No. 20 Ole Miss on Oct. 10. The Crimson Tide defenders had every reason to celebrate. They'd held the Rebels' potent offense to 19 first-half yards, and Ole Miss had gained just 212 on the day. Still, two plays nagged at McClain. On one he'd suffered a mental lapse. He got caught watching speedster
That day, Alabama nose tackle
Entering the BCS title game against Texas, McClain leads the Tide with 96 tackles, including 12 for loss. Few were bigger than his fourth-quarter rag doll toss of Auburn quarterback
How important is McClain to his team? Just ask Alabama tailback
Perhaps Ingram's praise is a condition of the gentleman's agreement he made with McClain concerning their frequent practice-field collisions. "I won't try to kill him every time I hit him," McClain said, "and he won't try to run me over." Ingram isn't alone, though. After Alabama beat LSU on Nov. 7, a television reporter looking for a glowing quote to support Ingram's Heisman candidacy approached Alabama quarterback
Though McClain was never in serious contention for the Heisman, he did win the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation's best linebacker. On Dec. 8 in Tuscaloosa, McClain was ordered to show up in Saban's office for media interviews wearing slacks and a collared shirt. He was surprised to find a smiling
Unlike most boys in Alabama, McClain didn't grow up dreaming of playing football for Alabama or Auburn. He dreamed of playing in the NBA. Even more unusual, when he was a junior in high school, he told a reporter from a Rivals.com fan site that he liked Alabama and Auburn equally. To even think such a thing is blasphemy in a state where, typically, it is decided at birth whether a child will grow up yelling, "Roll Tide!" or "War Eagle!" Still, few would have been brave enough to call out McClain for his ambivalence.
McClain stood 6-foot-2 and weighed 195 pounds when he started in basketball and football as a sophomore for Decatur in 2004. By the time he orally committed to Alabama the summer before his senior season, McClain had grown to 6-4, 240. McClain said he picked Alabama because of the tradition, the facilities and because it was only a two-hour and 15-minute drive from home. He also liked the coaches, who when McClain committed in June 2006, were only a few months away from getting run out of Tuscaloosa.
Even after coach
"I think he's going to outgrow linebacker," Adcock told Saban. "I think he's going to be too big."
Saban, according to Adcock, replied: "Now, Coach, I like big linebackers. I like a big guy in the middle."
Adcock: "Well, if you do, you have one."
McClain started eight of 13 games for Saban during the 2007 season. By the end of that year Saban knew he'd found the perfect leader for his 3-4 scheme. Two seasons later McClain has matured into an extension of his coach on the field. Sometimes on the sideline, too.
When McClain saw his teammates ready to douse Saban in the Georgia Dome, he knew a moment's sting of cold Gatorade could result in hours of misery for him and his teammates during the month of practices leading up to the BCS title game. So, as usual, McClain assessed the situation and did exactly what Saban would have done.
But if McClain and his giddy teammates raise the BCS trophy amid a shower of confetti at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 7, the delayed celebration will have been well worth the wait.