In the waning moments of the 2010 Bowl Championship Series final, Alabama coach Nick Saban looked annoyed when some of his players dumped a Gatorade cooler on him.
Monday night, the color of the Gatorade changed from red to yellow, and Saban seemed to enjoy the splash like a kid on the river rampage ride.
Two years ago, Alabama’s win over Texas felt like the inevitable crowning of an undefeated champion, especially when Texas quarterback Colt McCoy left the game injured.
Two years later, beating LSU only began to feel inevitable as the Crimson Tide’s dominating performance played out. LSU planted the doubt seed by winning in Tuscaloosa in November.
And then there’s the context.
It was one thing for the 2009 team to break Alabama’s 17-year drought between titles. It was another for the 2011 team to warm broken hearts after a tornado.
All titles are special, but even Saban acknowledges he enjoyed this one a little more.
“Well, to be honest with you, I think I maybe did,” he said during his Tuesday news conference, just 10 hours removed from Alabama’s 21-0 rout of LSU.
And this from a coach who normally chaffes at comparisons.
Process is normally process with this guy, and one process just ended. The Saban we’ve all followed for his five years at Alabama just files it away with other completed processes, and a new process begins.
That’s how Saban has come off, but this process, this season and this title signal a change. How could it not?
Saban sat and talked with Tuscaloosa tornado victims in April. His team helped out in relief efforts, enough so that it received the Disney Spirit Award at ESPN’s College Football Awards Show in December.
One of Saban’s players, long snapper, Carson Tinker, suffered injury and personal loss. The tornado sucked him, his girlfriend and two friends out of their house and threw them several yards.
Tinker awoke with minor injuries. His girlfriend, Ashley Harrison, suffered a broken neck and never awoke.
The sad tornado tragedy blew context into college football season for a fan base that never needs context to stir passions. It also shook loose the accessible, human side of a coach who rarely shows it publicly.
“I really do think that maybe the only thing that’s changed about me is winning the game is not enough,” he said Sunday. “It really is not enough.
“Doing it the right way, sort of trying to set the right example for your players and having people in the organization that are all trying to help and support those players to have an opportunity to be more successful in life, which also includes serving other people, which I think is one of the big things that this team did.”
Then --- as he sat at a table surrounded by the BCS Coaches Trophy, Associated Press National Championship Trophy, MacArthur Bowl Trophy and Grantland Rice Trophy --- he spiked this Alabama’s team’s humanity football.
“And I’m probably just as proud of our team winning the Disney Spirit Award for their contribution to our community, which suffered in the tragedy of the tornado this past year, as anything else that they accomplished,” he said.
But this Alabama team dealt with more than tragedy. As the grind of the season played out, it suffered disappointment and doubt.
Conventional wisdom said that Alabama’s 9-6 loss to LSU in November likely eliminated the Crimson Tide from national contention. It was hard to see then-unbeaten LSU losing after that, and no one foresaw the ensuing two-week run of upsets.
No upset was more consequential than Iowa State’s stunning of an Oklahoma State team whose school had just suffered its own tragedy --- a plane crash that killed its head women’s basketball coach and an assistant.
With Iowa State’s upset of Oklahoma State, Alabama’s doubt became possibility again. Possibility became reality, and reality became validation.
Alabama became the one-loss team selected to play not only in the BCS final, but in a ground-breaking, in-season rematch.
Poll voters don’t naturally pick two teams from the same conference to play a rematch in the national final. Knowing those implications, they don’t naturally vote a team that didn’t win its own conference No. 2.
They voted Alabama No. 2, bowing to the dominance the Tide showed in 11 of 12 regular-season games. Also, an overtime loss to LSU looked a lot better than an overtime loss to Iowa State.
But being selected for the BCS game didn’t end the doubt. Alabama still had to beat the one team to which it had lost.
Given the second chance, Alabama more than got it right. It dominated LSU, prompting the independent AP poll panel to give the Tide 54 of 59 first-place votes.
And that’s not all Alabama got right the second time around. The Tide didn’t hit their coach in the head with the Gatorade cooler this time.
“I enjoyed the Gatorade bath two years ago,” Saban said. “I think we’ve talked about it before. I wasn’t expecting it, and I got almost knocked out.
“So the players improved in terms of their ability to deliver (laughter). I improved on my ability to accept, and everybody was happy.”
The Tide and its fans should be happier than usual about this national title. It’s No. 14, but this one just feels different.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.