What could top last year’s college football championship thriller when Clemson beat Alabama on the last play of the game 35-31?
Well, this one did.
They called it a game for the ages when the Tigers scored a touchdown with one second remaining to knock off the Crimson Tide in Tampa.
So what will they call this year’s national championship?
In a stunning finish in overtime, Alabama won yet another national title, defeating Georgia 26-23 , the fifth in nine seasons for the Tide and the sixth for head coach Nick Saban who captured one at LSU.
But the twists and turns this game took and the circumstances behind it will be the stuff of stories as long as the game is played.
It was the kind of slow build-up that wound up with a resounding crescendo that ended suddenly in the overtime period.
After a tepid first half for Alabama, which found themselves trailing 13-0 you figured Saban would make an adjustment in the second half.
Brother, did he ever!
‘Bama came out in the third quarter with a new quarterback replacing Jalen Hurts who only boasted a 25-2 record as a starting quarterback.
Out came true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, the southpaw native from Hawaii who looked big enough to be a lineman, and could throw and throw deep.
After the game, Saban said he had to make the move to a passer to generate points, and he had the right guy. It took Tagovailoa only two series before he fired his first touchdown pass. But when Georgia answered with an 80-yardTD pass from another true freshman Jake Fromm to Mecole Hardman to give the Bulldogs a 20-7 lead it appeared the air was seeping from the Tide’s comeback balloon.
I guess you can never count out Alabama. Two field goals and another TD pass by Tagovailoa tied the game at 20-all. The Crimson Tide amazingly managed to come all the way back. Then they had a chance to win it in regulation.
But placekicker Andy Pappanastos missed the field goal and the classic moved into overtime. What despair. For the kicker and the Crimson Tide.
When Georgia’s kicker, Rodrigo Blankenship connected on a huge 51-yard three-pointer on the Bulldogs first possession in the extra session, it seemed like the dagger to end ‘Bama’s hopes.
But hold on. We’re just getting started.
Alabama need a field goal to keep the game alive on their possession.
When the freshman made a freshman mistake by taking a 16-yard sack to take the Tide out of field goal range, it was well, curtains. Haven’t we been here before?
Second-and-26 back at the 41. Are you kidding me?
What happened next left witnesses in shock.
Tua Tagovailoa, undismayed, went back and fired a perfect deep throw to Devonta Smith who caught the ball in stride for a 41-yard touchdown to win the national championship for Alabama.
You wonder who makes up this kind of story.
For Nick Saban, a gutsy move at the most important position to jumpstart his sagging attack.
For his former assistant coach, Georgia’s Kirby Smart, a heartbreaking defeat for a man who will have great days ahead of him.
For placekicker Andy Pappanastos, a chance to finally exhale.
For Jalen Hurts, credit for taking his demotion in stride, and becoming Alabama’s best cheerleader and supporter on the sideline.
For those who watched the spectacle, an unmatched treat that will carry us through to the next college football season.
There was no champion crowned in the NFL, but the post-season began with wild-card weekend. Interesting developments to be sure, along with questions concerning the officiating which is the last thing the league ever wants for discussion.
Let’s start with the games, and perhaps a sign of what’s to come in the divisional round.
In the AFC, a surprise in one game, an expected result in the other.
How could Kansas City blow a 21-3 lead at home to the Tennessee Titans?
Well, when you don’t run the ball and use the clock, you put yourself jeopardy for the team behind to gain momentum and have a chance to come back.
That’s what happened to Andy Reid’s Chiefs. But it’s really a fine line. Sometimes you run the ball, and you wind up losing anyway. Then the second-guessers say you failed to keep pedal to the metal and went into a shell.
The Titans probably saved head coach Mike Mularkey’s job with the come-from-behind 22-21 triumph and a ticket to Foxboro and a match against the Patriots Saturday.
That won’t be pleasant for Tennessee. Give the Patriots an extra week to rest to get ready for their next challenge, especially in the friendly confines, is a losing proposition.
I think the same story goes in Pittsburgh.
There’s no doubt the Jacksonville Jaguars are the real deal. They had a big year and were impressive capturing the AFC South title.
But their victory against the Buffalo Bills proved what we knew all season about the Jags.
Their defense is one of the best in the league. However, when you struggle to score with an offense led by a slightly better than ordinary quarterback, Blake Bortles, you’re in trouble when you face experienced playoff teams. That’s what’s on tap for Jacksonville.
Playing the Steelers in Pittsburgh presents the same huge obstacle the Titans face in New England. Hey, didn’t you figure the Patriots and Steelers would collide again in the Conference championship after their classic regular-season battle a few weeks ago?
Jumping to the NFC things get a bit more dicey. The Atlanta Falcons knocked off the Cinderella L.A. Rams in the Coliseum, and the New Orleans Saints held off the Carolina Panthers to reach the divisional round.
Now, the Falcons who barely squeezed into the post-season dance on the final day of the regular season now travel to Philadelphia to play the top-seed Eagles.
Had Carson Wentz stayed healthy, the Birds might already be penciled-in for a journey to Minneapolis and the Super Bowl. But he didn’t, and now the question is, can backup Nick Foles take a top-caliber outfit to the Conference championship game?
I say he won’t.
It looks to me as if the team that blew that huge lead in last year’s Super Bowl is making the most of a second-life to try to get there again. I believe their dream will stay alive this week . In the NFC, where the tried and true quarterbacks are not playing for the the top two seeded teams, the Falcons QB Matt Ryan will best Foles, and the Saints’ Drew Brees will top the Vikings and Case Keenum to set up an all-NFC South in the conference title matchup.
There is no question this reporter is going out on a limb for Atlanta and New Orleans to win on the road. While neither one is a truly outlandish pick, it is unusual to go against the top two seeded teams playing at home before their loud and loyal fans.
The Falcons impress me because of Ryan and an experienced outfit.
The Saints get my support because of Brees, their defense, and a far better showing by their two thousand-yard backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.
Both underperformed in the wild-card card game.
One thing is apparent. Both the Falcons and Saints will be facing outstanding defensive teams. It won’t be easy.
On the officiating front, it was not the best weekend for the league in that department,
especially in the Tennessee-Kansas City game.
You can talk about decisions made by officials in any game, the challenges, the replays and the controversies. You can talk about making sure the highest-rated officials are working these important contests.
I believe the league is trying to do this.
I get the sense that the use of replay has gone beyond the original intent: to correct an obvious mistake on a ruling.
It now appears as though replay is being used to “make certain” the call made on the field is the correct one.
There is a difference in the two.
Let’s use the best judgment in making the original call.
And let’s use the best judgment in deciding what calls should be reviewed.