It happened in 1935, and Bryant essentially wasn’t expecting to play against the Vols. But the Tide line coach, Hank Crisp, made a stirring speech before the game about how he didn’t know what kind of effort everyone would give, but he knew old No. 34 would play all out. Back then, Alabama switched numbers from time-to-time to help program sales. Bryant wrote he didn’t know he was wearing No. 34 until he looked down at his jersey and realized Crisp was talking to him.
He wrote that some of his teammates thought Crisp’s speech was a little over the top and decided to pay back Bryant by calling a pass play to him on the first play of the game. The Vols somehow left Bryant open, and he caught the pass, limping downfield for a touchdown.
In the book, Bryant told the story for laughs, but can you imagine playing a college football game with an injury that should keep you solidly on the sidelines?
Apparently, several of the stars of Alabama’s 2012 national champions can. In the weeks since the Crimson Tide beat Notre Dame to clinch the title, news has leaked out bit by bit about various key players having surgery to repair some injury suffered during the season. The leak has turned into a flood.
We all know football is a collision sport, and it isn’t unusual for college players to need minor surgery after the season. But in Alabama’s case this past year, the Tide realistically should’ve been without several key players in its win over the Irish.
All-America cornerback Dee Milliner tore the labrum in his shoulder against Texas A&M. He didn’t miss a game after that.
Senior linebacker Nico Johnson suffered what he thought was a pulled groin in the win at LSU, but as the injury got worse and worse, he realized it was something more. A week before facing Notre Dame, he realized he had suffered a sports hernia. He not only played against the Irish, he also went through the Senior Bowl, trying to take advantage of a chance to impress NFL scouts. They apparently don’t think a lot of his speed, but certainly they must appreciate his toughness.
Starting defensive end Damion Square and starting noseguard Jesse Williams needed arthroscopic knee surgery. Backup defensive end Quinton Dial required surgery on his toe. So did cornerback John Fulton, who got hurt against Texas A&M.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley played the whole season with a bad shoulder. He had surgery after the season. Starting receiver Kevin Norwood played most of the year with a turf toe injury that has required surgery. He will miss most of spring training as he recovers.
Quarterback AJ McCarron revealed recently he got hurt badly when a Mississippi State player slammed into his back during the season’s eighth game. He fell awkwardly and said that knocked three ribs out of place, and that affected his ability to practice all season.
At the time, Alabama called it a “contusion.” That’s one heck of a contusion.
Also, I’m still not sure that when McCarron hurt his knee against Missouri at midseason it really was just a bruise, as we were told that week.
And then there’s All-America center Barrett Jones, who played the final seven quarters of the season with a Lisfranc injury to his foot. That’s a fancy way of saying he had torn ligaments.
The surgery in January was complicated enough that he won’t be cleared for full activity until May, which is about a month after the NFL draft.
If you’re the sort who enjoys watching game replays, take a look at Alabama’s win over Georgia, in which Jones got hurt in the first quarter. Jones was severely limited against Georgia’s excellent noseguard, John Jenkins.
Even so, Jones showed what kind of advantage it is to have such an experienced, intelligent player at that position. Often, Jones couldn’t hold Jenkins out of the Tide backfield, but he could use leverage and a little trickery to lead Jenkins one way or another. How often did Jenkins charge through to the left of Jones, while Eddie Lacy or T.J. Yeldon ran to the right? Or the other way around?
Again, it isn’t unusual for major college football players to require surgery. However, teams that manage to win a national championship typically are pretty good at avoiding major injuries. But I’m not sure I’ve heard of a situation such as Alabama’s in 2012 — plenty of what should’ve been season-ending injuries to key guys, but they quietly played through them.
Maybe that’s just part of the process. But probably not. Even a coach like Nick Saban can’t teach that kind of resolve.
Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter @MarkSportsStar.