A lot of story lines are going to come out of Alabama’s win over Georgia in the National Championship. The SEC’s continued dominance, Alabama’s dynasty, Nick Saban tying Bear Bryant, where the ending ranks among title games, the emergence of Tua Tagovailoa, etc. But one note is being thrown on the back burner, which should not be forgotten as this game is placed in the archives of football history. In a day where we continue to see athletes take a more ‘me me me’ view, one player on the field in Atlanta took the ultimate team approach, and may have helped earn his team a title despite not stepping on the field in the second half. That of course is Jalen Hurts, who was benched at halftime with his team trailing 2-0, only to see a true freshman take over and win the game.
It’s no secret that Alabama is Alabama because of the defense. The constant in Alabama’s 5 titles in 9 years has been a strong defensive presence coupled with a capable running game. The passing game has essentially been a bonus under Saban, used mostly in non-conference games to quickly run up the score and allow the second unit to get in. In that vein, Hurts has been everything Alabama needed through his first two years, smart at the line of scrimmage, good at running the ball, and not turnover prone. However, for the first time in his career, Hurts found himself in a game where he would need to throw the football to win, something he could not do behind a banged up offensive line. After a 3 of 8 first half, he was benched in favor of Tua.
We all know what happened next, with Tua leading the Tide back from multiple 13-point deficits to win the game. What went under the radar is what Hurts did during the final 30 minutes. Every timeout, in between every drive, Hurts was the first one to meet the freshman on the sidelines, giving him advice and helping him through the moment. He was prevalent to the point where you wonder if the outcome of the game could have changed had he not been so supportive. Hard presses, I can think of few current athletes who would have handled the situation the same way. Hurts best attribute through two years in Tuscaloosa has been his clutch gene and poise, and Monday night he showed he could use those tools without being on the field.
You have to understand what this game meant to Hurts to fully grasp how selfless he is. From the heart of football country in Texas, Hurts has been around the game his whole life. His dad, a former NCAA quarterback, is a high school coach, coaching both he and his brother at Channelview High. Far from an NFL prospect, that game was the biggest stage of his life (pending another Natty). Yet he calmly stepped to the side, did what he needed to help the team, and was all class in the post-game interviews. While his stock as a player may not have come through Monday night, what he made clear to me that at whatever level, he will be an excellent coach when he decides to hang up the cleats.
Overall, it was a refreshing sight to see the relationship between Hurts and Tua play out the way it did throughout the game. In a game where players are constantly one snap away from losing their jobs, especially at that position, Hurts was never too big to help out his replacement, and Tua was never too big to take his advice. It looked a lot more Bledsoe-Brady and less Brady-Garoppolo (supposedly). Hopefully a generation of athletes was watching and will take the lesson to heart.
Written By: Alex Barth