As the 2021 season went along, Alabama's march to the College Football Playoff Championship seemed to adopt a theme – call it the “How many players could Nick Saban lose and still win a championship” theme, if you would.
Against Georgia in a rematch of the SEC Championship Game that Alabama dominated, the world found out. Down both starting cornerbacks and its most physical receiver, Alabama lost its top offensive playmaker in the first half, then sputtered to a finish with a disappointing fourth quarter.
Nick Saban is fond of talking about how his teams “finish.” A more appropriate question for this game would be, how many people were left to finish?
Saban will undoubtedly avoid blaming the loss on factors beyond the team's control, because that's not the way he is wired. But any analyst looking in from the outside will be happy to do it for him.
For all the media buzz about Texas A&M signing a “generational” class on National Early Signing Day, the end result was that Alabama fell from its typical spot atop NCAA recruiting class rankings all the way to … second place.
And even that result is contingent on Alabama possibly adding WR Kendrick Law or DE Omari Abor at a later date. If Alabama gets to count CB Eli Ricks, who it got out of the transfer portal from LSU, then go ahead and flip the rankings.
At the end of the day, Texas A&M did hold a lead in the TideFans.com / NARCAS 2021-2022 recruiting rankings – classes won't be officially ranked until after the traditional February signing period – with Alabama just behind. Georgia was a clear No. 3, and then as many as 15 other teams were in the mix to fill out the remainder of the top 10.
Alabama's 18th national championship is in the books, and with it, the depletion of talent across the Tide's depth chart. While Alabama certainly brings in more elite talent than most other schools, it also loses more, primarily to the NFL Draft but also to the NCAA transfer portal.
I only wish I had been able to tell Cecil this when he was still alive. It is often said that one shouldn't meet their heroes, because the heroes don't always live up to one's expectations. In Cecil's case, however, he proved to be a source of continual inspiration as well as a constant reminder to up my game whenever I could. I don't think he would have been comfortable hearing this from me; he may have considered it the fawning praise of a writer who eventually changed careers and left the daily grind of the fourth estate behind. Unfortunately, I will now never know.
I will, however, do my best to carry on the legacy he gave me, whether he ever knew it or not. I will start with making a modest edit to the phrase that used to ring out across my newsrooms: Praise when it is warranted, always. Only criticize when it is absolutely necessary. You never know who might be reading along with the words you are writing.