Kevin Norwood plopped down on a stool next to his locker after losing his last game in an Alabama uniform, a stunning 45-31 upset to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
Norwood and the rest of Alabama’s seniors had a decorated career and will be remembered among the greats in Crimson Tide history. But the sting of two losses to end the season will linger as well.
“We had a lot of that on our team this year,” Norwood said. “It was a hard time getting those guys to focus at times. Then again, it was up to the leadership team to get them focused and get things right. I guess that’s one thing we kind of slacked at going into the end of the season.”
Coming off two straight BCS National Championship seasons, there was immense pressure on the 2013 Crimson Tide to three-peat.
Alabama returned its leaders on both sides of the ball in quarterback AJ McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley. They were surrounded by veteran talent like Norwood that could lead them on a run unprecedented in college football history.
But it wasn’t so.
A last-second 34-28 loss to Auburn knocked Alabama out of the SEC and national championship picture. And while the team didn’t play that poorly in the Sugar Bowl more than a month later, the Sooners were clearly the more motivated team and ran away with the victory.
“I just don’t think that our players realized sometimes that they won so much, that they realize sometimes what it really takes to win every game, and that you can never take anything for granted, and that everyone that plays us has something to prove,” coach Nick Saban said. “And they have to change the way they think, and that’s difficult to do. And they’ve gotta stick with the process with what they have to do to do it, and it’s tough.”
Alabama’s seniors had only been a part of five losses, whether they redshirted Alabama’s seniors had only been a part of five losses, whether they redshirted or not. The oldest players like McCarron, Norwood and receiver Kenny Bell sat out their first years on campus for the undefeated, national championship season of 2009. When the rest of the group joined them as freshmen in 2010, Alabama lost three games.
And then the run began.
Though the Crimson Tide lost games in 2011 and 2012, late-season losses around the BCS propelled Alabama to two national championship games, where the Tide won in convincing fashion.
Behind those seniors, the rest of the team only knew units that won championships before this season.
But it’s not like history will look poorly on this group of Alabama players. While many will remember the historic loss to Auburn, the two national championships and SEC championship mark the latest dynasty in college football.
Only the Nebraska teams of the ’90s, Bear Bryant’s Alabama teams in the ’60s and ’70s and Notre Dame in the ’40s will be able to come close by nearly every measure.
“Winning 60 games over five years is a really significant accomplishment for them,” Saban said. “And they have been great ambassadors for the program, both on and off the field in terms of their performance, as well as how they’ve represented themselves, their family and the institution.”
Saban and company are on the verge of signing another No. 1 recruiting class. He has shifted around his coaching staff after a disappointing season, and while the permanent captains Mosley, McCarron and Norwood are moving on, there are plenty of star players returning, like running back T.J. Yeldon, wide receiver Amari Cooper, linebacker Trey Depriest and safety Landon Collins.
So it’s not like the dynasty is exactly over. In fact, the two losses could be a wake-up call for another historic run.
“We hate losing. We hate losing. We have that taste in our mouth now,” Collins said. “We have a point to prove next year.”