Carlson: Alabama a lovable college football champion? Two Crimson Tide players make it so
A weird thing happened in the moments before the national championship game Monday night.
I realized I was pulling for Alabama.
It was weird for a couple reasons.
First, sports journalists are supposed to stay impartial. I know there are plenty of sports media types who break that rule, but a vast majority of us aren’t pulling for the teams we cover. We don’t love them; we cover them.
Second, I generally find Nick Saban insufferable. It’s not because the Alabama coach has been super successful. It’s because he takes himself so seriously, pontificating about commitment and teamwork and responsibility — and he was the one who quit on the Miami Dolphins, saying he wasn’t going to Alabama, then realizing how hard the NFL was and going to Alabama the very next day.
In. Suff. Er. Ah. Buhl.
But there I was Monday night, pulling for the Crimson Tide.
And this wasn’t a pull-for-Alabama-to-pull-against-Ohio-State situation. Frankly, there was a lot to like about the Buckeyes. Trey Sermon’s grandeur after transferring from OU. Justin Fields’ toughness. Josh Proctor’s road from Owasso High School to the Ohio State secondary.
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I’d have been quite all right with those Buckeyes and their Ohio State teammates winning it all.
But I was pulling a little bit more for Alabama.
Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith.
While they were the most electric players on the field Monday night, their talents weren’t what won me over. Instead, both have shown some heart-warming humanity in recent weeks. Under normal circumstances, I’m a softie for that stuff. But in these times? There’s something even more endearing about it.
Let’s start with Harris.
He was asked during a press conference a little over a week ago about his signature touchdown celebration. Since last season, the Tide tailback has taken throwing his arms out wide like soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe did in the Women’s World Cup a few years back. It’s a move that is a little like a bow, a little like they’re saying “ta-da.”
When Harris was asked why he emulated Rapinoe, he said, “Me, as a male, I guess you could say maybe not too many males would say they look up to a woman. But I really look up to her just for what she does outside of sports.
“Really, all the stuff she stands up for … I like how she does that.”
What an honest and revealing answer.
Also, totally endearing.
There are lots of male athletes who appreciate what female athletes are doing, and when they are willing to talk about it, women are further empowered. And the men who do so realize that cheering women doesn’t diminish the cheers for them.
There’s plenty to go around.
Add in the fact that the lovely Holly Rowe of ESPN set up a video chat between Harris and Rapinoe that was completely awesome, and it only added to my appreciation of Harris.
And then there was Smith.
On the night the Alabama receiver — and one of the most dominating players in the history of college football — won the Heisman Trophy, he gave thanks to all the people closest to him. Family. Coaches. Teammates. Then, he spoke directly to youngsters.
“To all the young kids out there that’s not the biggest, not the strongest — just keep pushing. Because I’m not the biggest. I’ve been doubted a lot just because of my size. And really, it just comes down to you put your mind to it, you can do it. No job is too big. If you put your mind to it, you can do it. Just keep believing in God, and you’ll get to where you want to be.”
I love that Smith admitted in those moments after being deemed the best player that it wasn’t because he was superlative in every category. Not the biggest. Not the strongest. Not every athlete would have said such things.
Smith was so honest, and again, it was endearing.
Who knows? Maybe all that we’ve experienced in the past year has heightened my appreciation for these small moments. Maybe the significance of them has been elevated as we hunger for others to be civil and friendly and kind.
I’m not sure, but I know as kickoff approached Monday night, I had a very clear feeling — I wanted Alabama to win because I wanted Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith to win.
You want good things for people who seem good, too.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.