GAMEDAY: Rediscovering identity in changing TideBy Kayla Montgomery | 09/10/2015 9:12am
The offensive line squares up against Wisconsin. CW | Layton Dudley
Urban legend has it that Alabama gained the elephant as its mascot in 1930. Coach Wallace Wade and his team faced off against Mississippi on Oct. 8, inspiring an Atlanta Journal sports writer to compose a story about the game, the team and the Alabama players. The term Crimson Tide had supposedly been coined two decades prior, but the team was still without a mascot, until Everett Strupper put pen to paper.
“At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble, there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,’ and out stamped this Alabama varsity,” wrote Strupper, according to rolltide.com. “It was the first time that I had seen it and the size of the entire eleven nearly knocked me cold, men that I had seen play last year looking like they had nearly doubled in size.”
In describing the crimson athletes, Strupper’s commentary matches much of what is expected of Alabama football today, more three quarters of a century later.
“That Alabama team of 1930 is a typical Wade machine, powerful, big, tough, fast, aggressive, well-schooled in fundamentals and the best blocking team for this early in the season that I have ever seen,” he wrote. “When those big brutes hit you I mean you go down and stay down, often for an additional two minutes.”
The identity of Alabama football has, for many years, remained the same. Terms such as smash-mouth, relentless, tenacious and traditional have circled the program that has become a calling card for success and secured itself atop a list of traditional athletic powerhouses, but in the last two seasons, Alabama has slipped from the mold it so carefully crafted over the course of a century.
Following two major meltdowns that dashed national championship hopes, complacent has become a word typical of the changing Tide, and after competing in the highest-scoring Iron Bowl in history and being gashed for yards in the College Football Playoffs against Ohio State last season, the solidity of the team has been questioned and analyzed throughout the offseason.
On Saturday, the Crimson Tide took the field against Wisconsin in the 2015 season opener, and, for all intents and purposes, handily defeated the Badgers in a neutral-site game. While Derrick Henry, behind Alabama’s large offensive line, was able to run between the tackles, Alabama’s front seven, touted as the best in the country, held Wisconsin to only 40 yards rushing on 21 carries. Though it was only the first game of the season, Crimson Tide faithful were reminiscent of seasons past.
If each season has a theme, this season’s is the quest to reestablish the Alabama identity while propelling it into the future. Earlier this fall, Saban spoke on just how important this theme can be.
“We’ve talked a lot about establishing an identity and now’s the time to establish the identity of a dangerous team,” Saban said. “Tradition is always kind of under construction. Identity is not something that you inherit or assume or get from somebody else.”
Call his quest quixotic, call it noble or futile, but the Alabama team that took the field Saturday had, at its core, elements of those teams that came before it, but with its own spin as well. The lines are stout, but quick. Alabama employed a no-huddle offense at times, but relied largely on running the ball down the middle, not shying from lanes between the tackles. The team seemed solid, but mostly, it seemed formidable.
Much can happen in the course of a season. The Crimson Tide plays arguably one of the toughest schedules in college football, and if Alabama hopes to compete for a national title, it must establish consistency and routine on offense. Special teams is an enigma, to say the least, but mostly, this team showed promise that, with the right mindset, it can be a contender on the national stage come December.
Hold your horses because, as Saturday showed, the elephants are coming.