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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Saban statue represents title, reflects fervor of 'Bama football


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It used to be that you had to be dead or a beacon of democracy to get your own statue.

But it seems we have entered a new bronze age where being above ground suddenly isn't a deal breaker when it comes to immortality. In the past week, Florida dedicated statues of its three Heisman Trophy winners (Spurrier, Wuerffel, Tebow) -- all very much among the living. Auburn announced it was going to honor its own Heisman winners, one of whom is so alive that he is the ongoing subject of an NCAA investigation. But nobody does it better -- dead or alive -- than Alabama.

For Alabama fans, the theme of the day seems to be: Show up for the statue, stay for the game. (US Presswire)  
For Alabama fans, the theme of the day seems to be: Show up for the statue, stay for the game. (US Presswire)  
It almost seemed like they unveiled the school's long-awaited statue of the latest national championship coach here Saturday and a spring game broke out. Nothing beats a glorified scrimmage meant to feed the Alabama masses in the offseason except a bigger-than-life replica of Nick Saban.

The game? So-so, a 14-10 Crimson win over the White likely forgotten by fans the minute they exited Bryant-Denny Stadium. The statue? They will never forget seeing the giant, 9-foot tall Super Nick debut 1½ hours before 'Bama's annual offseason shindig.

Proving once again that everything about Alabama football is oversized, the statuesque Nick is just as intimidating as the real thing. He/it looks a little bit like Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still, which fits. Saban has been known to shoot lasers out of his eyes, too.

"Some hard work and a lot of yelling and cursing from Coach Saban." That's how 2009 captain Rolando McClain described how that year's national championship was attained. By the looks of it, not much has changed in two years. Alabama is probably even money (with Oklahoma) to start No. 1 in the preseason polls.

It has to break in a new quarterback, which should be no problem. While neither redshirt freshman Phillip Sims nor sophomore A.J. McCarron was great on Saturday, Alabama can win with either one. It also has a Heisman-candidate tailback (Trent Richardson) to replace a Heisman-winning tailback (Mark Ingram). The defense is creeping back up to 2009 levels judging by two interceptions and two forced fumbles on Saturday.

In other words, 'Bama might worship them but it doesn't intend on playing like statues.

"That makes it important for all of us to perform to a standard of excellence that is kind of accepted around here because of the tradition," Saban said as he left the stadium.

No disrespect but it's just a bit unsettling to see a guy who has been at the school four seasons cast in bronze. Unlike his four national champion predecessors on the Walk of Champions (Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Gene Stallings, Bear Bryant), Super Nick actually does, though, have a personality. He/it was designed by senior art major Jeremy Davis. Saban is depicted leaning forward and clapping encouragement at some unseen 'Bama player.

The real star of the show in Tuscaloosa was this representation of Nick Saban, instead of the real thing. (US Presswire)  
The real star of the show in Tuscaloosa was this representation of Nick Saban, instead of the real thing. (US Presswire)  
"They wanted it to [portray] a teaching moment," Davis said.

The kid nailed it. All the unveiling needed was a huge tent. It was a revival meeting complete with an evangelical minister (Saban), blessed, if you will, by a banner flying overhead advertising a Birmingham strip club. Hey, when it's Alabama football, everybody wants in on it. This place gets so nuts over its Tide that the coach's son's girlfriend got a rousing ovation at the ceremony.

It had taken about half as long for Saban to get his own statue at Alabama (16 months), as it did for him to win the title (in his third season at Alabama). So they cried -- yes, there were actual tears from fans -- as the statue was unveiled. That's how things work here. If 'Bama isn't overwrought about something, it is overdue -- for another national championship. That's the expectation every year.

Most coaches could make a career out of one championship. Saban has two, but only one here, which means it's about time for another. The rest of the nation might have noticed that the past two national titles as well as the past two Heisman winners have come from this state. It's a point of pride here, but only half a one.

Auburn owns the other half, the 2010 title.

"It was a terrible feeling," said offensive lineman Barrett Jones of watching the Tigers win it all, "a terrible feeling that we didn't reach our potential, most of all. It was good that it left a bad taste in our mouth. It's a motivation for next season."

'Bama won 10 last season in a rebuilding year, but one of its three losses was that epic one-pointer to Auburn. It can be argued that Auburn-Alabama relations have never been more strained. Some nut job with 'Bama leanings poisoned those 130-year-old oak trees on Toomer's Corner. Even some Auburn fans have to wonder if last year's title will stick given the antics of Cam Newton's dad. Still ...

"It shows that deep down South we've got something that's really great," 'Bama receiver Brandon Gibson said.

He then quickly added, "We've got to get [our] eyes out of the rear-view mirror."

So maybe the takeaway from Saturday really is that everything about Alabama football is oversized -- hopes, dreams, nine-foot statues of 5-8 coaches. Just leave Super Nick alone. Security will watch over it/him until Sunday. The plan is for 24/7 video surveillance to take over from there. These are troubled times in the rivalry, and you never know what could last longer -- Nick at Alabama or Super Nick on his pedestal.

"I don't know," Davis said, "I guess it depends on the Auburn fans."

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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