TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Tua Tagovailoa doesn’t get all the attention.
That’s not exactly accurate. He understands that being the starting quarterback at Alabama is a different animal, and that he can’t do things like go out to dinner with his parents in a big restaurant and not be repeatedly interrupted by fans.
But he doesn’t get why so many would care so much about his status and position on this football team.
Tuesday afternoon, Tugalovailoa was made available to reporters for the first time since the Crimson Tide’s media day at the start of fall camp and they came out in droves. Part of holding him back until now was due to the respect Alabama was trying to give Jalen Hurts, but also because the quarterbacks just didn’t want to deal with the media hassle.
To give an idea of how big the spotlight has become for the early favorite for the Heisman Trophy, local television stations and ESPN wanted to break into their scheduled programming and broadcast his interview session live. Alabama said no thanks, and avoided the headache of a player being treated so differently from everyone else.
But that’s the thing: In terms of the spectacle, Alabama hasn’t had quarterback like this since maybe Joe Namath in the 1960s.
The difference is that Namath embraced the attention. Tagovailoa is, well, to use the same term, a different animal.
Nevertheless, he was just as adept as dealing with questions as a charging defensive player on his backside — stepping up or spinning and calmly throwing a touchdown pass like in the season opener against Louisville.
“How did you learn that escapability that you’ve shown these first five games? Where did that come from? Is it a drill that you grew up doing when you do cartwheels out of the pocket?” he was asked.
The response was sort of like the William Wallace line from “Braveheart” about how his reputation had grown so much that he was supposedly seven feet tall and could shoot bolts of lightning out of his rear:
“I don’t know. Sometimes I drop back, and sometimes I just practice back-flipping and throwing.”
“In 11 years that’s the best answer yet,” Assistant AD of Football Communications Josh Maxson quipped to the side after the laughter died down.
“I’m kidding,” Tagovailoa continued. “I really couldn’t tell you.”
Actually, that wasn’t the most telling answer Tagovailoa gave on Tuesday. It came when he was before the TV cameras and someone finally asked about his relationship with Hurts.
He told about what happened the Monday after Nick Saban announced that Tagovailoa was Alabama’s starter. For the flex period during practice, Hurts had always led the position group as the veteran member. He told the younger player it was his time to take the lead.
“You got it, it’s your team,” Tagovailoa said Hurts told him.
“I said no.”
“To have someone like Jalen stick with it, knowing that I’d been the starter for two years and to have someone come in front of me now ... the kind of character that he has, and the kind of maturity that he’s shown throughout the year within our team, I think that’s something special.”
Tagovailoa later admitted that he never envisioned a scenario in which he was the starter and Hurts was behind him on the depth chart. Yet here we are.
"Could you tell me that I was going to be the starter with Jalen being here?" Tagovailoa said. "You wouldn't know. Exactly. I never knew, too. I couldn't even tell you that. But that's kind of a hard situation to be in. I couldn't even tell you that answer."
To call this a unique situation as Saban does doesn’t give it justice.
Yet somehow it’s worked. Somehow they’re both getting reps and looking better with each game. Somehow they’ve become even better friends.
After getting pulled at halftime of the National Championship Game, Hurts has more than redeemed himself, and proven that he’s still a top-notch college quarterback.
It’s just Tua …
Even Saban has said that the quarterback has exceeded his expectations, to which Tagovailoa told reporters that he must have been joking with them.
He wasn’t. But it goes a long way into explaining how Tagovailoa has been able to ignore the distractions, the spotlight and keep plugging away. Teammates help with that as well, and the quarterback has made certain to spread the praise around and share in the spotlight.
“We have guys around here who are so levelheaded. … We don’t conversate too much about it,” he said. “But the thing that I really like about our team this year is everyone is really, really close with one another.
“It makes things so much more fun that when we do go out there, when the ones or the twos or the threes go out there everyone is so happy for each other. It just leaves no room for that. None of that matters to this point as we’re just having fun.”
Credit Alabama for making Tagovailoa available when it did. There wasn’t a single question asked about Arkansas on Tuesday, or about the Crimson Tide being favored on the road by five touchdowns.
This was Tua’s time to shine, and like usual he did so while making it look easy.
“I think when you dream, whether you’re a kid or whether you’re someone who’s old, you have expectations when you dream,” he said.
Now we all get to see what happens when you exceed your dreams.