ATLANTA—All my favorite axioms are dying, one by one, bit by bit, year by year.
I used to say, in basketball, with a three-point lead late, you always prevent a three-point shot by fouling your opponent.
Yet, coaches continue to mock me to my face. Former Lakers’ Coach Phil Jackson was the worst.
I thought defense won Rose Bowl championships, yet watched the last two winners ALLOW nearly 100 combined points in glorious victory.
Monday night, though, in the College Football Playoff national title game, my ace-in-the-hole got buried six-feet-under.
This was a tough one and I’m not even sure how to explain it to my children.
You can’t win a national title with a true freshman quarterback. That’s what I always told the grocery boy and my mailman.
That clarion call, solid as a sunrise since 1985, is dead.
Monday night’s title game wasn’t just decided by a true freshman QB. It was going to be decided, either way, by a pencil neck.
Georgia was already starting Jake Fromm, a rookie from Warner Robbins, although he’d been the starter since taking over for injured Jacob Eason in the opener.
What Alabama did, though, defied everything thing I’d ever come to believe in. Down 13-0 at halftime, Coach Nick Saban benched sophomore Jalen Hurts and put the school’s fate in the hands of Tua Tagovailoa.
It was a preposterous (genius) notion.
Tagovailia was different than Fromm in that he literally had NO experience under pressure. He had played only mop-up duty in four SEC games that Alabama was leading 38-0, 38-3, 38-3 and 28-0.
Tua oozed talent and was already pushing Hurts for next year’s starting job. Tua is a dual-threat lefty, tops in his 2017 class, who attended the same Honolulu high school (Saint Louis) that produced Marcus Mariota.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
No way, though, you ask Tagovailoa to bail you out on college football’s biggest stage.
But Nick “Big Balls” Saban did it and Tagovailoa and came through in a way that will go down in college football lore.
“We’ve had this is in our mind,” Saban of using Tagovailoa in crunch time.
Tagovailoa got the call at halftime.
“We needed a spark on offense and Tua certainly gave us that,” Saban said.
Tagovailoa worked Alabama all the way back to a 20-20 tie in regulation.
In overtime, down by three, he did a very true freshman thing by taking a huge sack on first down.
Saban said, had there been time, he would have run out on the field and strangled Tua for not throwing the ball away.
"Tua probably couldn't have thrown that (game-winning) pass if I could have got a hold of him after he took the sack," Saban joked (sort of). "But I couldn't get out there fast enough."
In the Mercedes-Benz Stadium press box, I looked over to my TMG colleague Mark Blaudschun and smugly offered, “See? This is why you don’t play freshmen.”
On the next play, though, Tagovailoa did something left-handed that took Steve Young about 10 years to do.
Tagovailoa dropped in the pocket, looked off the Georgia safety in zone coverage long enough to create enough space for DeVonta Smith streaking down the left sideline.
Tagovailoa calmly looked left and threw a pass that was as taut as a laundry line.
Touchdown, game over and frankly, unbelievable. Alabama won, 26-23.
Tagovailoa had rescued Alabama to its fifth national title going back to the 2009 season.
That was the year I boldly predicted USC was cooked as a title contender after Pete Carroll chose true freshman Matt Barkley as the Trojans’ starting quarterback.
USC finished 9-4 and I gloated openly about my axiom holding firm against Carroll's fantasy notion.
But that’s all over now, baby blue, after what Tagovailoa did to Georgia’s true freshman quarterback.
The good news for Alabama and college football is that Tagovailoa has to play two more seasons before opting to the NFL.
He seems like a great kid, and player, for someone so far away from home.
“I do get homesick sometimes,” Tagovailoa said after the game. “I don’t even know how Coach Saban found me all way in Hawaii from Alabama. Thank God he found me and we're here right now.”
Tagovailoa is a teenager and a hero at a school that treats football as a spiritual experience.
He praised God after Monday’s probable win, to a congregation where Bear Bryant often comes in second in the voting.
“People are very nice,” Tua said of Tuscaloosa. “They’re very religious and there’s football too.”
Yeah, there’s football too.
Kids grow up faster these days—we all know that. Quarterbacks are better prepared by high school passing leagues. They are also enrolling early, which gives them certain advantages over pimpled faces of the past.
"A lot of these guys are really mature for their age," Saban said.
Youth was served Monday night and my axiom, well, it got axed.[/membership]