The hardest win of them all

Out of all the national championships he's won in his career at Alabama (three), outgoing senior center Barrett Jones said the hardest one to win was Monday night's against Notre Dame.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—This was the hardest championship to win. At least that's what Barrett Jones said in the locker room after Alabama beat Notre Dame 42-14 Monday night at Sun Life Stadium.

Jones, and a handful of other outgoing seniors, have won three national titles during their careers at Alabama. The Crimson Tide beat Texas in 2009, LSU in 2011 and Notre Dame in 2012. Each opponent a storied program with a top-ranked defense. But Jones said this year's win over the Fighting Irish was the hardest of them all.

"When you're coming off success, it's like, can't I just enjoy this one right now and not think about the future?" he said. "2012 was the hardest championship I've ever won because coming off a championship, so many guys in our program haven't experienced failure and it's just hard to motivate those guys. It's hard to simulate what losing is like. We lost a game this year, but it's just difficult. It's a long train ride."

Heading into the matchup, Alabama head coach Nick Saban said this team had exceeded his expectations. Coming off last year's title, the Tide lost most of its key pieces on both sides of the ball. And at the beginning of the season, the team was dubbed inexperienced and young.

But through the season, Alabama pounded its opponents, overcame adversity and came out top dog in close games (LSU and Georgia). The Tide believed in The Process, put in enough hard work and it paid off.

"It takes a special people who have special character and a special will because you're always fighting yourself when you try to repeat something," Saban said. "The first time, you're all charged up, but the second time you have to challenge your will to do it and these guys did."

Saban will give himself, his players and his staff 24 hours to celebrate before getting back to work. This week, juniors Dee Milliner, D.J. Fluker and Eddie Lacy need to decide if they're going to return for their senior years or head to the NFL. Then on Thursday, Saban will hold a team meeting and tell all those in attendance that they haven't won a national championship because that was last year's team.

"I really hope that we all appreciate what we accomplished and understand what it took to accomplish it, rather than just revel and marvel in what we really did," he said. "Because if you appreciate something and you understand what it took, I think that you may be more committed to what you need to do in the future to continue to be successful."

Saban knows how difficult it is to win multiple championships as he's won four of them. In order to explain the importance of staying mentally focused against Notre Dame, Saban showed his team films on two of the greatest athletes of all time in Mariano Rivera and Michael Jordan. Both have keen ways of staying focused and tuning out external factors.

"[The message] was that everybody thinks the first championship is the hardest," Saban said. "But it's really the next one because you have to have the will to fight against yourself and to be everything you can be because you want to be it, because you've already won a championship."

Now it's on to 2013.

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