We come bearing gifts

Around us, the sports world is at peace. <br><br>At least in Alabama, it is.

This year, Crimson Tide followers aren't consumed with crazy coaching searches.

For at least one more year, there is no bowl game to think about for Mike Shula's football team.

Even Mark Gottfried's young basketball team has generated only minimal buzz despite a 7-2 start punctuated by its recent thrilling 87-86 victory over Oregon in Las Vegas.

Football recruiting, it seems, is the only front making news as 2003 fades into 2004.

With the holiday season now in full swing, it is the perfect time to wish greetings to those in the Alabama family.

Here, then, is one man's idea of the perfect Holiday gifts for everyone in the Crimson Nation.

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas, Happy New Year (or Happy Hanukkah or Joyous Kwanzaa, depending on your beliefs).

Gottfried's patience will be tested. (AllSport photo)

Mike Shula, Alabama head football coach: Some might argue that Shula has already received his Christmas present -- oral commitments from Hoover stars John Parker Wilson, Curtis Dawson and Jeramie Holifield, a verbal from Prattville D-Lineman Kevin Hamilton, as well as a pledge from junior college defensive lineman Chris Turner.

But what Shula really needs is a little extra wisdom and some patience to get him through a long winter after a disappointing 4-9 2003 season.

Of course, those qualities are impossible to contain in fancy wrapping paper and frilly bows under the Christmas tree. So let's put Mike down for a year's supply of Maalox (for those lingering feelings of discontent) and 52 cases of Mountain Dew (for an energy boost during those long nights in the Alabama football complex).

Mark Gottfried, Alabama head basketball coach: Gottfried has to feel pretty good right now. No one expected much from his young team -- which lost four-year starters Erwin Dudley, Terrance Meade and Kenny Walker as well as sophomore point guard Mo Williams, who declared two years early for the NBA draft.

But Gottfried's group has shown signs of life against a difficult early schedule, with quality victories over Charlotte and Oregon and a 7-2 record.

It hasn't come easy; five of the seven victories have come by seven points or less, with all five games being decided in the final five minutes of play.

And the SEC schedule has yet to tip off.

It's enough to age a guy 15 years in the course of a single winter.

So deciding on Gottfried's gift was easy: a truckload of "Just For Men." As the commercials say, gray goes away in 15 minutes.

Gottfried just might need it by March.

Alabama football players Wesley Britt and Brodie Croyle: These two guys symbolize the injury brigade that helped define the 2003 football season. Britt became a darling of many fans for waving his arms and inspiring his teammates as he left the field following a compound fracture of his left leg early in the five-overtime loss to Tennessee.

Croyle suffered a separated shoulder in the season opener and battled through pain in the shoulder all season long, adding rib and knee pain along the way.

Now, both are recovering from surgery to repair their ailments, and both -- especially Croyle -- are unlikely to participate fully in spring practice.

Brodie and Wesley deserve two gifts: a fluffy pillow to make nursing their injuries that much easier, and, when they're ready, a demanding personal trainer to push them back into the top physical condition both will be seeking.

Alabama basketball big men Evan Brock, Chuck Davis and Jemareo Davidson: One of the Tide basketball team's biggest weaknesses was expected to be front-court play, but these three young big men have held their own inside so far.

But the SEC season lies ahead, and none are particularly intimidating; at 240 pounds, Davis is the heaviest of the three, but he stands only six-foot-seven.

Davidson is a slim 6-10, 220, while Brock clocks in at about 6-9 and 210 pounds. These guys need bulk to hang with the Kyle Davises and Jaime Lloredas of the SEC hoops world.

They're getting all the protein shakes and large pizzas -- with everything -- that they can stand. Repeat as necessary.

Former Alabama football players Ahmad Childress, Antwan Odom and Justin Smiley: Childress, Odom and Smiley, of course, have ended their Crimson Tide careers early; all three linemen have declared for the NFL draft. Odom and Smiley's prospects are much better than Childress'; the former will likely both be off the board by the end of the third round, at the latest. Childress isn't a projected draft pick, according to most analysts.

What do you get the guys who'll soon have everything (or so they hope)?

A copy of Lawrence Taylor's autobiography.

BamaMag.com is pleased to feature regular columns from Greg Wallace, one of the most talented writers on the Bama beat.

An avid sports fan whose job "just happens" to give him a seat in the front-row, Wallace is entering his third year writing for the Birmingham Post-Herald. He is a 2000 graduate of the University of Iowa, where he was a journalism and history major.

You can contact Greg at: gwrite1178@aol.com, and read his work daily at PostHerald.com.

All three seem to have good heads on their shoulders, but reminding any potential draftee of the off-field obstacles ahead (namely booze, drugs and women) is crucial to on-field success. Taylor's new book tells what can happen if off-field fun starts bleeding into on-field life. It's a sobering lesson.

This column wouldn't be complete without mentioning at least one former member of the Alabama family: New UTEP head coach Mike Price.

Price, who was unceremoniously fired by UA President Robert E. Witt without coaching a single regular-season game at Alabama in May, has landed on his feet in El Paso, Texas, as the new leader of the downtrodden Miners.

It's ironic that Price -- who was fired for a night of alcohol-fueled bad behavior in Pensacola, Florida -- has surfaced in an outlaw border town minutes away from Juarez, Mexico, a classic den of Mexican temptations.

So what does Price -- who says his days of bad behavior are behind him -- get this holiday season?

A sombrero and, most importantly, a well-deserved second chance.

To everyone: Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and best wishes for a happy holiday season.


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