Expecting better things with new year

If you're a University of Alabama sports fan, the just-passed year can pretty much be summed up in seven words: <br><br>Thank you, sir, may I have another?

Too often in 2003, watching Crimson Tide sports unfolded like that infamous fraternity initiation scene in the college classic "Animal House."

One painful event right after another, with only the promise of the future to stave those always-hungry crimson appetites for success.

From the very beginning, Alabama athletics teased its fans in 2003.

Take Mark Gottfried's men's basketball team.

Please.

The Tide closed 2002 as America's No. 1 hoops team for the first time in school history, and expectations for a senior-laden group led by reigning SEC Player of the Year Erwin Dudley, guard Terrance Meade and forward Kenny Walker threatened to punch a sunroof in dank Coleman Coliseum.

But Alabama quickly crashed back to earth during an often-ugly, inconsistent SEC schedule marked by horrid offense and poor team chemistry.

The team that some thought would bring home Alabama's first-ever Final Four berth couldn't even crack .500 in the SEC and took a first-round SEC Tournament swan dive against lowly Vanderbilt.

So far Mark Gottfried and his upstart team have fans optimistic about the new year. (GettyImages)

Thanks to a strong non-conference slate, the NCAA Tournament selection committee gave Alabama a brief reprieve -- and a first-round date with Indiana.

When point guard Mo Williams' three-pointer swished through at the first-half buzzer, Alabama looked powerful again with a 35-24 lead. But it quickly faded away, and even Williams' 26 points couldn't stave off NCAA elimination in a 67-62 loss.

That was Williams' last game in an Alabama uniform; he declared for the NBA draft with two years of eligibility remaining.

But if Tide fans thought March was maddening, they hadn't seen anything yet.

New head football coach Mike Price -- hired in the wake of Dennis Franchione's departure to Texas A&M following 2002's 10-3 record -- had come under some fire for unfulfilled promises regarding his coaching staff and the hiring of a state high school coach and a former UA player for what many assumed were on-field positions; the role was eventually filled by Tanner High School coach Tim Bowens, a former Tide receiver, who was hired as a high school liaison.

The real fun began after Price's mid-April trip to a Pensacola golf tournament. Allegations followed in late April about his visit to a local strip club and drunken behavior while in town; Price eventually admitted to waking up in his hotel room, fully clothed, with a woman who was not his wife. The woman charged $1,000 of room service to Price's hotel room without his permission.

When the news broke, Price fought for his job at a bizarre UA Board of Trustees meeting/show trial with a horde of news media, players and well-wishers present.

Price and his sons talked. New UA President Robert E. Witt didn't listen, and publicly fired Price as his players watched in disbelief.

Seconds later, Price took the very same stage and pleaded for a second chance. For forgiveness.

He had to go all the way to El Paso to find it, as it turned out.

The whole episode was surreal; Dan Jenkins himself couldn't have fit it into a plot line if he'd tried.

Five days later, UA officials hired former Tide quarterback Mike Shula instead of former Tide center Sylvester Croom -- who would have become the SEC's first African-American coach -- sparking a firestorm of protests led by civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. (Croom later landed 80 miles down the road as Mississippi State's head coach).

Shula might yet prove the right man to breathe life back into Alabama's flagging football fortunes. Jackson and his ilk didn't want to listen, and the program took another serious public relations hit.

Less than four months later, Shula led his first Alabama team onto the field for what became an ill-fated season.

A team wracked by injuries and hampered by a lack of preparation time in Shula's pro-style offense slipped significantly from a season earlier, falling to 4-9.

Although no one said it publicly, it became clear by season's end that the year's problems and turmoil had worn down the team's emotional wall, affecting its success on the field.

The last thing this team needs is "another" problem. Alabama's roster has become one of the nation's toughest rosters mentally, but too much is too much.

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.

Too much was too much all over campus this year.

There were the isolated success stories, like a beleaguered Tide baseball team making an amazing run through the SEC Baseball Tournament (although the season ended a week later in a hail of runs and relievers at an NCAA regional in the shadows of Texas A&M's Kyle Field), the Alabama softball team making another NCAA College World Series appearance and Sarah Patterson's gymnastics team making another high national finish.

Oh, and Gottfried's young, inexperienced basketball team? They're a surprising 7-2 heading into Tuesday's showdown with No.19 Wisconsin.

But these tales languished in the shadows of negativity.

So what was the best part about 2003?

Now it's 2004.

Thank you sir -- we will definitely take another. Another year, that is.


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