Participant versus champion

In at least a slight departure from tradition, Alabama will buy bowl rings for the entire squad, recognizing their participation in Thursday's Independence Bowl. But as Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione pointed out, the inscription is still to be determined. <br><br>" What the rings say will depend on the outcome of the game," he noted.

"As I told the team, there is a difference between ‘champion' and ‘participant.' We buy rings for all the (bowl) teams I've coached. I'll let the Leadership Council have most of the decision making in that process, but it'll say the bowl name."

And for the record, Franchione laughed at the suggestion that '31-7' be inscribed on the rings.

On the strength of a late-season run of three straight victories, Alabama earned a berth in the Independence Bowl versus Iowa State of the Big 12 Conference. Both teams sport 4-4 records in conference, but the Cyclones have a one-game edge in overall record, 7-4 versus 6-5. Located in Shreveport, Louisiana, the bowl will kick off at 6:30 pm with ESPN providing television coverage.

It may have been Christmas Day, but the Crimson Tide was out in shorts and shoulder pads, preparing for Thursday's game. "Practice went well," Franchione said. "It was a good ‘Thursday practice.' We got things cleaned up the way we needed to. Now we'll celebrate this afternoon."

After dinner provided by the Independence Bowl at Harrah's Casino, the team will be off for the rest of the day. Franchione explained; "We'll have a luncheon this afternoon. After that they'll have free time. Some of them will spend it with their families. Some of their families have come in. They'll have time to enjoy the day."

Alabama will return to the practice field tomorrow, but as is Franchione's habit, the session will be closed to fans and media alike. "Tomorrow is pretty much just a substitution and kicking game review," Franchione said. "It's a clean up day. We don't do a lot tomorrow. It'll be more of a focus day than anything else."

As the host team, Iowa State got first choice of practice sites and went with a local high-school facility. But Franchione is more than happy with the opportunity to work out at the stadium every day.

Covered with the latest in artificial grass technology, Independence Stadium utilizes Field Turf. And the Tide has been able to get a good feel for the new surface. "I think our kickers have adjusted," Franchione said. "It's helped us to be able to practice on this surface all week, having never played on it. I think if we had come over here for the first time tomorrow, then it might have been something to worry.

"It would have been vital for us to get the right shoes on and get used to it a little bit. But practicing here all week, our kids have been able to get used to it."

In general the Tide athletes like the new surface, but the kickers did require some time to adjust. "Our punters and snappers are fine, so I don't think that it'll be a factor right now," Franchione said. "The kickers have worked with squibs and on-sides kicks to judge the bounce. They got some work on that, and hopefully they'll be prepared. Of course with on-sides and squib kicks you've gotta be prepared for anything.

"We've played on enough surfaces that aren't necessarily any harder or softer than this one. I think we'll be OK."

Following practice yesterday, Franchione and the Tide Leadership Council visited the nearby Shriners Children's Hospital--an experience no one involved will soon forget. "It makes you appreciate that you can play this game," Franchione explained. "And it makes you feel for those people that don't have that kind of opportunity."

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