What Are They Thinking About?

A lifetime of involvement with Alabama athletics has meant a great deal of travel. One of the things I have noticed is that when I am far from Tuscaloosa I can be reminded of the great reach that is Crimson Tide athletics, and particularly football.

I have been in taxicabs from Seattle to Miami and from Los Angeles to New York and many, many points in between. Frequently a taxi driver will ask where I'm from, and when I say "Alabama," the reply almost always involves Crimson Tide football. I was once in Chicago and sharing a cab with an Auburn man and we got the question. I have to admit I felt a little sorry for my Auburn friend when the driver launched into a soliloquy of being a Bama fan from afar, and wishing Alabama good luck the next time the Tide played Notre Dame.

I'm pretty sure Auburn fans in the same situation would never hear a New York cab driver say, "Oh, yeah. Alabama. That's where Auburn is, right?"

There is no question that Alabama is among those few national powers likely to be known by cab drivers and others coast to coast and in between who follow college football.

Along the same lines, years from now some of the young men who are signing college football scholarship papers Wednesday are going to be in business meetings, trying to make sales, etc. And someone is going to say, "You're pretty big. Did you play football?"

If the answer is "Yes, I played at Alabama" (or Notre Dame or Oklahoma or USC or some such), that young man is going to be the focus of attention, and probably have a leg up on the business deal.

If the answer instead is something like Louisville or Auburn or Southern Miss or the like, the attention will shift quickly away.

And that's part of the reason that Alabama fans wonder how a young man with the opportunity to play football for the Crimson Tide would even consider going anywhere else.

And believe it or not, Tide fans, some of them do. And every player who doesn't choose Alabama is not "bought" by another school.

People (football players and all others) make their choices based on any number of reasons (and, in truth, combination of reasons). And some choose other schools. Alabama has never been able to get all the top players, even when the Crimson Tide had the greatest coach in college football history. It is hard to believe that anyone with the opportunity to play for Coach Paul Bryant would have chosen anything else, but it happened with regularity.

And it will continue to happen. Bama is not going to get every player the Crimson Tide recruits.

Indeed, Alabama's success is sometimes an impediment in recruiting. The magnitude of Alabama tradition, the great players who have performed for the Crimson Tide, is too much for some to attempt to live up to. And there are some who will want to go where there is immediate playing time, where the competition is not so stiff.

That tells you something about some of the young men who choose to go elsewhere.

One Wednesday, Alabama will sign some 25 young men to join the Crimson Tide. And schools around the country, almost none with the tradition and facilities of Bama, will also sign about 25. Some of them will sign classes ranked by the recruiting experts considerably higher than Alabama's.

So be it. There have been years when Alabama's recruiting classes were ranked very high and results a few years later were disappointing. There have been years when players who were not highly recruited have gone on to be Alabama stars, such as DeMeco Ryans this year.

Year-in and year-out, the teams with the best recruiting (as determined the experts) will have good seasons to follow, and so it is important to sign highly-sought players. Did Alabama recruiters get the job done this year? Only time will tell. But one thing is sure. In future years, the ones who played at Alabama will have advantages never thought of Wednesday. They will always be able to say they were part of the Crimson Tide tradition.

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