Is 2009 Alabama Best Ever Tide?

Not much good comes of getting old, unless one considers being asked a lot of questions about history a benefit. Last week in California there were peer interviews, including one seeking comment on Alabama's first Rose Bowl team in 1926. That was 83 years ago. The sad thing: we knew a good bit.

Old school reporters don't pretend to be experts in the subjects they cover. Hopefully, they can ask the right questions of those who do know. (Anyone paying attention to Nick Saban press conferences is aware that much thought should be put into the question.)

Alabama has had football coaches who were more tolerant of reporters' questions. Gene Stallings enjoyed post-practice time "visiting" with beat writers, answering questions and also telling stories and exchanging small talk.

Much of what I know about Alabama football is because Paul Bryant could -- and usually did -- give excellent answers, regardless of the quality of the questions. Prior to the 1980 season, after a period in which Alabama had lost only two games in three years, I asked him about comparing teams from different eras. I was particularly interested in how the early Rose Bowl teams (including one on which Bryant had played) would have fared in what was then modern football (it was 30 years ago).

He said that generally speaking, it took just a few years for the players to become "bigger, faster, stronger." He also pointed out that rules changes -- from substitution rules to offensive linemen being able to use their hands -- made a difference. And, he said, coaching improved. So did medical advances.

Although he is often cited as having said the 1966 team was his best ever, he wasn't saying that in the 1970s.

Bryant was sure some players could play generations after the game had left most of their teammates behind. He mentioned end Don Hutson, left halfback Dixie Howell, and tackle Bill Lee from the Alabama teams of the early 1930s that Bryant played for.

Part of the difficulty of comparing teams from years apart is the opposition those teams face. The Alabama teams of the 1970s were far superior to the Tide teams of the 1930s. And so were the teams Bama was playing in the ‘70s compared to the ‘30s.

(A more relevant question might be which team was more dominant against its competition.)

Comparisons persist. Which Alabama team was best? It has been many years since any prior to the Bryant era was considered. His 1966 team was most often mentioned from the ‘60s, though 1961 and 1962 were, too. The 1978 and 1979 national championship teams had tough competition in the comparison game from the 1973 and 1977 squads.

And there was the 1992 national championship team of Stallings, a team that went 13-0 and demolished number one Miami in the Sugar Bowl. Prior to last week's Bowl Championship Series game between Alabama and Texas for the national championship, A.P. Steadham interviewed most of the players on that '92 defense (along with Bill Oliver, who had a major hand in designing the defensive game plan). Those players, understandably, considered the 1992 defense to be equal to or better than 2009. Understandably, because they only remember the good and because they are biased.

One man's opinion:

The 2009 Alabama football team is the best Crimson Tide ever.

The accomplishment include the obvious: national championship and undefeated season.

Alabama went 14-0 against one of the nation's most difficult schedules. Bama defeated undefeated teams in its last two games, number one Florida for the Southeastern Conference championship and number two Texas in the BCS National Championship Game. The Bama victims included three other teams ranked in the nation's top ten and 10 bowl teams.

Bama tailback Mark Ingram set Alabama marks for rushing yards in a season and rushing yards in a game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. He picked up a little hardware, too, including Offensive Player of the Game in the BCS game and the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the nation's best player.

Think about the great linebackers Alabama has had -- Lee Roy Jordan, Mike Hall, Woodrow Lowe, Barry Krauss, Derrick Thomas, Cornelius Bennett, Dwayne Rudd, DeMeco Ryans, etc. -- and then think of Rolando McClain. He has everything any of them had, and more than most. He is bigger and stronger and faster and has the football smarts and leadership of a quarterback. He won two national awards as the nation's best linebacker.

Six Alabama football players made first team All-America (Ingram, McClain, offensive guard Mike Johnson, nose tackle Terrence Cody, cornerback/return specialist Javier Arenas, and placekicker Leigh Tiffin). Offensive guard Barrett Johnson was Freshman All-America.

Quarterback Greg McElroy was MVP of the SEC Championship Game. He has never quarterbacked a loss. Never.

The offensive line was supposed to be a concern. It was outstanding. The secondary was being rebuilt. It finished second in the nation in interceptions.

Opponents trying to stop the run were killed by the pass. The defense stopped everything.

Alabama 2009 came from behind to win and made great plays to preserve wins. The team got better as the season progressed.

In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a feeling that it didn't matter how many assistant coaches might go on to new jobs. The head coach would make it a top coaching staff. That's also the feeling today.

The 2009 Crimson Tide doesn't have the best all-time Bama players at every position. It isn't the best in every facet of the game. Alabama has had many, many great coaches and great players and because of that has had many great teams.

This is the best.

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