A Different Sort Of Dreamland

The mention of ‘Dreamland' to any college football connoisseur around the country invariably conjures up the famous rib shack in the Jerusalem Heights section of Tuscaloosa. As the story has been told, "Big John" Bishop was a mason who prayed for a different way to earn a living. That night, he dreamed of opening a cafe. Hence, the name. Now, there are several branches of Dreamland.

Although the establishment is a tangible symbol of a dream and has provided a taste of Southern cuisine to visitors from across the land since 1958, the original ‘Dreamland' was conceived in the hearts, minds and souls of the Alabama faithful years before.

A heavy underdog 1925 Crimson and White team ventured West to Pasadena's Rose Bowl, astonishing the rest of the nation with a 20-19 victory over the powerful Washington Huskies. Since the triumphant moment, generations of Alabamians have existed in a life of pigskin luxury confident in their dreams of realizing a multitude of national championships.

Seven out of the last nine decades they have witnessed their beloved University of Alabama squad being crowned king of the college football world. The genesis of the legendary passion for Alabama football Nick Saban constantly references has been fermenting into a second century.

The dream, seemingly inherited at birth, has been ingrained into the legion of descendants partial to crimson.

Every national champion narrative saga has many developing chapters before producing the imagined result. Three years ago the restoration of the program became dependent on the administration's leadership. Prior to the first game uncertainties about a new quarterback, the offensive line, the receiving corps and replacing a leader at safety persisted. A testament to their faith in dreams was borne out in all the scenarios resolved with eventual answers.

Who would have dreamed an athletics director maligned for the last three hires would board a private jet bound for South Florida seeking a high priced NFL coach and successfully convince him to accept the helm of the dysfunctional program in Tuscaloosa? The greatest off-the-field ‘Hail Mary' completion in Alabama football lore prevented Mal Moore's aircraft from traveling to Cuba forever exiling him from his precious alma mater.

Who would have dreamed a namesake player from Nick Saban's past would be entrusted to him due to a mother's more than two-decade old memory of the coach's genuine concern for players. Mark Ingram, a modest three-star scout.com recruit, traveled South to win Alabama's first ever Heisman Memorial Trophy.

Who would have dreamed a California born quarterback and Lone Star high school recruit returning to his native home state would lead the Crimson Tide to their first victory over the storied Texas Longhorn program? First year starter Greg McElroy patiently waited for three years before navigating Alabama through the peaks and valleys to an undefeated season and 13th national championship.

Who would have dreamed a running back hailing from the same high school as the University of Florida's greatest ball carrier would select the Crimson Tide? Pensacola's Trent Richardson managed to be impressive in a limited role off the bench finishing the season with 109 yards and two touchdowns in the BCS National Championship Game.

Who would have dreamed a senior running back who endured the nagging injuries and surgeries that plagued him throughout his career would become a contributing member of a national championship team? Roy Upchurch was an excellent special teams member and ran the screen pass successfully when called upon.

Who would have dreamed an offensive line listed as a question mark before the season would perform well enough for a running back to earn college football's most prestigious honor? Left guard Mike Johnson continued the recent trend by earning All-America. Senior Tackle Drew Davis solidified the starting position last year and anchored the right side next to newcomer and redshirt Freshman All-America guard Barrett Jones. Undersized center William Vlachos and junior college transfer left tackle James Carpenter emerged as the other starters replacing two All-America players from last season.

Who would have dreamed a talented tight end with Florida roots flowing through his veins would choose to transfer from Georgia Tech to Alabama? Colin Peek was an integral member of the offense and scored a touchdown against the Gators in the SEC Championship Game. Peek's late grandfather coincidentally was a two-way lineman on Alabama's 1946 Rose Bowl team.

Who would have dreamed the wide receiving corps led by superstar Julio Jones and complimentary players Darius Hanks and Marquise Maze would enable a first year starting quarterback to become third in all-time single season passing yardage? Jones led the team in receptions, touchdown receptions and receiving yardage. His double-teaming by defenses provided opportunities for Hanks and Maze.

Who would have dreamed of having a kicker and punter mentioned for national awards in the same season? Leigh Tiffin, a Lou Groza Award finalist, was a placekicker whose inconsistency as a freshman which led to the firing of the previous coach would then become the school's all-time leading scorer. His reversal of fortune resulted in him being named an All-America his senior year. Punter P. J. Fitzgerald's four years of consistent progress and 53 consecutive starts made him a Ray Guy Award candidate.

Who would have dreamed the foursome of Washington, Cody, Deaderick and Dareus would anchor the number one ranked SEC rushing defense?

Lorenzo Washington's six year journey from high school included one at a prep school, redshirting and four years of steady progress at The Capstone.

Brandon Deaderick, hailing from basketball crazed Kentucky, fully recovered from the pre-season gunshot injury to produced steady play from the edge.

A mountain of a man named Terrence Cody would acquiesce to the wishes of a coaching staff, shedding enough pounds to earn a scholarship and proceed to earn All-America recognition in consecutive years. He achieved legendary fame with his two blocked kicks against arch rival Tennessee, the second one preserving victory on the last play of the game.

Occasional starter Marcell Dareus saved the best for last. In the BCS Championship Game he had a tackle that knocked out Texas starting quarterback Colt McCoy and he had an interception he returned 28 yards for a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half. Dareus was named Defensive MVP of the national championship game.

Who would have dreamed of the unique journey four linebackers - McClain, Johnson, Reamer and Anders - made to become starters?

Rolando McClain had superstar attached to his name as a freshmen. The junior was named the winner of the Jack Lambert and Dick Butkus awards while being named an All-America.

Freshman Nico Johnson performed admirably as he was thrust into a starter's role for the injured superstar Dont'a Hightower.

Senior Corey Reamer once projected as a college journeyman by his high school coach, started for a two years on a dominating defensive team.

Eryk Anders was an undersized high school defensive tackle from Texas who transitioned to linebacker in the 3-4 scheme employed by Alabama. His fourth quarter blind-side tackle causing the Longhorns quarterback to fumble leading to a turnover sealed the victory.

Who would have dreamed the secondary of Arenas, Jackson, Johnson, Woodall and Barron would be second ranked nationally in pass efficiency defense?

Florida native Javier Arenas spurned by every major team coming out of high school except Alabama finished as the SEC's all-time career leader in punt returns and yardage. He made All-American at two positions.

Cornerback Marquis Johnson, the favorite target of offensive coordinator's last year, improved to lead the team with 17 PBU's. Kareem Jackson continued his third year starting as a lock down cornerback.

Strong safety Justin Woodall exited Oxford, Mississippi, the hometown of the Ole Miss Rebels, in favor of joining the Crimson Tide to become a two-year starter.

Mark Barron, replacing an All-America safety, led the team with seven interceptions.

Who would have dreamed of a record setting six First Team 2009 Associated Press All-America players would don the Crimson and White? Mark Ingram, Mike Johnson, Leigh Tiffin on offense and Terrence Cody, Rolando McClain and Javier Arenas on defense.

Who would have dreamed the Crimson Tide's return to glory in the 21st century would occur in the Rose Bowl, the celebrated venue igniting the initial euphoria in the previous century and mentioned prominently in the fight song, ‘Yeah, Alabama'? The longest drought between national championships experienced at The Capstone, seventeen years, ended with Alabama defeating Texas for the very first time in school history.

Finally, who would have dreamed a coach in the third year of reclamation would reach the pinnacle of the sport? A football frenzied state of dreamers united with task master extraordinaire Nick Saban produced the desired outcome the evening of January 7th.

During the BCS National Championship Game post press conference, a media member unwitting posed a question delving into a foreign subject matter to the process oriented coach. In essence, did he ever dream as a young boy growing up in West Virginia of achieving this level of success as a coach?

Rolling his eyes with disdain, he proceeded to peel back the hard shell veneer revealing his secret to success perhaps motivated by his humble origins. "Well, first of all, when I was a young boy, I didn't even know I wanted to be a coach. I don't think you ever really envision this kind of success. I think that I was probably driven to try to be as good as I could be at whatever it was that I made a commitment to do.

"I was that way when I was a player, even though I wasn't a very good player. I worked hard to be the best I could be and had a lot of pride in performance. I would say that that's probably the biggest reason that any success that we've had, we've been able to accomplish, is because we put a lot into it. We work hard. We have a lot of good people around us that also contribute, and I never really ever thought -- if you saw where I came from in West Virginia you wouldn't think I'd be here, either."

Just as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz proclaimed ‘I keep forgetting I'm not in Kansas anymore', he is not in West Virginia. The Alabama faithful have made a mutually beneficial covenant with Nick Saban. They will provide the positive energy he so doggedly demands and the laser focused coach will continue the hard work required to reach the promise land or if you are in Alabama, ‘Dreamland'.

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