It's said that all poker players have tells - little subconscious, but visible, signals they give about the hand they are holding. It could be a facial twitch, the way they stack their chips, "nervous" eyes or the betting pattern they develop.
Alabama's tell wasn't subliminal or hard to spot yesterday when they escaped from the confines of their own back yard with a hard-fought 26-23 overtime win over Ole Miss.
No, it was there for all to see.
After QB John Parker Wilson connected with FB Le'Ron McCLain for the winning TD in overtime, the Bama sidelines erupted and Crimson-wearing players, coaches, managers and trainers stormed the field as if they had just defeated Ohio State for the national title.
The 92,000 in attendance knew. The Crimson Tide coaches knew. The Alabama players knew.
They had escaped a trap, a trap set and almost sprung by a determined Ole Miss football team on the rise.
The collective sigh of relief from the throng of fans wearing Bear Bryant hound's tooth caps and hats could be heard all the way to Mobile.
"They came after us hard all day," said Wilson after the celebration at midfield. "This was about as even as a game can get. We are happy and relieved we got out of this one with a win."
The Rebels came to play and so did the Tide. The intensity level from the opening kickoff was unlike most trips I've taken to Tuscaloosa. You could feel it in the air - this wasn't your normal Alabama trouncing Ole Miss affair and both teams knew it instantly.
Bama scored easily on their first possession, but it was the last yard of the day they gained without a battle.
The Rebels quickly answered with a long drive mixing the pass and run beautifully and blood drained from the faces of every Tide fan in the house.
The attitude of the crowd turned from very friendly prior to the game when most of them thought an Alabama romp and frolic was just around the corner, to downright hostile when the Rebels turned the heat up.
Ha-ha-ha went to oh-oh-oh.
Alabama was clearly not ready for some new looks the Rebel coaches put in for the game, i.e., the short passing game, the take-option, the boots and sprintouts.
That - and beter execution by QB Brent Schaeffer - gave the Rebs the momentum they needed to cope for 60 minutes with the Alabama environment, which takes a back seat to no arena in the country.
Besides a too-easy first-possession drive, the Reb defense had a very solid first half.
In the second half, to the Tide's credit, they got back to the basics of their program - handing the ball off to #34, Kenneth Darby, and watching him work against a tiring Rebel D that didn't catch its second wind until midway through the fourth stanza.
In overtime, the Rebels did not fail as much as Alabama succeeded. From my viewpoint, they found a little extra and did what they had to do to win.
When they did, bedlam broke loose. They understood the Rebels had played them toe-to-toe and it wasn't a fluke. They understood the Rebels have grown up and the Rebs they saw on film against Wake and Missouri were not indicative of the Rebels that showed up in Tuscaloosa.
In the visiting locker room, I saw the reaction I was hoping for. The Georgia game was a moral victory. This loss was not. It was just a plain, old, garden-variety loss and it made the Rebs sick.
To me, that's the next step in the evolution of a team that's doing all they can and heading in the right direction. Not absorbing losses without some pain.
The Rebs had a right to be proud of their showing against Georgia and their narrow win against Vandy. They also had a right to be proud - but very upset - at their loss yesterday.
That tells me losing will not be accepted or tolerated.
The next game - Arkansas in Fayetteville - is an equally hard challenge.
This Rebel team in on the cusp of pulling one of these games out. They were oh-so-close yesterday.
Alabama fans, players and coaches had a tell at the end of the game, knowing they were fortunate to win.
What is the Rebs' tell?
Weekly improvement. It's crystal clear for all to see.
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