Tee Martin may have grown up in Mobile but he wasn't that much an Alabama football fan. Florida State first and then Tennessee, where he finished his college career not only with a national championship, the lone title for the Vols in the modern era, but with an unbeaten 4-0 record against Alabama.
"Two as a starter," said Tee, who will be calling his first game as offensive coordinator, "two as a backup (for Peyton Manning)."
And whether or not Alabama then is Alabama now -- who is, for that matter? -- "They were still Alabama, they were still a great program," Tee said, "Of course I do know that . . . Growing up in the South, you knew the third Saturday in October was Alabama-Tennessee."
And for Tee, that was a good time. Not that he heard from "the Alabama fans who were everywhere," he says. "When I went home, I was surrounded by my family" and they weren't the prototype Bama fans. "But we always had a mutual respect."
His approach this week is to let his players -- "a lot of California guys who haven't played in a game against an SEC team," he says since the conference Down South pretty much decided to stop playing teams out West for the most part of the last decade, what that means. Although he says he hasn't had to talk about it much.
"You just have to put the film on," he says. "They can see it." And what they see is "to just expect a physical game -- a field full of great players."
"No. 93, No. 94, No. 56, No. 10," Zach Banner starts down the list from film study, sounding for all the world like an NFL scout filling out his first-round draft sheet with the likes of Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, Reuben Foster, Eddie Jackson and on and on.
Tommie Robinson, USC's running backs coach, is in a different place. "Opposite Tee," the Phenix City, Ala. native who led Troy State to a Division II national title, says he grew up as "a huge Alabama fan. My whole family was. My brother-in-law [Eddie Lowe] played there and his brother [three-time All-American Woody Lowe] did and all our cousins went there."
And his daughter, Tawanda, a recent grad of Florida A&M, is "the biggest Alabama fan of all time," Tommie says. "But they'll all be there and they'll all be wearing USC colors."
But as much as Robinson has been around as a coach at places like Miami, Texas and USC twice, "I've never been on a field with Alabama for a game." So this will be a first. And a challenge. "I'm looking forward to it."
But "once the ball is kicked off, it's all USC," Tommie says. "Coaches are like players. We can turn it off and all we see is the game."
We wondered what the one former Crimson Tide player, O-line coach Neil Callaway, would say about going against his alma mater, something he did as offensive coordinator at both Auburn and Georgia. But he got past the media and off the field. So we asked Banner, one of his star pupils, what he has said to them about playing Alabama.
"He told us something in the [O-line] room," Banner says with a twinkle in his eye knowing that you're now really interested, "but he told us not to talk about it," he said before taking off out the Goux Gate.
Tyson Helton, who coached with Callaway at Western Kentucky the last two years, was asked if he could say what Callaway might have said. But he couldn't. Not exactly. "He doesn't get into those kinds of comments," Tyson said of the tough veteran. "He lets his starting five guys do the talking for him."
But Helton, who was 12 or 13 when his father, Kim, and Alabama coach Nick Saban, were on the staff of the Houston Oilers and he rode to the games with his mother and Terry Saban, wife of Nick. That gives him some perspective on the Alabama coach, who "at home, is a real family man," Tyson says. Not the guy you see on the sidelines.
As to Alabama, Tyson Helton said his years at UAB under Callaway, then the head coach there, gave him a great perspective on the Alabama program, 100 miles down the road in Tuscaloosa. "I haven't faced them before," he said, but that Western team did decently on offense against another SEC power, LSU, in a rainstorm in Baton Rouge last year.
When told an LSU coach in that game was really impressed with the way Western attacked them and thought that offense would work well for USC against Alabama, Tyson could only say: "That's what we're hoping."
Prepared for the Masina questions
It's obvious Clay Helton was ready for the questions about sophomore linebacker Osa Masina, his suspension "for a violation of team rules" and the two sexual assault investigations reported in both Utah and LA from this summer. He had his statement and he stuck to it, clearly on the advice of, as he said, "the University" and the "privacy guidelines for students" in cases like this.
So no matter how many ways the TV news reporters here asked the questions, Clay wouldn't go beyond what he'd already said -- that "he won't be traveling with us to our game this weekend" and "our administration is aware of the investigation." Is it one or two investigations, he was asked. Did the violation of team rules penalty have a connection to the investigation?
"I really respect the question," Clay said with a smile and then when another was asked, he said it again. He had "respect" for the questions. He did not have answers.
"I'm not allowed to answer that question," Clay said, bowing to "University policy . . . I'm confident in their guidance."
The family of Sam
Over the weekend, the USC team at its family day got to see the Showtime documentary of the USC-Alabama 1970 game credited with helping legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant integrate Alabama and SEC football with the help of USC and John McKay. Then Tuesday at the team meeting, the star of that game in his first-ever varsity start, Sam Cunningham, came by to tell the Trojans about what that game meant. But maybe not so much the historical part but the football part and how that USC team, despite the big win in Birmingham to start the season, finished 6-4-1. But two years later, when they unselfishly did everything right in 1972, they were national champs. Clay said he's pulling for some of that Cunningham magic rubs off on USC's running backs for this game. "I hope so," he said of how that "will take some pressure off the quarterback. "If our run game isn't going, it will be a struggle."
Safety Marvell Tell was back all the way and that's very good news for the Trojans, Helton said . . . and Chad Wheeler, with a new steel orthotic to help his plantar fasciitis, looks like he will be able to give USC some plays backing up the named starter at left tackle -- sophomore Chuma Edoga . . . USC players voted Monday on team captains and Clay said he'll announce them Wednesday . . . And for a play-by-play on Tuesday's practice, here are Ghost Notes: http://mbd.scout.com/mb.aspx?s=15&f=1017&t=14919088
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