By Hollis Wormsby, Jr.
When Jalen Hurts scampered across the Georgia goal line with 64 seconds left on the clock to give Alabama a seven-point lead in the SEC championship game after they had trailed for the entire night it was the most exciting thing I have seen in a long time. I was watching the game by myself in my man cave and starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was not having the kind of day we have come to expect from him. He had tossed two interceptions throughout the game and between Bama errors and Georgia’s aggressiveness Tagovailoa just seemed to be a tick off.
So, with just under 12 minutes to go and Tagovailoa suddenly sidelined with injury Alabama head coach Nick Saban turned to Hurts, his former starter turned backup,and put the game and season in his hands. Ironies abounded in so many ways. This was the same field and the same team that 11 months earlier Hurts had his own fairy tale career at Alabama come crashing down as he went from the starting quarterback of the number one ranked Crimson Tide, to backup.
This was the field where Tagovailoa led a comeback for the ages and the Alabama fan based turned on Jalen like he had just become persona non grata. Not the entire fan base, but enough of it for that to become the narrative.
When Tagovailoa was anointed the starter, Hurts had choices. He could have walked away in the spring when the media created a firestorm around Tagovailoa that talk of Jalen even being considered in line for the starting job was treated with disdain. It was a firestorm that got even warmer when Jalen’s dad suggested that if his son did lose the quarterback slot, Tagovailoation at Bama, he might well become the most sought-after free agent in the history of college football. Even if he stayed, he could have become a mal-content whose presence hurt the program. In today’s world of entitled brats that is what so many, other than him, would have done. This is exemplified by the response of another high-profile quarterback at a big-time school who lost his starting job and then immediately left school and announced he was touring to see where he would take his talents for his final year of eligibility.
But Jalen did not do any of these things. He only gave one interview where he clearly stated he had no intention of leaving school before he graduated in December and that he was committed in full to the Alabama football program. Instead of going woe is me, he went to work with new Alabama quarterback’s coach, Coach Enos, who is known as a quarterback whisperer and went about the process of improving his game in the areas he was considered weakest: reading defenses, and putting the ball in position for receivers to have the best chance at a big play. Throughout the season, we saw examples of this improvement when he came into games for clean-up duties; games that were already won, but it was still clear that while the Alabama fan base admired him for staying and playing the role he did, Tagovailoa was still by far and away their first and only real choice.
Fast forward to this year’s SEC Championship Game. From the start you could see that the Georgia defense had made adjustments that limited Tagovailoa’s effectiveness. They were able to consistently get pressure in his face and often get him to the ground on third down. Just as last year it was obvious at halftime that if the Tide was going to win Jalen would need to come out of the game, it was just as obvious this year that if the Tide was to have any chance to win, Tagovailoa was going to need to come out of the game.
When I saw Jalen come in with the game on the line, the game instantly got more interesting to me. I was on the edge of my seat watching every play pulling for him and the team with all my heart and soul. He was seven of nine passing including a pass for a touchdown and six completions for crucial third downs in just two possessions, both of which ended in Alabama touchdowns and the second of which ended in Jalen rushing for what would be the winning score with just 64 seconds left on the clock. As Jalen crossed the goal line, I stood up in front of the tv yelling at the top of my voice, “Jalen, Jalen, Jalen.” I was so proud of that young brother in that moment, he was the epitome of everything you would want to see in a quality young man. Congratulations to him and his family. For in my mind 90 plus percent of the time that you see a fine young person, you see the product of a fine family. Or at least that’s the way I see it.
(Hollis Wormsby has served as a featured columnist for the Birmingham Times for more than 29 years. He is the former host of Talkback on 98.7 KISS FM and of Real Talk on WAGG AM. If you would like to comment on this column you can email him at email@example.com)