The 2021 Alabama Crimson Tide Should be Remembered for a Lot More Than Final Loss

They simply went as far as they could go.

Which was pretty far, especially considering the circumstances.

No, Alabama didn’t win the National Championship Game on Monday night. It got oh-so-close, and for a while looked like it would be able to survive against college football’s latest mega-team, Georgia. But midnight struck and the last few minutes were like armageddon for the Crimson Tide as there was simply nothing left.

Alabama may have thumped Georgia a month ago in the SEC Championship Game, but couldn’t pull it off again, resulting in a 33-18 conclusion to the season.

Those are the basic facts; The who-what-when-where stuff that the headlines will all focus upon, along with Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs finally getting that giant gorilla of Nick Saban and Alabama off their backs en route to what is sure to be a monster NFL draft for Georgia.

But when you look at the bigger picture, there was so much more on display both Monday night in Indianapolis, where the final game of the 2021-22 season went down to the last minute, and this season.

Trials and tribulations. Adversity and relentlessness. Celebrations and tears.

In many ways it was really everything we want college football to be.

Only one of the teams had to lose at Lucas Oil Stadium. It just happened to be Alabama.

“It's on me to perform better,” was quarterback Bryce Young’s postgame message to his teammates. Yet this wasn’t on him, just like it really wasn’t on any of the other individual players.

Sure, the Crimson Tide had its chances. It came dangerously close to pulling away during the third quarter, when it was able to establish the run during a 17-play possession. It also got the biggest break of the game, with the sack-and-fumble that safety Brian Branch casually grabbed while still barely inbounds, which led to the Crimson Tide’s only touchdown.

The three trips to the red zone resulting in just six points, in addition to the blocked field goal, were too much to overcome. If Alabama converts a little better, maybe it’s a different outcome.

But consider the opponent. The individual matchups. All the times there was a freshmen or sophomore going up against a veteran upperclassmen, especially on that Georgia defense that had something to prove.

Really, no one should complain about the outcome. 

Throughout the course of the evening there were hints of championship games past. Both teams struggling to reach the end zone was a little similar to the 2011 rematch against LSU. The numerous reserves Alabama had to plug in was remindful of the 2017 game that eventually went to overtime against these same Bulldogs.

If anything, this 33-18 setback only reinforced just how impressive those accomplishments were.

Saban touched upon after the game, and he's correct, this loss shouldn’t reflect poorly on this team and what it accomplished, just like this season shouldn’t blemish the program in any way, shape or form.

Just think for a moment about the storylines that helped shape the Crimson Tide.

The calm, cool demeanor of Young, who is still only 20 years old.

The high-revving energy brought by defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis.

The spark that Jameson Williams and Henry To’oTo’o provided as transfers, sort of like Major League Baseball players being the final piece on the trading deadline.

The back-end stability of safety Jordan Battle.

The shining hometown hero of running back Brian Robinson Jr.

The physical presence of left tackle Evan Neal.

The excitement of linebacker Ryan Anderson Jr.

There was a lot to like about this team, regardless of the one ring it wasn’t able to secure.

“They're a really great bunch of winners," Saban said. 

Take a moment and think about what Alabama had to deal with.

The Crimson Tide was playing without both starting cornerbacks, both starting wide receivers, nearly all of the running back depth. Both starters on the right side of the offensive line were playing through injuries against the most powerful and imposing defense in college football. 

With five catches for 102 yards and a touchdown, tight end Cameron Latu was Alabama’s offensive MVP (which was great for him, but it didn’t bode well for the Crimson Tide).

Here's the symbolic play: When Georgia stacked the offense for the goal-line plunge it inserted 700 extra pounds of leverage with defensive linemen Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter as blockers. 

Yet Alabama went into the fourth quarter ahead 18-13. 

Now take a broader look.

When Alabama lost at Texas A&M, this team grew up quickly. It responded and came together.

The comeback at Auburn? It could have taken the win and been satisfied, only the Crimson Tide kept charging.

Key injuries? So many had to be overcome. The alternative just wasn’t acceptable to these guys.

The 2021 Crimson Tide was versatile. It found ways to win. It was incredibly resilient when few thought it would be.

It showed character. It played with heart. It never made an excuse for having lost six All-Americans from last year’s team, including five on offense, and half of the coaching staff.

"They're great competitors. Great competitors always respond well to adversity,”  Saban said about his returning team leaders, who were both sophomores this season, Young and Anderson. Good luck to everyone else trying to stop them next fall. 

In the meantime, here’s how everyone should react to the way this team played, and the way it scraped to get so close to winning it all:

With applause.

Christopher Walsh’s column regularly appears on BamaCentral.com.

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