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Saban Leads Alabama to Victory Over Florida Gators

ATLANTA - Remember when Nick Saban was a liar?

That's what the critics called him, anyway, when he assured the Miami Dolphins he wasn't going anywhere, and days later ended up in Tuscaloosa in an Alabama cap.

Remember when Nick Saban was a magazine cover example of perspective run amok?

That was the charge, anyway, when the public found out Alabama was paying him $32 million to try to beat Auburn.

Remember when Nick Saban was controversial?

That's not the headline anymore. Now he's the guy who caused the Urban Meyer/Tim Tebow empire to come crashing down. He's the coach who restored Alabama to its rightful place as king of the South - rightful, at least according to one state in the union.

Nothing makes past messiness fade away like routing a mighty rival with a big pot on the table.

Certainly, Saturday qualifies.

"A lot of time life comes down to expectations," Saban said when it was over. "We didn't come here looking for a moral victory."

Alabama 32, Florida 13; the Tide rolling to the national championship game, the Gators limping to a consolation bowl, wondering where their aura and 22-game winning streak went. Florida has owned the Southeastern Conference, including Alabama here last year.

Saturday, Florida fell like Rome.

"Everything we did this year," running back Mark Ingram said, "was to beat them."

This was the glorious day Saban needed, sooner or later. This is why he and his new employers endured the storm and stings back in 2007.

Keep losing games like this, and people look at your salary, thinking of it as they would a 450-pound tackle.

Win it, and they look at your trophy.

"He pours his heart into this team," quarterback Greg McElroy said. "We tried to take on his identity and that's what we've done. The reason we've gotten here is because of him.

"He's a champion. This team can now call themselves champions."

Saban was aided and abetted by various talented bodies in Alabama maroon. Ingram ran and caught passes worth 189 yards and scored three touchdowns. An 11th hour push for the Heisman if there ever was one.

The defense had Tim Tebow in distress nearly all day.

Then there was the quarterback. No. 12, whatshisname. The one who out-Tebowed Tebow.

The Florida megastar had the name. He had the reputation. He had the Heisman and the national championship rings.

McElroy? He was the Alabama question mark most people mentioned before the season. "I don't blame them," he said. He had the hunger to not be the reason the Tide lost this game. The analysts had been pretty much unanimous in their forecasts - the Gators enjoyed a gaping edge at quarterback.

No, they didn't.

While Tebow's passing work was 20-for-35 for 247 yards, McElroy was 12-for-18 for 239.

Most pertinent, while Tebow was leading an offense that produced 13 points Saturday, McElroy was producing 32. He even threw a crushing block one play.

"You've got to believe in yourself," he said. "It was not me outplaying Tim Tebow. It's all about Alabama tonight."

The image of Florida as this season's super team in college football crumbled by the minute, with its worst defeat in four years. When Tebow threw an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter, Meyer had nothing left to do but toss away his headphones in frustration.

Between the two of them, they've always had the answer. Alabama came with harder questions.

"This time last year, we had to watch them celebrate," linebacker Rolando McClain said. "We remembered that all year."

Now Pasadena and a national title shot await.

"We're going to play for what we came to Alabama to play for," McElroy said. "That's the great thing about going to Alabama. You get to make your own page of history."

Saban knows a little about history. He won a national title at LSU. Now he could become eligible for sainthood in Tuscaloosa.

Walking across the Georgia Dome field after the game was a woman who understood.

"Nick does not allow himself to be satisfied very often," said wife Terry. "He never pats himself on the back. When he was up there receiving that trophy - I know how his mind works - he's already game-planning for the next one.

"He'll go in the locker room and sing the fight song and that will be the sweetest moment this year."

Well, maybe at least until Jan. 7.

And the old controversy on the hiring of Nick Saban?

What controversy?

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