By Michael Casagrande
Photo by Jae C. Hong/Associated Press Alabama head coach Nick Saban poses with trophies during a news conference after the Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Texas Longhorns in the NCAA National Championship game.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- A blue and orange chip sat squarely on the collective shoulder of the Alabama football program a year ago. The Crimson Tide had an almost obsessive drive toward avenging their 2008 SEC championship loss to Florida.
Now with SEC and national championships of their own, the Tide are four practices into their follow-up spring practice and coach Nick Saban has seen no hangover.
"The No. 1 thing you worry about is complacency with players," Saban said. "I haven't seen that in our players to this point. But it remains to be seen. That's what we're trying to develop with them."
But motivating a team that showered in confetti twice in the past four months is a process that will extend well into the summer and fall.
"When you accomplish something, are you ready to go and go do the next thing?" Saban said. "Or do you just want to bask in the glory of all that and not get focused on the challenges that you have in the future? And there's no question that, I think it's a little easier sometimes to deal with adversity. Players usually respond better when they lose sometimes than when they win."
Case in point: The Tide's response to blowing the lead and losing to Florida two seasons ago in the Georgia Dome. Now it'll be Florida that carries that extra fire into the Oct. 2 meeting in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Winning the 2003 national title at LSU, Saban has said several times, created a mental barrier that was difficult to break through the next fall. As the defending champion, LSU lost two of its first five games and Saban was in Miami coaching the NFL's Dolphins the following year.
One of the veterans who'll be charged with avoiding such a letdown, senior-to-be quarterback Greg McElroy said the exact source of motivation is hard to pinpoint at this point.
In late March, that isn't his focus just yet. Beating the Gators soundly in the 2009 SEC championship game didn't completely scratch that uncomfortable itch from the year before.
"That Florida feeling from a few years ago still resonates for a lot of us," McElroy said. "Some of us weren't there, but I can still remember how it feels to come up short. A lot of the people on this team refuse to let that happen again."
Instead of looking at the circumstances as a challenge, McElroy said he and his teammates might even have an edge mentally.
"We understand what it takes to get to the top of the mountain," he said. "We understand the difficulties and the way the air gets thinner as you reach the pinnacle. So we've been there before and I think people are confident. Once you've been to the top, why would you settle for anything less than that?"
Of course, obstacles standing in the way of a repeat extend beyond the head games. Replacing a handful of NFL draft picks is likely bigger than any, but McElroy indicated there was a certain air of confidence that supplements that talent in the next wave of starters.