ATLANTA — Nick Saban doesn't seem like the superstitious type. The Alabama football coach has his "Process," which is all about the journey one takes to succeed rather than the preferred destination of victory.
But he is such a creature of repetition that he eats the same lunch at the same time every day. Asked the key to his Crimson Tide's 11-1 season during the SEC championship game luncheon Friday, he sounded more computer than coach.
"Our players bought into the plan," he said. "They bought into the principles and value of organization. That's what's made us a good team."
Fortunately, high-octane coffee was on the menu.
But just as there are two outstanding teams in today's title game -- Saban's second-ranked, 11-1 Crimson Tide and No. 3, 11-1 Georgia -- there apparently are two sides to Saint Nick ... or Nick Satan, as Bulldogs backers may refer to him.
"I like to chew gum," he said. "And at halftime one of our managers will usually ask me if I want another piece for the second half. If we're winning, I'll keep the same piece in for the whole game. If we're losing, I'll switch."
Not to be outdone, Georgia coach Mark Richt has his own halftime ritual.
"I don't know if I should say this," he began as a crowd of 1,000 or more rose to attention. "But if we're winning at halftime, I won't go to the bathroom."
It doesn't end there.
"About three or four years ago my daughter gave me a good-luck penny," Saban noted. "It's worked out really well."
Countered a grinning Richt: "We've got to find that good-luck penny and hijack it."
Nor was Richt at a loss for words when Saban was asked if a team is helped by being an underdog.
Knowing the Tide have won two of the last three national championships, Richt quipped, "What does he know about being an underdog?"
And you thought these were two of the driest, stiffest, most boring guys in college football, if not the entire civilized world.
Not that much comedy is likely to fill the Georgia Dome at 4 p.m. today other than the feeble attempts of those attempting to find cheap tickets for this national championship play-in game, the winner meeting top-ranked Notre Dame in the BCS title game on Jan. 7.
Not when Georgia is here for the second straight season with basically the same cast of characters, including junior quarterback Aaron Murray.
Murray apparently was so confident of the Dawgs returning to this contest that he spied Saban on a boat dock on Lake Burton last summer during the four or five hours of vacation the coach allows himself each year.
Parking his jet ski, Murray told the Bama boss: "We'll see you in the SEC championship game."
As part of a course he was taking over the summer, Murray also asked his teammates and coaches to critique him as a leader.
"He got back some positive criticism," Richt said. "Some things that have really helped Aaron grow this season."
From that survey, Murray appointed 15 team leaders, then divided the team equally among them. Those groups met once a week to discuss various issues and hold each player accountable for his actions on and off the field.
"I wanted our seniors and team leaders (Murray is a junior) to take ownership of our team," Richt said. "We needed a player-driven team, and that's what we've gotten."
Then there's Bama, which missed the SEC title game last year but pounded last year's winner, LSU, five weeks later for the national championship.
Just as last year's regular-season loss to the Bayou Bengals seemed to galvanize the Crimson Tide, Saban said the loss to Texas A&M last month has made Alabama better this time around.
"When you lose, people are willing to change," he said. "Sometimes negatives can be real positives."
How positive? Alabama won its final two games after that loss by identical 49-0 scores.
So what happens this afternoon in this first SEC title game ever between these two?
Let's just say Richt won't need a break at intermission and Saban will require a fresh piece of gum. After that, let the police sort out what happened to Saban's lucky penny after Georgia prevails 21-20.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...