Wiedmer: In a sense, Bama beat Finland to win championship No. 13

Wiedmer: In a sense, Bama beat Finland to win championship No. 13

January 8th, 2010 by Mark Wiedmer in Blogssec

Seventeen years from now it won't matter who Alabama beat or which Texas Longhorn was lost to injury when the Crimson Tide claimed its 13th national championship by a 37-21 score.

Just as the Tide exposed Miami quarterback Gino Torretta as perhaps the worst Heisman Trophy winner ever during its last national title 17 years ago, the fact that it won Thursday night's BCS title game with Texas QB and Heisman runner-up Colt McCoy on the sideline for all but the game's first series will carry no asterisk.

Nevertheless, it would be difficult to recall an injury of greater impact than McCoy's inside the Rose Bowl.

Or don't you think Bama coach Nick Saban would have gladly traded his $4 million salary for the opportunity to face pure freshman Garrett Gilbert rather than the masterful McCoy for all the marbles?

Put another way, imagine Michigan State attempting to beat Indiana State and Larry Bird in the 1979 NCAA basketball title game without Magic Johnson and you have some idea of what the Longhorns were up against without McCoy.

But that was what the football gods ordered up for Texas coach Mack Brown, who won it all four years earlier with Vince Young as his starting quarterback and McCoy on the sideline as a pure freshman exercising his redshirt option.

And because the Longhorns didn't actually get here only because of McCoy, they fought bravely to the finish, the score not exactly indicative of the Horns' heart.

But the best team clearly won this game, at least the best team after McCoy went down. The rest of it, we'll never know about, though 17 years from now it's doubtful anyone but a few understandably bitter Texas fans will care.

Still, this was a strange game throughout, especially in the opening moments, when Saban certainly made a couple of coaching decisions that made you think that the Tide boss believed McCoy's skills could prove tremendously important.

Why else, for instance, would the Tide win the toss then oddly elect to receive? And when Bama was quickly forced to punt, Saban stunningly called for a fake, which resulted in an interception.

It wasn't long after this that McCoy went to the bench for good with a shoulder injury. But even after holding the Horns to a field goal, the Tide wasn't done self-destructing.

On the kickoff following the Texas field goal, Bama failed to remember to field the ball. You can let a punt drop, but not a kickoff. The Longhorns recovered, but with Gilbert at the controls instead of McCoy, the Burnt Orange had to settle for three more points instead of seven.

Of course, Saban wasn't the only coach in this game making head-scratching decisions.

Just before the half, his battered Horns still within striking distance at 17-6, Brown decided to go with a shuffle pass near the end of the second quarter, despite having almost no time to move into position for a field goal or touchdown.

The pass was intercepted by Marcell Dareus and returned for a touchdown. Down 24-6 on the scoreboard and without his starting quarterback, this BCS title game was all but over.

Yet this outcome was what many of us who've watched the SEC this season long ago predicted. The SEC is now 6-0 in BCS championship games, and those contests haven't really been that close, decided by double-figures.

Still, where so many previous Bama championships were easily recalled by a single grand moment - a goal line stand, a stunning interception, a memorable run - this one will at least somewhat be recalled for the opposing quarterback who barely saw the field.

Of course, with much of the Tide returning, Bama should have a great chance to create bigger, better memories next year by repeating.

Then again, maybe Saban suspected it would be like this. Before this game began he told his team of how the 1980 U.S. hockey team didn't win its improbable gold medal against the U.S.S.R., but against Finland, the shocking upset of the Russians occurring in the semifinals.

He meant for the story to explain that the Tide didn't win it all in the SEC title game against defending national champ Florida, that there was another game to play.

Turns out, they won it against the Finnish version of the Longhorns' quarterbacks.

Not that many will remember that 17 years from now.