Wiedmer: Could watching the eclipse really cost Bama a national title?

Wiedmer: Could watching the eclipse really cost Bama a national title?

August 22nd, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

The solar eclipse is in progress on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, seen in Spring City, Tenn. Thousands traveled to the small town, which is in the immediate path of the eclipse, to view the solar event from the heart of the totality.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Total solar eclipse hits Tennessee

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With the sky above Grace Point Camp near Spring City once again sunny and clear Monday afternoon — the Great American Eclipse's descent into darkness having pretty much exceeded all the hype and expectations during its run of 2 minutes and 39 seconds — my 10-year-old daughter Ella Beth looked at me and said, "Daddy, that was the fastest two minutes ever."

And it certainly seemed to fly by, as too many once-in-a-lifetime moments do. But it apparently was way too slow for Alabama football coach Nick Saban to slightly alter his Monday practice plans for his Crimson Tide players to catch an event 99 years in the making.

"That's not something that I'm really that focused on right now," he said following a Saturday scrimmage. "I watch The Weather Channel every day. They're already saying what it's going to look like in every city in America. So what's going to be significant?"

OK, so everyone and anyone who criticizes Saban these days does so at their own peril. Bama has won four of the last eight national championships under the coach's stern (some might say crabby bordering on insufferable) personality and eagle eye for detail. After all, no matter how much or little Bama's players saw of the solar eclipse Monday afternoon, they arrived at Bryant-Denny Stadium as the nation's No. 1 team in the Associated Press preseason poll, the program's fourth such honor since Saban took over the program before the 2007 season.

In fact, pretty much the only milestone Saban has yet to achieve at the Capstone is having a team go wire-to-wire at No. 1, since his three previous preseason No. 1 squads — 2010, 2013 and 2016 — all failed to bring home their sport's ultimate prize.

So even if 2 minutes and 39 seconds doesn't seem like much, in Saban's Swiss watch world maybe that's too much time to waste on something as trivial as a solar eclipse that everybody — even his former players — can expect to view again in 2044.

Besides, it's not as if the Bama boss is the only one out there who thought the eclipse was a waste of time.

As this newspaper's David Cobb reports today in his Tennessee football notes package, Volunteers coach Butch Jones wasn't all that fired up about the eclipse, either.

"I'm more excited about preparing this football team," Jones said Monday morning, less than three hours before the moon would momentarily block out the sun.

Though he did schedule Monday's practice around the eclipse, supposedly to allow the players a chance to watch it if they wished, he didn't exactly embrace the idea.

"We need to get in the weight room and be stronger and review this (Monday morning practice) video," he said.

Sadly, as one former SEC coach with a championship resume once told me, some of that coaching tunnel vision is almost understandable.

For instance, he once pointed out, let Tennessee later lose to Bama with fans on both sides knowing that Saban didn't alter practice for the eclipse while Jones did, and a small but vocal segment of those zealots on each side will point with pride or poison that one coach is always focused on winning and one isn't.

It's crazy. And the more well-rounded among us might argue that winning isn't only about putting up the highest number on the scoreboard on Saturday afternoon. Winning could be leaving college a more informed person of varied interests than when you arrived.

No matter what the lunatic fringe thinks, taking 10 minutes out of one day to watch something as stunning, if not downright spiritual, as Monday's eclipse shouldn't have the slightest impact on a football game that's 12 days to two weeks in the future.

And because of that — though the two-minute drill is much more closely associated with the NFL — the Great American Eclipse was one two-minute (and 30-something-second) drill that both Jones and Saban should have embraced rather than erased.

For more concrete proof, just soak in this story from the close of the Tennessee Titans' Monday practice, which featured piped-in music — including Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" and Corey Hart's "Sunglasses at Night" — as players lounged on the field wearing their eclipse glasses.

Said cornerback Adoree' Jackson of that experience: "It was one of those moments where everybody can forget the problems that they have going on, come together and have fun. That's once in a lifetime. It was special."

But only for those fortunate souls whose coaches believe their players are more important than their process.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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