HOOVER, Ala. — The dude wearing the headgear shaped like Alabama’s latest national-championship ring was an indication the crazy day had arrived.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
The Southeastern Conference’s football Media Days feel like a circus or game show, depending on the time and team in focus over the three-day period, but when Alabama’s up in the rotation, it’s a revival. Fans pack the hotel lobby, cheer, chant, reach out to clasp Nick Saban’s hand or maybe just touch his sports coat, although that becomes exceedingly difficult with a tight security circle.
Saban heads directly to a radio interview followed by a vapor trail of TV cameramen and iPad-clutching reporters. Saban sits, converses, and news stations across Alabama have their lead story.
In other news, Saban’s quarterback, A.J. McCarron, is the best player who may be more known for his girlfriend.
McCarron is favored this season to win a fourth national championship in his college career and third as a starter. But as the quarterback, McCarron would be classified as the game’s greatest winner and Katherine Webb’s squeeze.
Face it, as the Crimson Tide demolished Notre Dame and won their second straight Bowl Championship Series title, the game’s only memorable viewing moment after the opening minutes was Brent Musburger’s gushing over McCarron’s girlfriend.
“You quarterbacks, you get all the good-looking women,” Musburger fawned with the camera on Webb, a former Miss Alabama whose modeling and celebrity career fast-tracked since that night.
Nobody in the role of major-college quarterback has accomplished more, and yet recognition hasn’t come as easily.
Thursday, the preseason All-SEC teams were announced, and McCarron landed on the second team, behind Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, last year’s Heisman winner.
Last season, McCarron led the nation in passer efficiency rating built largely on 30 touchdown passes and three interceptions and was second-team All-SEC to Manziel. As a sophomore and first-year starter, McCarron led ’Bama to a 12-1 record, and his major individual honor was offensive MVP of the BCS title-game victory over LSU.
Winning is all he’s known, a state championship at Saint Paul’s Episcopal in Mobile, Ala., SEC and national championships, though he keeps his rings in a security box at the bank.
Perhaps the only evidence of glory pursuit is a snapshot by his mom of a young McCarron in a Crimson Tide uniform striking the Heisman pose.
“At the same time, I’m not going to let my personal goals come in the way of our team goals,” McCarron said. “Your program and team starts to fall off when you’re not team-oriented and you’re into personal goals. That’s the ingredient for failure right there.”
Those weren’t veiled shots at Manziel — his roommate at the Manning Passing Academy — but with the line of questioning, McCarron couldn’t help but draw contrasts. McCarron says he tries to keep a low profile.
“The world we live in today is about social media and what kind of fame you can get off that,” he said. “I don’t need the spotlight. I’m happy in my own skin.”
Happiest when Alabama is winning titles. The easy explanation for McCarron’s success is the stunning talent that surrounds him, including seven NFL Draft first-round choices over the previous two years. He’s handed the ball to running backs Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Thrown to receivers including Amari Cooper, has been protected by an Outland Trophy winner and other All-America linemen.
A ferocious defense means McCarron rarely takes a snap while the Tide trails. Alabama hasn’t in each of the two BCS title victories.
But think of college game’s greatest quarterbacks the last few decades. Nebraska’s Tommie Frazier, who won consecutive national titles in the mid-1990s, contributed to some of history’s greatest teams.
Southern California’s Matt Leinart and Texas’ Vince Young posted epic seasons but didn’t post multiple championships. Tim Tebow? The Florida leader captured a Heisman and was part of two title teams, and that may be McCarron’s benchmark.
McCarron looks in another direction to draw inspiration and lessons as he bids for a historical three-peat — Brett Farve.
“Not so much the game and how he played the position, but you never saw him not smile,” McCarron said. “It always seemed like he got the best out of his teammates, everybody around him. He was just that type of guy you said, ‘I want to play with that guy and have that experience.’”
McCarron wants to be that guy, a leader who motivates teammates, wins championships and doesn’t brag about the accomplishment on social media.