Despite disappointment, Alabama is on the right track

Published 10:15 pm Saturday, December 6, 2008

B.E. Lee was one of the biggest, most diehard Alabama fans I’ve had the privilege of knowing. When I was younger, I’d sit on his knee and he’d tell me stories of Bear Bryant’s title teams and Alabama’s glory days.

I still have Lee’s signed copy of Bryant’s biography and the book the university published during Alabama’s centennial season in 1992. I even still have one of the old, unopened Coke bottles that celebrated Bryant’s 315th win.

Even in my grandfather’s later years, he lived and breathed Alabama football.

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However the year that would’ve made him happiest — Alabama’s national title season in 1992 — he grew ill. He died shortly after Alabama pulled the upset on No.1 Miami in New Orleans.

Maybe he knew the highs and lows Alabama would experience over the next 15 years. Lee probably wouldn’t have made it through the five coaches, four losing seasons and one BCS bowl appearance that transpired between that magical night in New Orleans and the Tide’s return to prominence.

Maybe my grandfather wanted to go out on top.

But he would’ve been proud to see the season Alabama experienced this year. Even in defeat to Florida, he’d be on cloud nine — if he wasn’t already there.

In the back of my mind, I suspected my grandfather had a hand in some of Alabama’s success this year. Clemson was favored, and Alabama blew the Tigers out. Georgia was supposed to win, but Alabama played like it didn’t know it.

My grandfather remembered “punt Bama, punt” and the loss in 1989. This year’s Iron Bowl didn’t even hint at a repeat.

The Tide just seemed like team of destiny, with divine intervention sprinkled in on occasion.

So when Jonathan Phillips missed a go-ahead field goal — his first miss of the season — and Leigh Tiffin put the Tide ahead 20-17, I smiled, thinking “Paw-Paw” was up his old tricks again.

But I guess he fell asleep shortly afterward.

Alabama has nothing to regret. The progress the Tide has made this season — from 6-6 with a loss to ULM to 12-1 with a BCS bowl — is remarkable.

For many Alabama fans, a prediction that the Tide would go undefeated until it met No. 2 Florida would’ve seemed like a pipe dream in August. And with its performance this season, Alabama seems to be a lock for its first Sugar Bowl since 1992.

And the good news is, its future is brighter than ever.

When he awakes, B.E. Lee will be disappointed with the loss. But he’ll be proud of Alabama, and excited about the what lies ahead.