Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times.
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Dabo and friends put Saban in sour mood
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney laughs during an NCAA college football news conference Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. Clemson defeated Alabama 35-31 in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game the night before. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Nick Saban's normal frown had grown into an angry snarl.
It was obvious he did not want to be interviewed after watching his Alabama team get outscored 21-7 in the fourth quarter and lose the national championship to Clemson.
Somewhere else at NRG Stadium in Houston, Dabo Swinney was dancing with the national championship trophy and pouring accolades on quarterback Deshaun Watson -- who would have won the Heisman Trophy if voting was today instead being a finalist -- and God.
For three quarters it was slow, meticulous and mostly Alabama. It was as if another chapter in the greatness of Saban and Alabama football was being written, edited and published by Saban.
Then Swinney, Watson and a former walk-on, Hunter Renfrow, decided to rewrite the history book.
After all, Swinney and Renfrow are the antithesis of Saban and Alabama.
Saban looks and acts like his next meal is going to be his last supper.
Swinney looks like he might yell: "First dibs on seconds."
And Swinney and Renfrow are the same person from different eras.
If you take the number of high Division I schools that recruited either of them and added the schools together, the total would be zero.
Swinney walked on (he calls it crawled on) at Alabama and was part of the 1992 Crimson Tide national championship team.
Renfrow walked on at Clemson, earned a scholarship after a redshirt year and now has 17 catches, 180 yards and 4 touchdowns in the past two national championship games.
Yet, Alabama is the school that finishes No. 1 in the country in recruiting most years. Actually, a bad year is finishing No. 2.
But Clemson is climbing the recruiting tree under Swinney.
So Monday night for 45 minutes, Slick Nick and Bama ball ruled.
The middle of the field was the dead zone for Clemson. For some reason, the Tigers kept testing it, but the area between the hash marks could have been renamed Tideville. Bama linebackers Ryan Anderson and Reuben Foster ruled that area.
Slowly but surely, the Tigers realized that Bama quarterback Jalen Hurts -- a talented, true freshman who never got rattled -- could not throw it deep at will.
Brent Venables, this season's winner of the Broyles Award for the best assistant coach in the country, started tweaking his defense. Suddenly, Alabama looked vulnerable.
It wasn't Bama's play calling under Steve Sarkisian; it was Clemson's defense, which not only was big and fast but also fearless.
Clemson would hold the Crimson Tide to just 16 first downs and 376 total yards.
In the final quarter, Clemson running back Wayne Gallman ran for a touchdown, which was sandwiched by touchdown passes from Watson to Mike Williams -- who missed last year's game with a neck injury -- and to Renfrow with one second on the clock.
The final quarter was exciting and fun to watch, but the overnight ratings were not that good, but it was a regional football game. Two southern-fried teams playing for the national championship, and it hurt that the game lasted 4:08. That's ridiculous.
The vast majority of those watching probably was pulling against Alabama as much as cheering for Clemson.
When you are almost always No. 1 people tend to get a little tired of you, and as great of a coach as Nick Saban is, there isn't a sportswriter in the country who wouldn't rather cover the guy in the sweatshirt who is called Dabo by everyone.
Saban snarled his way though the aftermath of the loss, and Swinney danced, praised God and gave his players the rest of the credit.
Sports on 01/11/2017
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