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Cleveland: On the Success of Alabama Under Nick Saban

Last Saturday, Alabama trounced Texas A & M for the Crimson Tide’s 136th victory in 11-plus seasons under Nick Saban’s leadership. Bama is 136-20 under Saban, a remarkable 74-13 in the Southeastern Conference. Saban-led Alabama has won five national championships and may well win a sixth this season.

Now then, on Sunday, Drew Brees became the NFL’s all-time leader in pass completions, surpassing Mississippi’s own Brett Favre. More career records are on the horizon for Brees, the most accurate passer these eyes have seen.

And so, you ask, both accomplishments are remarkable but what does that second paragraph have to do with the first?

Answer: Everything.

Let’s go back to the spring of 2006, shall we?

Saban was looking forward to his second season with the Miami Dolphins, who had improved from 4-12 to 9-7 in his first. Saban, ever the perfectionist, was far from satisfied and believed he needed better quarterback play to get to the next level. Brees, coming off shoulder surgery with the San Diego Chargers, was available. Dr. James Andrews, the famed orthopedic surgeon, who had operated on Drees’ shoulder, said he was as good as new. Dolphins doctors, who examined Brees extensively, weren’t so sure.

Saban was more than a little intrigued. But he was also interested in Daunte Culpepper of the Minnesota Vikings who was coming off a knee injury that had required surgery.

The Saints, reeling from Hurricane Katrina and with an uncertain future, were interested in Brees as well.

Everybody and his brother believed that Brees would prefer Miami to New Orleans.

What happened next depends on whom you believe.

Saban has since said the Dolphins first offered Brees a contract during a two-day Brees visit to Miami. If so, it had to be a low-ball offer.

Brees has said he had a conversation with Saban that led Brees to believe that the Dolphins coach was less than confident of his chances at recovery.

The Saints made Brees a bombshell offer: $60 million over six years. The Saints were all in.

Brees chose New Orleans.

Saban and the Dolphins signed Culpepper to a 10-year, $102 million deal.

Twelve-plus seasons later, Brees is still throwing touchdowns and has led the Saints to one Super Bowl victory.

Culpepper was benched after four games as the Dolphins starter and never completed another pass for Miami. Years later, a Florida bank foreclosed on his $3.6 million home he purchased after signing his Dolphins contract.

What would have happened had the Dolphins signed Brees?

We will never know, but there is a strong probability the Saban-Brees combination would have been a huge winner in Miami. There’s a strong possibility the Saints never would have won a Super Bowl. There’s a strong possibility Saban never would have left Miami and returned to college football at Alabama. There’s a possibility the Crimson Tide never would have won the five national championships they have claimed under Saban.

What happened in early 2006 can forever be celebrated in New Orleans, cursed in Miami, celebrated at Alabama and cursed in the rest of the SEC Western Division, including Oxford and Starkville.

Back in 2006, when Brees began to throw darts for the Saints and Culpepper faltered at Miami, Saban said we needed to wait 10 years to put a final judgement on all the choices made.

We didn’t need that long. And, a dozen years later, there’s absolutely no doubt about that.


Email syndicated columnist Rick Cleveland at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

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