It was the day before the game and I was cruising the streets of Pasadena. A photographer and I drove up from the posh media headquarters in Newport Beach, an hour away, looking for something to demonstrate the pre-game atmosphere.
Because of intense security, we couldn’t get in to the Rose Bowl, where Alabama would be playing Texas for the BCS national championship on Jan. 7, 2010. But fans were everywhere, wandering around the shops and streets and souvenir stands.
I got stopped at a red light at the corner of Pasadena Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, and I couldn’t help see the Alabama fan standing nearby. I’ve written dozens and dozens of on-site “atmosphere pieces” at major events, from Super Bowls to Olympics to political conventions, but few are as vivid a memory as this.
Missy Boyd, who lived in Montgomery, was wearing a rhinestone-studded denim jacket. She was browsing at a street-corner souvenir stand with friend Melanie Bingham.
The jacket was specially designed by Tony Alamo, who used to design Elvis Presley’s stage costumes – though The King’s threads were a little more subtle than this. She called the jacket a “divorce present” to herself in 1990 and said “it cost more than a fur.”
Missy’s jacket had a picture of Bear Bryant on the back and pictures of Alabama players all over the jacket. She had an autograph from Mike Shula on the right sleeve, something I wrote then she regarded “with the buyer’s remorse of a 3 a.m. tattoo.”
The left sleeve was blank, something she was eager to fill with more Alabama history. “I want (an autograph from) Nick now.”
There wouldn’t be room on the jacket to adequately tell the story since then.
Alabama defeated Texas 37-21, earning its first national championship since 1992. (One of the great “what-if’s” in sports to contemplate: What if Texas QB Colt McCoy hadn’t gone down with an injury with the Longhorns up 6-0 and on the doorstep of another TD?)
That victory marked the return to glory led by Nick Saban. But it was only the beginning. Polarizing though he may be, Saban has established himself as the best coach in college football and Alabama – again – as the preeminent program.
More history for Missy Boyd’s sleeve: The 21-0 revenge domination of LSU in the 2012 BCS title game in New Orleans. The encore the next year, dismantling Notre Dame, 42-14. A spot in the first College Football Playoffs last season, albeit with the bitter loss to Ohio State.
And now this.
Alabama vs. Clemson. The Tide has won championships at the other three “traditional” title spots, Pasadena, Miami and New Orleans, so here comes the chance for a grand slam of sorts in the desert.
Clemson is undefeated and top-seeded. Alabama has been invincible since its September loss to Ole Miss and is a touchdown favorite. From here, that’s too conservative.
You can X-and-O this one to pieces. Alabama has trouble with a mobile quarterback like Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. Alabama’s defense is most vulnerable against a hurry-up offense. Clemson’s offensive line is too young and shallow to cope all night with Alabama’s relentless front line. Clemson’s defense can’t stop both Derrick Henry and Jake Coker, should Coker go all Joe Montana like he did against Michigan State.
Bottom line: More Alabama history will be written. Nobody prepares a team better than Saban and his staff. And they’ve been there before. Though some of the previous titles have been flimsy as crepe paper, expect Alabama to add to its list of 15 national championships.
Just a few days before Alabama played Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, I got an email from a woman named Joyce Vaughn. She was trying to find a copy of the article I wrote on Missy Boyd, and identified herself as Missy’s mother.
She wanted the column for a memorial service. Missy died of pancreatic cancer on Dec. 18. She was 53.
“Little did she know,” wrote her mother, “that she would not be in the wait on (championship) #16.”