ATLANTA — Jonathan Allen reflects on his first two years at Alabama as total flops, not even worth remembering, much less bestowed with any sense of accomplishment.
The Crimson Tide, you see, didn't win a national championship either season.
When you're in the midst of one of the greatest dynasties in sports history, that's the way it is.
To come up short of the ultimate prize — as Alabama did in 2013 with the shocking “Kick Six” loss to Auburn, or the following season when the Tide was upset by Ohio State in the semifinals of the inaugural College Football Playoff — means the season was a failure.
“Those two years sucked,” said Allen, the Crimson Tide's star defensive lineman, demeaning teams with a combined record of 23-4.
Success, in a way, doesn't look a whole lot different.
Win or lose, there is never any time to revel in your accomplishments or ponder your legacy. Joy and satisfaction must be cast aside, clearing the way for the relentless pursuit of the next title.
Is it all worth it?
For those piling up the championships, that's an easy one.
Of course it is.
For the rest of us, it's not that simple.
Sure, we admire what Alabama has done over the last nine seasons, winning four national titles and giving itself a shot at a fifth as it prepares to face Washington in the Peach Bowl semifinal game on Saturday. We certainly appreciate that they've earned a place in a very select club that includes the New York Yankees from Ruth to Mantle, the Boston Celtics of Cousy and Russell, John Wooden's UCLA men's basketball powerhouse and, more recently, the UConn women's juggernaut forged by Geno Auriemma.
Yet, to envy the Crimson Tide and all those other marvelous dynasties, one must be mindful of the enormous sacrifices that are required and, more importantly, the focus that ensures any celebration is brief and quickly forgotten.
That's really the only way to stay on top, year after year after year.
Auriemma, whose Huskies have won the last four NCAA championships and 11 national titles overall, conceded the enormous burden that any dynasty feels.
“It's so much more difficult once you get to a point where the bar is set so high that it becomes improbable to maintain,” he said Tuesday, even with his team riding an 86-game winning streak.
Bobby Richardson can relate to what Alabama and UConn are going through. He was with the Yankees at the tail end of what is generally viewed as the greatest dynasty of them all — a 44-year stretch that, beginning in 1921, produced 20 World Series titles, 29 American League pennants, 43 winning seasons and only two finishes lower than third in the AL standings.
Over Richardson's first eight full seasons with the Yankees, he went to the World Series seven times.
“The one year we didn't go to the World Series,” the 81-year-old joked in a telephone interview from his home in South Carolina, “we couldn't understand it.”
While in uniform, Richardson didn't really appreciate the enormity of the Yankees’ accomplishments. He sounded very much like the Alabama players of today, who are prodded by their coach, Nick Saban, to view any tinge of contentment as something to be taken out back and shot.
“When you're in the middle of it, you don't actually realize what's going on,” Richardson said.
In the late 1950s, the Celtics began a run of 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons. Like the Yankees, Boston dominated during an era of smaller leagues, less-challenging playoff systems and no threat of its top players bolting as free agents.
It's highly doubtful we will ever see their likes again.
“Not with free agency,” said Tom Heinsohn, who played on eight of Boston's title teams. “There's more self-interest.”
He believes a dynasty is more sustainable at the college level.
“The college thing is different than the pros,” Heinsohn said, turning to Alabama. “They've learned how to hit all the buttons. That's what you do when you're successful. The more success you have, the easier it is to recruit.”
Auriemma views it much differently. He said Saban's program might be the greatest dynasty of them all.
Greater than his own at UConn. Greater than UCLA, which romped to 10 national titles in Wooden's final 12 seasons.
“We could have a lousy year but still make the NCAA Tournament and win a national championship,” Auriemma said. But for Alabama “to be able to do it in a sport where one or two losses knocks you out of having a chance to win a national championship is unbelievable. I have no idea how they have been able to do that.”
One day, let's hope they get a chance to truly appreciate it.
For Richardson, that made it all worthwhile.
“I retired from baseball 50 years ago,” he said. “But every day when I go to the mailbox, there's at least six and sometimes as many as 10 pieces of mail from people who remember that I played for the Yankees. Cards, books, 8-x-10 photos, maybe a bat or a jersey, something like that.”
You can hear the wonder in his voice.
“Fifty years after I retired,” Richardson said again. “I don't think all players have that luxury.”
The Crimson Tide is just as deserving.
Just not now.
- College Basketball: UConn women's historic winning streak hits 100
- Friends to foes: Fisher, Saban square off in marquee matchup
- College football: Alabama can solidify its dynasty with win over Clemson
- College Football Playoff: Clemson clobbers Ohio State, hands Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer his first shutout
- A short history of the best championship sequels in sports
- College Football Playoff: Washington's Chris Petersen trying to soak up all the knowledge he can from other three coaches
- College Football Playoff: Washington's schedule becomes focus of debate
- College football: Ohio State makes playoff, draws Clemson in semifinals; Alabama takes on Washington, which gets in over Penn State
- Dahlberg: CFP system still has a BCS feel