Published January 06, 2013
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Alabama coach Nick Saban says he's not much for comedies. He prefers his movies to have a message, and part of his routine for getting his players ready to play in a big game has been to have them watch an inspirational film.
Saban thought long and hard Sunday during his last news conference before the BCS championship game against No. 1 Notre Dame, but couldn't be sure what movie his LSU team watched before it beat Oklahoma to win the 2003 title. Maybe it was "The Last Samurai," he said.
The 2009 Alabama championship team that beat Texas in the Rose Bowl watched "Remember the Titans," the Denzel Washington football flick. Last year, before the Crimson Tide beat LSU in New Orleans, Saban and his players watched "Red Tails" about the Tuskegee airmen.
"But I think the movie, regardless of whether it was 'The Last Samurai' or whatever movie it was, really it was about the honor of — the message was the honor of being all that you can be, that maybe that might be more important than winning or losing, and that your focus should be on that instead of the outcome," he said.
Maybe before Alabama plays Notre Dame, the Crimson Tide could watch "Rudy."
THE LINK: Frank Thomas had brushes with greatness at two of college football's powerhouses, and achieved plenty of it himself.
Thomas was a quarterback for Notre Dame's Knute Rockne and started a 15-year run as Alabama's coach in 1931, a year before a big country boy named Paul "Bear" Bryant came to play in Tuscaloosa. Bryant eventually returned to Tuscaloosa for a 25-year run as head coach, but didn't forget his coach.
"Coach Bryant had a feel for Notre Dame and I think a level of respect because of his coach, Frank Thomas, who he absolutely loved and thought was a great, great coach and referred back to him so many times," said Alabama athletic director Mal Moore, who played and coached under Bryant.
Thomas, who died in 1954, won 81.2 percent of his games, four Southeastern Conference titles and a couple of national championships. His winning percentage isn't all that far behind Bryant's (82.4 percent) or current coach Nick Saban (83.7, counting wins later vacated).
Lou Somogyi, senior editor of 247Sports' Notre Dame site, compares him to Notre Dame's Dan Devine, who replaced Ara Parseghian and won the 1977 national title.
"When you think of Alabama, you think of Bear Bryant first but Wallace Wade began it the way Knute Rockne did, then Gene Stallings and now Nick Saban," Somogyi said. "Frank Thomas is sort of a forgotten figure at times."
As a player, too. Thomas was listed as a third-team quarterback in 1920 as a roommate of George Gipp. He was a backup in 1921, and Somogyi said Thomas was replaced as the starter midway through the following season by Harry Stuhldreher, who became one of Notre Dame's famed "Four Horsemen."
SEVENTH HEAVEN: The Southeastern Conference has won the last six BCS titles, and Alabama is looking to make it No. 7 on Monday night.
Crimson Tide center Barrett Jones said it's hardly automatic, however, that an SEC team wins it all. That notion that SEC teams are head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the nation is even farfetched to him.
"There are some people that may be a little too-SEC-biased. Don't quote me on that, but you probably will," Jones said. "Certainly, don't get me wrong, I think the SEC is probably by a good margin the best conference. But that doesn't mean there aren't other good teams out there."
Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson doesn't see any difference between Notre Dame and the best teams from his conference.
"They could play in the SEC," he said.
The SEC had another good postseason, going 5-3 in the bowls so far. Though losses by Florida and LSU were unexpected and two Big Ten-SEC matchups (South Carolina-Michigan and Georgia-Nebraska) weren't as decisive as many expected.
This is what passes as a disappointing bowl season for the SEC.
FLYIN' HAWAIIAN: Shane Victorino will be in Florida — well, the other side of the state, anyway — in a few weeks to open spring training with the Boston Red Sox.
First up for the so-called Flyin' Hawaiian: A trip to the BCS title game.
Not surprisingly, Victorino is a fan of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, who also hails from the state. And Te'o was thrilled to know that Victorino was coming down to lend Notre Dame his support.
"Shane Victorino is just a real good guy," Te'o said. "We met him before and had the opportunity just to hang out with him for a couple days, and like I said, it's that bond between Polynesian players and even non-Polynesian players who know what Hawaii is all about. ... Just to have Shane here and have him experience this moment with us, he's family."
BK LIKE NICK: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is happy to be compared to Nick Saban. But, no, he hasn't spent much time buddying around with the Alabama coach.
"Well, Nick obviously has the reputation of being a great program builder," Kelly said Sunday. "He's defined himself, as only a few coaches ... have won the championships that he has. So I take that as a great personal compliment, as it relates to constructing football programs and putting winning football teams on the field. I would take that moniker any time."
Asked if he had ever crossed paths with Saban, maybe at public appearances, during the time Kelly was at Division II Grand Valley State in Michigan and Saban was head coach for Michigan State, Kelly laughed.
"Public appearances for Nick?" he said.
"Nick Saban, I got a chance to know him when he was at Toledo, a very short stint at Toledo, but I got a chance to know him through a couple of camps that I worked at, and got to know him better when he was at Michigan State. And I have a great deal of respect for him and followed his career, his path, and certainly when we see each other today, we're reminded about where we started. We both started in the Mid-American Conference, so a lot of the times that we talk, we talk about the times back in Ohio and Michigan."
Saban started his coaching career at Kent State, his alma mater, and Kelly's first Division I job was at Central Michigan.
AP Sports Writers Tim Reynolds, John Zenor and Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.