This was the morning after the left-handed kid who will never have to buy a vowel, Tua Tagovailoa, had provided the best ending that any college football game like this one, with a title on the line, had ever seen. This was after Nick Saban, the best college coach of all time having the best coaching night he has ever had, made the move to Tagovailoa at halftime of the title game against Georgia because at that point Saban's starter, Jalen Hurts, had produced just 21 passing yards and was starting to look like he might want to try things left-handed.
This was after all that, and after Alabama had come all the way back against Georgia to win on the last play of the big game a year after it had lost with one second left to Clemson.
I am talking to Paul Finebaum, who knows more about college football in general and Alabama football in particular than anybody I know, and Paul puts a bow around Alabama 26, Georgia 23, this way:
"This was the most average team Nick ever won with."
Then Finebaum laughed and said, "But this is the one that got him elevated to sainthood."
One year ago, Alabama and Clemson played the greatest title game college football has ever seen, and Alabama lost it because Hurts scored too easily and left two minutes on the clock for Deshaun Watson and Clemson. Now Alabama gives us a game in Atlanta that felt like one of those college football movies out of the past, like "Navy Blue and Gold." Call this one "Alabama Crimson Tide," the one where the 19-year-old from Hawaii comes off the bench in the big game and ends up throwing the long touchdown pass on the last play of the game to win it all.
There have been a lot of games in Alabama football, especially when Paul (Bear) Bryant was the coach doing all the winning. There had never been one quite like this, the night when Alabama was losing to Georgia 13-0 and then Saban made the most dramatic coaching move he has ever made with his team behind, to a kid who had only ever come into the game for Alabama with his team well ahead.
"I've been searching my memory," Finebaum said, "for a move like that one. But I have no point of reference."
So 2018 begins with the kind of game and the kind of memory that we had throughout 2017. It all started with Clemson beating Alabama with a second left, and then the Patriots coming from 28-3 down to win the Super Bowl, and then Games 2 and 5 of the World Series between the Astros and Dodgers after that. Now we got Tua Tagovailoa, out of the same high school as Marcus Mariota -- who had a very cool comeback of his own last weekend for the Tennessee Titans -- looking off the Georgia safety and throwing the ball 40-plus to DeVonta Smith, a walk-off home run of a play if there ever was one in college football.
The kid who will never have to buy a vowel comes off the bench and throws for 166 yards and three touchdowns, one of them running hard to his left and somehow getting the ball to Calvin Ridley in the end zone. Before all that, with everything still going against Alabama, the kid somehow scrambles to his right and then to his left on third-and-seven and gets nine yards to keep Alabama's first touchdown drive going.
We saw all that, and more, before Tagovailoa had his movie moment at the end of overtime.
And of course at the end of regulation, the kid took Alabama down the field like he had already done something like that a dozen times as the Alabama quarterback, and sets up what could have been the winning field goal, from 36 yards, for his kicker. Only the kicker, Andy Pappanastos, slips a little as he is about to swing his right leg through the ball, and misses badly to the left, and everybody goes to overtime.
"Nobody could have known it at the time," Finebaum said, "but the missed field goal only made things better."
Overtime did that, and got the kid who hooked that ball off the hook forever in Alabama. Georgia got the ball first in overtime. Georgia's Bulldogs: Who did a lot of this to themselves on Monday night. Who seemed to forget how they got the lead and how they dominated the early going. Whose only real offense in the second half was one beautiful long throw from Jake Fromm to Mecole Hardman, the one that made it 20-7 at the time.
Fromm got sacked all the way back to Athens, Ga., on third down. But the Georgia kicker, Rodrigo Blankenship, made a kick from 51 yards away. Now the Bulldogs were back ahead, 23-20. For two more plays. Tagovailoa got sacked when he should have thrown the ball to Nick Saban on first down. His team was now facing second-and-26, which at the time looked like second-and-forever. But this was the kid's movie. Off the bench and out of the chorus. He dropped back and stared down the safety and then didn't turn toward DeVonta Smith until it was time for them to win the big game.
"I just didn't feel we could run the ball well enough," Saban said when it was over, "and I thought Tua would give us a better chance and a spark, which he certainly did."
And on this night, when everything worked out the way it did for Alabama, when Tua Tagovailoa threw like a champ off the bench, the guy he replaced, a kid just 19 himself, acted like one when it was over, and with such uncommon grace.
"I knew [Tagovailoa] was gonna step in and do his thing," Hurts said. "We have a lot of guys in the QB room that play really well. He just stepped in and did his thing … did his thing for the team."
"He's good for stuff like this and he has the 'it' factor," Hurts said. "I'm so happy for him and so happy for the team."
Hurts had only thrown one interception all season. His record as the Alabama starter was 25-2. But he hadn't thrown the ball well in the first half and Saban knew his team had to throw it all over Mercedes-Benz Stadium to have a chance in the second half. He sat down a kid with those numbers and then watched as the backup from Hawaii put up all the numbers Alabama needed.
"Smitty was wide-open," Tagovailoa said. "So I hit him, and here we are now, thank God."
He made it sound easy. There were so many moments, on third down and fourth down, when he made the game look as easy for Alabama as Deshaun Watson had made it look against Alabama last January. After Tagovailoa's one really terrible throw, one that caused an interception, Fromm threw a ball that bounced off a helmet and ended up in the hands of Alabama's Raekwon Davis. Georgia wasn't going to drive down the field and put this game away. Wasn't its night any longer.
The night and the game and the moment belonged to Nick Saban, and the kid from Hawaii, and a receiver Georgia left wide-open down the field on second-and-forever in overtime. Can't make it up like this. Not even in the movies.