Look, I don't have an Alabamian bone in my body, but if you show me a quarterback who leads a startling game-winning drive at the tensest point of the entire season and then comes to the sideline, sits down and sobs through the final minute, then I'm in.
I'm sorry. I can't help it. A guy from Mobile, quarterbacking Alabama, in Baton Rouge, against LSU, under the lights, rough night, looks doomed, comes through, then goes over there and starts crying while one of his receivers comes over to hug his head?
If that scene doesn't end up in a national championship, then no storyteller had any say in the matter.
Sheesh, what a yarn. In the Alabama lineage of Trammell and Namath and Stabler and Rutledge and Shealy and Barker and McElroy, we get a guy with enough tears that you can sense that he comprehends the weight of all of the lore. I don't even much like quarterbacks. I get tired of quarterbacks this, quarterbacks that, quarterbacks everything, quarterbacks winning MVP awards because voters can't come up with anybody else. Receiver Kevin Norwood's three patterns and receptions should impress as much as anything about that brisk final drive on Saturday night, and when I look at Alabama's game-winning touchdown screen pass against LSU, the one that produced a 21-17 win, I see a good blitz read, but I see a whole lot of T.J. Yeldon and a little bit of A.J. McCarron.
McCarron pretty much just flipped the thing.
Still, a guy cries, and we get a good read of how much he cares, and it's a whole lot of much. In the annual case of Alabama versus Louisiana State, it would seem that the caring has reached nationally peerless levels.
So when LSU ratcheted itself upward until it looked ready to topple Alabama from the No. 1 ranking, when it looked ready to stand just about even with the Tide in the soaring six-season form of the contemporary rivalry, when it dominated the game post-halftime from a 14-3 deficit to a 17-14 lead, McCarron stood under center with 1:34 remaining, facing a staunch LSU defense plus a whole big Louisiana foothill of inconveniences.
Tally up the trouble, and maybe there's a hint of how McCarron might have felt. Tally up the trouble 20 years from now, and Alabamians may have thought up still more trouble to add to the story.
Here goes: Alabama, having trailed for 15 seconds all season, had trailed ominously for 13 solid fourth-quarter minutes against LSU. What the game asked McCarron to do -- to sort of go all Joe Montana on the joint -- he had never done. Setting up to take that snap, McCarron had suffered a flatlined second half, completing one of seven passes for zero yards.
The previous two fourth-quarter possessions had looked downright vegetarian in ferocity. On the first, McCarron had overthrown a wide-open receiver down the middle on third down. On the second, he had thrown a half-decent sideline incompletion, completed a quick screen that gained nothing and scrambled hopelessly through the LSU forest along the right sideline. Two possessions, six plays, four yards.
Alabama as a whole had every reason to feel jolted and jarred. Its No. 1-ranked defense that had allowed no team more than 269 total yards had suddenly taken a gashing for 435, more than double the yardage permitted to any of its previous six opponents. Alabama looked misshapen. A team of soaring discipline had spilled two turnovers where LSU had contributed none. Further, the Tide had not trailed in a fourth quarter since 2010. Oh, and the skittish LSU quarterback who figured to be the telltale liability, Zach Mettenberger, suddenly had redefined himself into a bastion of precision, throwing footballs into the only safe spot he could put them, becoming the better quarterback in the game, better than A.J. McCarron.
Oh, and the game took place in Death Valley din.
Oh, and Alabama had no timeouts.
Other than that, McCarron had no obstacles. It looked every inch a great night in LSU lore and a pretty good one for Oregon, Kansas State, Notre Dame and, hell, maybe even Auburn.
Who knows quite what happens in such moments? Why does it all pivot and reverse course right there? Does Alabama's winning knowhow of recent years even begin to explain it? How does a guy who goes 1 for 7 for zero yards, and who never led a lore-worthy drive, suddenly go for 4 for 5 for 72? How does a whole half of frustration find its cure in 43 seconds of flourish?
Ask the athletes in these moments, and you never get a sufficient answer. You might get one 30 years down the line, when the 22-year-old quarterback has made it to 52. Or you might not ever get one. Maybe they don't even know. It's just that when doubt gives way to exhilaration, and when that happens before 93,000 in the stadium as well as on television for all the filled dormitories and beer-and-wing joints back home, plus the whole country, all of it might seem too big for the innards to handle.
They probably need an outlet, so the quarterback sobs, and the sight is irresistible, and it ought to carry right on through into January.