An impenetrable and indigenous holy trinity hovers around the state of Alabama. Their names are bandied about regularly by the residents of all 67 counties. Flamboyant senators, colorful congressional leaders, big city power wielding mayors or other fame seeking dignitaries interested in membership need not apply to the exclusive club.
Governor and head football coach at The University of Alabama are two of the three figures commanding the attention of the Yellowhammer State populous. Quarterback of the Crimson Tide is the third. Their careers are etched in the minds of the people forever. Partiality in the esteemed pecking order lies with the quarterbacks for many since a visualization of the actual physical performance can be referenced with a flashback.
Winning is the preferred measurement the rabid fan base has chosen to judge the head coach and quarterback. The standard at Alabama, a school passionately claiming 15 National Crowns, reaches beyond mere SEC titles.
Current Tide signal caller, A.J. McCarron, has surpassed every former Alabama starting quarterback triumphing in two consecutive BCS National Championship games. A school record in the rearview mirror allows for an unprecedented once in a lifetime opportunity. The confident fifth-year senior is on the precipice of achieving immortalization if a BCS National Championship three-peat is realized.
No individual starting quarterback or team in the history of college football has accomplished the feat. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, site of the January 6, 2014 spectacle and prominently mentioned in the Tide fight song, “Yeah, Alabama!”, would be the quintessential venue to establish the colossal deed.
On the field of athletic competition confidence reigns as the supreme attribute a football field general must exude. Bravado, ingrained in the sport for decades, was usually accompanied by spectacular performance not celebration for pedestrian plays popularized by the ostentatious Generation Y. College (1951) and Pro Football (1963) Hall of Fame quarterback Slingin' Sammy Baugh embodied the full measure of assurance exhibited by anyone ever to command a huddle.
An interview conducted years after retirement revealed the mindset of the former TCU (1934-36) icon, "When you're on the field you've got to feel you’re the best SOB out there. That is what you are thinking. Nobody else is better than I am."
Alabama legend Joe Namath was the modern version echoing Baugh’s sentiments. Hailed as the uber-confident quarterback, he not only guaranteed victory for the three touchdown underdog New York Jets in Super Bowl III but insured the bold prediction with an MVP performance.
McCarron’s initial tempered swagger is in full bloom fertilized by each successive title. "I'm always confident especially when we get between the white lines. Me personally, I think I'm the best player in the country on the field,” said McCarron at the 2013 SEC Media Days. “I know our offense thinks that exact same way. I expect us to think that way.”
McCarron failed the well-documented first test of leadership administered by psychological mastermind Nick Saban, quarterbacking the reserves against the first-team defense. He vociferously objected to the surrounding cast feeling the odds of succeeding were stacked. Saban proceeded to let the young head-strong McCarron know rallying the troops under severe circumstances would be an essential trait if he were to ever win the starting position. The surprised freshman quarterback retreated with remorse and lesson learned.
He has aced every final examination challenge since the famed incident. Two BCS National Championship victories with superlative stats are a testament to the development of the emotional quarterback - 43 completions out of 62 attempts with four TD passes, 498 passing yards and an offensive MVP award.
Surviving life-threatening injuries from a childhood watercraft accident has been a source of strength for the durable McCarron. Alabama quarterbacks bear the weight of an elephant on their shoulders yet he has flourished.
The seminal moment of conquering adversity was a 2012 last minute 72-yard comeback drive in Baton Rouge’s Tiger Stadium.
One pass completion in seven attempts for zero yards in the second half was the stat line before the memorable 43-second march brought life to his team in fabled Death Valley. The cool operator hit four out of five throws, the last a flip to the left flat on a screen to running back T.J. Yeldon. He dodged two defenders and followed his blocking for a 28-yard touchdown pass reception with 51 seconds remaining. Tears of deliverance flowed from McCarron as time expired. The Tide prevailed 21-17 over the 5th ranked LSU Tigers.
Stars rarely stay long enough to accumulate team records for Ol' State U. McCarron is in pursuit of perfection. He holds the school single season (30) and career (49) touchdown passes records. Another school record dovetailing the last two seasons of 291consecutive passes without throwing an interception contributed to winning the 2012 National Passing Efficiency title with a rating of 175.28 surpassing the 153.8 achieved by fellow Tider Steve Sloan, the 1965 leader. He is the school’s current single season (3 of 314, 1.0%, min 100 attempts) and career (8 of 690, 1.2%, min 200 attempts) record holder for lowest interception percentage. McCarron shies away from the spotlight but the laser glare will be intensified on the two-time BCS National Championship winning quarterback seeking a third. "I don't need the spotlight," he said. "I'm just trying to represent everyone in a good way." He surpassed those goals.
The self-described poor kid growing up on D.I.P (Dauphin Island Parkway) in Mobile has feasted on every opponent. McCarron has stated motivation is derived from giving his loved ones things they have not had in their lives.
So far he has established a legacy beyond the dreams of all young boys wishing to man the quarterback position at The Capstone. Those are gifts any crimson bleeding kin could cherish for a lifetime. He has lavished his family, university and state with a banquet of gridiron honors to savor through the ages.
Quarterbacking the pre-season number one team means you are a bonafide candidate for the game’s most prestigious award. “It’s always been a dream of mine. I’d be lying to say no…I’ve never thought of the Heisman,” said the 6-4, 214 pound McCarron. “I told somebody earlier, my Mom still has a picture of me, and I don’t know if it was Christmas or Halloween or what, but I dressed up in an Alabama football costume and did the Heisman pose and she took a picture of it.”
For the record, USA TODAY’s Sports Analyst and fellow Mobilian, Danny Sheridan, has an unprecedented three Alabama players named in his odds against winning the 2013 Heisman Trophy. The Tide quarterback and wide receiver Amari Cooper at 12:1 trail running back T.J. Yeldon, an 8:1 contender.
The rest of the list finds two quarterbacks ahead of McCarron: Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville QB) 6:1, Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina DE) 7:1, Aaron Murray (Georgia QB) and DeAnthony Thomas (Oregon RB) 10:1, Marqise Lee (USC WR) 12:1, Tajh Boyd (Clemson QB) and Marcus Mariota (Oregon QB) 15:1. Normally the returning winner is the favorite but Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel is viewed by the voters as a politically damaged candidate due to the off-the-field escapades the past six months.
Flattered by the thought, McCarron categorically defines himself by paying reverence to the four-letter word pervasive in the Alabama locker room. “It’s (Heisman) always been a dream of mine, but at the same time I’m not going to let my personal goals come in the way of our team goals. If I achieve that, that’s great. I’m happy. At the same time, I'm a team first guy. I've always been that way.”
Certifiable winners invariably elicit the highest level of performance from others. The ancillary goal of personal glory becomes subservient to the obsession for victory driving them to lead their teammates. “You’ll never hear anybody say I’m selfish in any type of way,” said McCarron. “That’s when your program and team starts to fall off, when you’re not team-oriented and you’re more into personal goals. That’s the ingredients for failure right there.” Nick Saban’s coaching pulpit sermon of selflessness has reached the most important disciple hell-bent on spreading the word to members of the congregation – teammates.
Every spring after hoeing the garden rows railroad track straight enough to satisfy my South Alabama country born and bred Daddy, we would set underneath the shady tree and the question would be ritualistically posed to me, “Who will be the quarterback for Alabama this season?” My well researched answer would be gospel. No response required this year as the fabled exploits of no. 10 have become part of Alabama football lore. Even my Daddy approaching his 98th birthday in October and a loyal, faithful follower of the Crimson Tide since the 1926 Rose Bowl victory knows the answer to the proverbial question concerning autumn in the year 2013 – Raymond Anthony “AJ” McCarron Jr.
‘BAMA Magazine/BamaMag.com interviewed 18 individuals with a unique historical vantage point. They are former Alabama quarterbacks reflecting on playing the lofty position at The Capstone and sharing their opinion of the current superstar signal caller along with the one impressive trait displayed by AJ McCarron.
The three questions asked of each QB:
1. Playing quarterback at Alabama means you are one of the three esteemed figures revered by the people of the state - Governor and head football coach at The University of Alabama are the other two. After years to reflect, what did it mean for you to play the position of quarterback at The University of Alabama?
2. What is your opinion of current Alabama quarterback, AJ McCarron?
3. What is the one thing that impresses you about AJ McCarron?
Two special observers provided exclusive replies to ’BAMA Magazine/BamaMag.com. Mom, Dee Dee Bonner, is the woman closest to McCarron’s heart. Miss Alabama USA 2012, Katherine Webb, captured the heart of McCarron.