Following Wednesday’s two-hour practice, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, “We’ve had a couple of good days of work. It’s the time of the year when – I think this is our eighth game – guys get a little weary, but I’ve really been pleased with the way our guys have persevered and worked hard to continue to try to get better.
“I think they understand that this team will be remembered by how they finish. I think that's the most difficult thing to do - whether it's practice everyday, preparing, finishing the week, finishing the game, finishing the practice or whatever you set out to do - is to be able to persevere and finish.
“It's the only way you can prepare well for the game. It's the only way you can be ready to play your best and have the kind of focus and intensity you need to finish things the right way.
“That's going to be critical for us to continue to do as a team especially in a game like this, which is a big rivalry game that everybody will have a lot of emotion for. I players do respect this rivalry and understand what it takes to be successful in this game. We just have to keep on keeping on and get ready during the rest of the week to be able to do it.”
The rivalry game is Alabama vs. Tennessee. The Crimson Tide is, indeed, about to play its eighth game and to date Bama is 7-0 overall, 4-0 in Southeastern Conference games and ranked first in the nation. The Volunteers are 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the league. Kickoff Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium is at 2:30 p.m. CDT with television coverage by CBS.
For the past six years, Alabama has been victorious. That means continuation of a tradition started in the 1970s when a Bama win over the Vols meant cigars all around in the Tide dressing room. Paul Bryant was Alabama coach when the cigar tradition was started, even though Bryant – a cigarette smoker -- did not like “stinky” cigars.
Saban said he doesn’t participate.
“Nope,” he said when asked if he smoked a victory cigar. “Never have. I don't smoke and I particularly don't enjoy cigar smoke. But I know it's something that a lot of people really enjoy. It's not a tradition I started. It's a tradition that was here that the players have continued. I think it's something they have fun with. I'm happy that they do. Not really something that I'm interested in.”
Which is not to say he doesn’t put on a front in the winning dressing room.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley said, “He's happy, too. He popped one in. Everything is all good after the game.”
Mosley said he started to become aware of the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry when he became a college prospect. He also knew it from his play of video games. “That game always popped up,” he said.
Following his first year to play against the Vols Mosley was given a post-game victory cigar. “I was like, ‘I didn’t think we could smoke inside the locker room.’ But I’m not a cigar person.
“It’s cool to have. It’s a tradition thing.”
And Mosley fires one up. “Yeah,” he said. “Everybody is happy.
“But our eyes start to burn after a while in there.”
Safety Landon Collins, who came to Bama from Louisiana, didn’t know how big a rivalry the game was when he arrived.
“I didn’t know we smoked cigars until after the game,” Collins said. “I was like, ‘What is this? What am I supposed to do with this?’ They said, ‘You’re supposed to smoke it.’ I was like, ‘I’ll just keep it as a souvenir as my first win.’ That’s what I did.”
Collins may be holding on to a nice stick.
DeAndrew White, a wide receiver from Texas, was asked what kind of cigar he prefers.
You know, the tradition.
“I don’t really know anything about what kind of cigar they get us, but I know whoever gets them picks a really good one,” White said.
Cyrus Kouandjio was asked about the feeling in the cigar smoked lockerrom.
“Righteous,” he said. “The feel of victory, the feel of accomplishment, and you have a cigar to prove it. It’s a good feeling.”
And he smokes it.
“I have to,” he said. “When you’re in the moment, everybody's emotions are high. Why not? Of course.”