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Tide must not squander this opportunity

Remember back to the early morning hours of January 2nd, 1993. If you will recall correctly, Alabama had just wrapped up national championship number twelve with a resounding 34-13 thumping of Miami in the Sugar Bowl, and all seemed right for the Crimson Tide.

At the time, it certainly seemed like Alabama was in a perfect position to establish itself as a national powerhouse moving forward. Even in the relative "struggles" of the post-Bryant era, Alabama had still performed at a pretty high level, and it seemed like the situation was right to have even greater success in the years to come. Stallings had unified the Alabama fan base in ways that neither Ray Perkins or Bill Curry could, and after fielding arguably the greatest defense in the post-Bryant era of college football, defensive mastermind Bill Oliver was clearly still at the top of his game.

Meanwhile, Alabama had dominated both Tennessee and Auburn in recent years -- winners of seven straight over Tennessee and three straight over Auburn -- and both rivals were in a state of disarray. Longtime Tennessee coach Johnny Majors missed several weeks of the 1992 season while recovering from a major heart operation, and a behind-the-scenes power play from then-offensive coordinator Phil Fulmer ended with the Vols kicking a consistent winner to the curb in place of an unproven assistant taking his first head coaching job. Likewise, down on the Plains, Pat Dye resigned at the end of the 1992 season amidst the Eric Ramsey scandal, which ultimately saw Auburn hit with some of the most severe sanctions that we've ever seen from the NCAA at the time. When searching for a replacement for Dye, Auburn had to settle for Terry Bowden, longtime head coach of Division 1-AA Samford, and a man who had literally never held a coaching job in a major collegiate conference.

Perfect, right? Unfortunately, no. Everything fell through and Alabama failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity.

Even though no one knew it at the time, it all started to fall apart on the night of the Sugar Bowl. That was the night when an apparently drunken Antonio Langham allegedly signed a contract with an agent in a bar on Bourbon Street. Innocent as though that napkin contract may seem on the surface, it eventually set in motion a course of events that would ultimately see Alabama hit with severe NCAA sanctions in its own right.

Bill Oliver, the defensive mastermind, also didn't last much longer. There was a clash of personalities on the staff, and Oliver felt -- whether it's true or not -- that he was promised the head coaching job. But ultimately that fell through, and Oliver decided to call it a career. Not too long afterward, in 1996, Oliver resurfaced as the defensive coordinator at Auburn.

Meanwhile, recruiting simply never took off. The 1991 recruiting class may have been a great one, but recruiting in the aftermath of the national championship never materialized. Mere weeks after Alabama thumped the Hurricanes, Terry Bowden moved in and stole several of the state's top prospects away from the Tide. Two of them -- specifically tackle Willie Anderson and tight end Jessie McCovery -- were key cogs on Auburn's undefeated 1993 team. That 1993 signing class ultimately didn't produce a single All-American, and even the All-SEC players that it produced were generally few and far between. Simply put, we followed up a national championship by doing our best Ole Miss impersonation on the recruiting trails.

Facilities, too, were never assigned the proper priority. Though among the nation's best during the Perkins era, things slowly became more and more outdated as time passed by. The upgrades to Bryant-Denny in 1995 and 1998 were important developments, to be sure, but we could not take full advantage of those upgrades until we completely moved out of Legion Field (which didn't happen until 2004), and in any event the actual facilities used every day by the football program simply were not up to par. When Dennis Franchione and Mal Moore were faced with the prospect of trying to rebuild the program circa 2001, they had to quickly come to terms with the fact that we had fallen well behind the leaders of the pact in the facilities arms race.

And while all of this was going on, both Tennessee and Auburn took off. Terry Bowden may have fallen apart several years on down the road, but the point remains that he went 20-0 in his first twenty games on the Plains, took us to the woodshed in recruiting during his first year, and took three out of the next five from the Crimson Tide. Phil Fulmer did even better at Tennessee... he set up an NFL factory in Knoxville, won a national championship, and captured seven straight victories over Alabama.

All in all, it was simply a wasted opportunity. Fresh off of a national championship with our main rivals in disarray, we should have went off on a run of dominance for years to come. Instead, we squandered it all away. Recruiting fell apart, the coaching staff fell apart, facilities became outdated, and then the NCAA capped it off by coming down on us with major sanctions. Three years removed from a national championship, we suddenly found ourselves with a weak staff, relatively little talent on hand, having to cope with NCAA sanctions, and having to compete with newly reinvigorated rivals. The Dubose era followed, and it went from a golden opportunity to a train wreck. As a result, as good as it felt, the harsh reality was that the 1992 national championship was of mere passing historic consequence.

And now, seventeen years later, Alabama once again finds itself with the same golden opportunity. Fresh off another national championship, Alabama now has the opportunity to once again establish itself as a national powerhouse for years to come. But as promising as this opportunity seems, nothing will be given, everything must be earned. And if Alabama doesn't do a better job of seizing the opportunity this time around, then this national championship, too, will be of mere passing historic consequence.