Entering the Spring of 2014, the Crimson Tide was smarting, or at least it was reeling as much any team coming off a 12-win season could do.
Alabama had just seen its chance for a three-peat sail into the arms of Auburn's Chris Davis, into Iron Bowl lore, and into our place of nightmares. Having missed out on its chance for an SEC and national title, Alabama then proceeded to flop dramatically in the Sugar Bowl, the result of poor leadership by the players as much as scheme and execution by the coaches. During that tumultuous spring, head man Nick Saban even experienced criticism, the first real pressure from fans in his eight yeas at the Capstone. Feeling underappreciated, Saban even had backchannel negotiations with the University of Texas to become the Longhorns head coach and rebuild another moribund national power.
Making matters worse, after significant roster attrition, 'Bama had brought in a new offensive coordinator who was going to completely revise the offense. And, it was a good year for those changes, too: Alabama was expected to be good, although not a championship team.
In short, while the the wheels were not falling off, they certainly were squeaking. Alabama needed something good to happen to it.
Enter 5th year senior utility player, former 4* athlete, Blake Sims. All he would do is rewrite the Alabama record book, help Amari Cooper earn the Biletnikoff Trophy as the nation's best wide receiver, help the Tide secure a berth in the first-ever college football playoffs, and shepherd Alabama to its 24th SEC championship.
Sims entered Alabama a well-regarded all-purpose athlete out of Georgia. However, what to do with him was always in the air. Initially, Sims was looked at in the backfield, alongside Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon. He would spend all of 2011 as a reserve back, tallying 22 carries for 107 yards and a pair of scores.
In 2012, with Alabama fielding another monstrous backfield, Sims moved to quarterback. He would appear in ten games and hit 50% of his passes (5-10-77). With the move to quarterback, however, Sims' running load did not drop. Over the next two seasons, Blake's touches would be nearly equally divided between keeper/RPO plays (55 carries) and passes (49 attempts.)
The story of 2015 is as well-known as it is recent for Alabama fans. Jameis Winston's backup, and Tide heir apparent, Jake Coker was released from Florida State in 2014 to, all assumed, start for the Crimson Tide. Blake Sims was there for camp, but it wasn't supposed to be a contest.
In retrospect, it wasn't. Jake took another year to mature, and, even once he earned playing time, took about the half the season to get warmed up and be a true SEC starter. Blake Sims, however, announced himself on September 30th, 2014, on Alabama's first offensive play of the game.
That day, Sims would set or approach two Alabama records: throwing for 445 yards (2nd best in school history) and amassing 484 total yards from scrimmage (school record.)
The beats did not stop, not then, and not at all in 2014: Blake Sims, while not the best ever, had a season for the age. Reflect on his one year as a starter:
- Most yards from scrimmage (single game): 484
- Most yards from scrimmage (season): 3837
- Most yards per attempt (min. 20): 11.8 YPA
- 3rd most pass attempts (season): 391
- 3rd most pass completions (season): 252
- Completion % single game (min. 20 att.): 85.2%
- 4th best completion % career (min. 250 att.): 64%
- T-2nd most TD passes game (4)
- T-4th longest TD pass (87 yards)
- 3rd longest streak without an interception (156 att.)
Along the way, Blake found Amari Cooper 124 times, with the latter setting a school and SEC reception record on his way to the Heisman finalist ceremony, the Biletnikoff trophy, and 1st Round NFL riches.
These days, the former Alabama star begins a new chapter, in a quaint coastal rain forest city just south of Sidney, Australia -- Wollongong, where Sims will lead the National Gridiron League's Wollongong Devils.
The upstart league is not trying to ape the NFL or create an entirely different sport a la the CFL. Rather, the NGL will be football that we know, but with a quintessentially Australian toughness and imprimatur upon it. There, he hopes to be to Australian football what Billy Cannon and Joe Namath were to the nascent NFL: a college star who put the sport on the map.
AussieFaithful.com is reporting Sims has signed with the Wollongong Devils of Australia's first-year National Gridiron League. To put the league in perspective, AussieFaithful.com asks the question: "Is it the most impressive NGL signing so far?"
For all of these wonderful memories, for being the smiling face of a program in a "rebuilding" year, for making Alabama football fun in a year where so much gloom hung over our heads, for an improbable season and an improbable championship run, I count Blake Sims as among my favorite players and 2014 as among my favorite seasons.
2014 was magical in ways large and small, and Blake Sims is largely the reason why.
6 days 'til kickoff.