Alabama has been blessed with some fantastic signal-callers down the years. From NFL Hall of Famers to fan favorites, it has been a high-quality lot that carries itself with as much as class off the field as on it.
Alas, in the Saban era, there can be just one trigger man who was never fully appreciated for what he did. But first, the runner-up.
Runner-Up, Blake Sims
I’m going to state my prejudices up front — Blake Sims is one of my favorite players ever at Alabama. And the 2014 team that improbably won the SEC Title and made an appearance in the inaugural College Football Playoff, may be one of my top three Alabama teams of all time.
It was a time of transition for the program, with Nick Saban beginning a much-needed modernization on both sides of the ball. It was a time to get young, to get exciting, to get more athletic and explosive. There was absolutely nothing to lose in a season where the Tide was expected to be a contender in the West, but was by no means the favorite in its own division, much less the conference.
With the hiring of Lane Kiffin, and so many different players from another era still on the roster, it was time to get weird and have a little fun.
Enter Blake Sims...and much fun was had.
Blake beat out Jake Coker. That seems a lifetime ago. But, in retrospect it was the right call. He was the guy Alabama needed to begin the process of installing RPOs in the offense, to make the defense play sideline-to-sideline, to put talent into space. Despite his rocky start against West Virginia, as Sims gained confidence that year and found how to play within his limitations and to his skillset, the offense also found its way. It was by far the most explosive of the Saban era to-date — averaging 37 points per game and finishing the nation 16th in scoring and 5th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Sims was just as much a reason for that as any.
During his short stint as Alabama’s quarterback, Blake went 252–391 (64.4%) for 3,487 yards, with 28 passing touchdowns. He added another 350 yards on the ground and scored 7 rushing touchdowns. AJ McCarron’s single-season record for passing yards. His 445 yards against FSU are still the second-most ever posted by an Alabama signal caller. His 85.1% passing efficiency is still an SEC Championship game record, as are his 10 straight SECCG completions.
But Sims’s shining moment was undoubtedly the 2014 Iron Bowl, a night where the Alabama secondary was getting smoked. Sims would have to chuck it often, chuck it deep, and pass Alabama’s way into the SEC title game. As he did in so many other fun moments of that season, Blake delivered. He was eventually named a Second-Team All-SEC Selection.
Take a bow, Blake. You rightly earned a special place in a lot of hearts in such a short time.
All-Saban Underappreciated Quarterback, John Parker Wilson
The 2007 season is one often — if not best, forgotten. For Alabama, it was an historically pedestrian one. By today’s standards, that 7-6 record and 27.1 ppg would get some assistants fired and Saban pounding Red Bulls to figure out what went wrong.
In some ways, that’s a shame. The Tide’s dynasty has obscured the success that some marginally-talented players on that roster had in even getting Alabama to a winning record. A player like Terry Grant isn’t getting a scholarship offer in 2020. Do you think DJ Hall could see the field now?
And, John Parker Wilson could come to Alabama — but he’d be carrying a clipboard for four years as a walk-on.
The 180-pound, three-star pretty boy from Hoover High was nothing special on paper. He had decent height, was undersized, and had just an average arm. What he did have though was good short- and mid-range accuracy, a fearlessness and underrated toughness that the position requires, and, most of all, he was accustomed to winning. An Alabama program too used to losing, too mentally soft needed every last one of those traits in the early years of Saban’s tenure.
We have become cavalier at our good fortune; this is an Alabama program that now can afford to redshirt Heisman candidates in the backfield. But, it wasn’t that long ago when the Tide couldn’t buy a running game with all the bagmen in three states: Kenneth Darby, Tim Castille, Terry Grant, Ahmad Galloway — these ringing a bell? And 2007 would be no different.
Five Alabama ‘backs barely cobbled together 1700 yards and 18 scores. The roster did have some rising talent in Glen Coffee and Roy Upchurch, but the days of Ingram and Company were still in the future. Games would have to be won on the short-passing accuracy of JPW. John Parker delivered, setting a single-season record for attempts, yards, and scores.
Then, 2008 dawned, and Wilson for the first time in his career had a supporting cast around him. Roy Upchurch, Glen Coffee, freshman Mark Ingram, fellow freshmen receivers Julio Jones and Marquis Maze were all significant upgrades. And with the infusion of talent, and a more deliberative ball-control approach, the Alabama offense we knew for almost a decade began to take form. That year, JPW would throw almost 100 fewer times than he did in 2007, but still finished with just 400 fewer yards; he had even more touchdowns; and he finished the season with an absurd QBR of 114.1. Along the way, he lead the Crimson Tide to an undefeated regular season record and its first SEC Championship game appearance in almost a decade
The career nadir for Wilson was probably the “call me” game, as No. 1 Alabama beat No. 8 LSU in overtime in Death Valley. That was the game that gave us the iconic “make his ass quit” pregame locker room speech.
But, if there was any one team that John Parker Wilson lived to torment, it was the Tennessee Volunteers. During his career, Wilson never threw an interception against Tennessee. And, in 2007, JPW had his breakout moment, going 32-46 for 363 yard and 3 scores in Third Saturday. That 2007 win was particularly delicious — it not only was the best single-game of JPW’s career, it began the present 13-year winning streak over the hated Vols, and very likely got Phil Fulmer forced out.
When John Parker Wilson finally hung ‘em up after three years of starts he had never won an SEC Title and had never made an All-SEC or All-American team. But, he did end the streaks of LSU, Auburn, and Tennessee. And, on those offensively-challenged and probation-saddled teams, Wilson nevertheless retired holding almost every single major Alabama passing record. A decade later, most of those records have fallen now.
But without Wilson’s gumption, the Crimson Tide may not have made it this far...or made it to the top as fast as it did.