NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the methods that the Alabama Crimson Tide could have used to surprise the Miami Hurricanes last night in the Sugar Bowl, the least likely was a sheer physical pounding. A manhandling. An embarrassment to the Hurricanes' famous, defining strut 'n' talk.
No way, right? Not possible, right? Twenty-nine straight wins and four national titles in nine years should excuse you from some of the miserable things in life, right?
You had to see it.
You had to see Miami's generally brutish offensive linemen getting picked up and tossed aside by Alabama defensive ends John Copeland and Eric Curry, whose constant pressure so spooked Miami quarterback Gino Torretta that he called three timeouts in the first 20 minutes -- and went downhill from there.
You had to see Micheal Barrow and the rest of Miami's All-American linebackers watching play after play from that all-important upside down angle, the result of getting dumped on their heads by Tide blockers.
You had to see Alabama's Derrick Lassic rushing for 106 yards -- in the first half.
You had to see Alabama's defense shatter a Heisman Trophy winner as it might a knee-knocking freshman, forcing him into three interceptions with a high-pressure, blitzing scheme that Miami was helpless to stop.
Are you believing this?
You figured Alabama, an eight-point underdog, could maybe pull a surprise if Miami died a turnover death as it did with Vinny Testaverde's five interceptions against Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl six years ago. But a complete physical thrashing? Never.
Make no mistake: The Alabama players put on the performance of their lives, peaking at the perfect moment. They didn't play this well in any other game all season. But it doesn't matter, does it? The Hurricanes clearly underestimated a Tide team that was the first team in a decade to reach the Sugar Bowl unbeaten and untied after surviving the nation's toughest conference, the SEC.
Sometimes a game comes along that requires a certain readjusting of your sporting senses. This was one. The Tide's win, which put Alabama's name on a national championship for the first time in 14 years, contained a chin-to-chin comeuppance of the Hurricanes that just didn't seem possible.
Torretta did turn the game for keeps early in the second half by throwing two unpressured interceptions, miserable throws, each of which Alabama turned into a touchdown, bumping a seven-point lead to 21. But to set all that up, Alabama first intimidated Miami as no team has done in a decade.
You had to see it.
On the first play, with three-fourths of the Superdome screeching for the Tide defense to be bullish, Curry bull-rushed Torretta and banged him to the ground. A symbolic beginning.
All the famous former Hurricanes on the sidelines weren't going to be any help this time.
The Tide immediately established its running game on their first series, demonstrating to all that their linemen could shove Miami's around. The Hurricanes were never able to match that, never able to run. The Tide were free to haze Torretta all night.
Torretta was attempting to become the first quarterback in 45 years to win the Heisman and a national title in the same year. A perfect season, essentially. But the Tide never bought into it.
"Shane Matthews is better, no question about it," said Alabama linebacker Antonio London, referring to Florida's quarterback, during the week of pre-game chatter.
Was Torretta's success more the result of his stud-studded surroundings than his own ability?
"Definitely," London said.
Tough stuff. And darn if the Tide didn't back it up.
Torretta threw for more than 7,800 yards and almost 50 touchdowns at Miami, and delivered a national title last season, but last night will only reaffirm the doubts many pro scouts have.
You just had to see it. You had to see Alabama move relentlessly downfield in the fourth quarter, after a long punt return for a touchdown had given Miami a shard of hope. The Crimson Tide finished it off the way Bear Bryant would have wanted -- blocking hard, running hard, leaving no doubt which side was tougher.
The touchdown at the end of the drive pushed the Tide lead to 21 points, and on the Miami sideline players stared ahead with vacant eyes. This was new territory for them. Getting whipped. Pounded. Crunched. It wasn't any fun.