ATLANTA — Alabama football coach Nick Saban referred to it on Wednesday as “maybe the greatest emotional pendulum I’ve ever experienced in a 30-second span.”
Georgia football fans and players called it heartbreak.
But make no mistake about it, Saban and Crimson Tide players Ross Pierschbacher and Anfernee Jennings know all about the pain the Bulldogs are feeling after losing the College Football Playoff Championship Game in dramatic fashion.
The final play of last year’s College Football Playoff Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium — a 41-yard pass from Crimson Tide QB Tua Tagovailoa to DeVonta Smith — was more shocking but no less emotional than Alabama’s defeat to Clemson in the previous title game.
“You can imagine, you had it right there and then it got ripped out of you,” Crimson Tide senior center Ross Pierschbacher said Wednesday, recalling how the Tigers rallied from a double-digit deficit in the second half in beating Alabama 35-31 in the title game on Hunter Renfrow’s 2-yard TD catch with one second left.
“We used it to fire us up, and we worked really hard that offseason,” Pierschbacher said at SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. “We thought this past year if we got back in the playoffs, that we’re going to take advantage of it.”
Georgia football obviously has the same plan for the upcoming season, as the championship game loss remains in the back of the players’ minds.
“We’ve been there before, we understand, we’ve been in that situation,” Crimson Tide linebacker Anfernee Jennings. “We felt that feeling, and we knew we didn’t want to feel it again We used that to a great level of our advantage
“We tried not to think too much about it, but we knew we had to show we could learn from it, so we tried to emphasize it last season and we’re still emphasizing it, and just buying into the process.”
Indeed, it was exactly as Alabama coach Nick Saban had scripted when he revealed his plan to bounce back from the heartbreaking defeat at last year’s SEC Media Days.
“We don’t want to waste a failure,” Saban said last year in Hoover, Ala. “Everybody’s hurt by the fact that they lost, especially the way we lost that particular game on the last play of the game (to Clemson), but it wasn’t the last play. It’s what led up to the last play. And I think our players realize that.
“It takes a tremendous amount of accountability to be able to execute and sustain the execution for 60 minutes in the game .. and we weren’t able to finish the game like we needed to. And I think there’s a lot of lessons to learn, and hopefully we won’t waste a failure.”
As it turned out, Alabama did not waste the failure.
And neither did Clemson the year before, as the Tigers had fallen to the Crimson Tide 45-40 after taking a 24-21 lead into the fourth quarter of the 2016 national title game after the 2015 season.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney, like Saban, made sure his team used that heartbreaking defeat to its advantage.
“The failure is just as important, if not more important, than the success,” Swinney said at the ACC Football Media Days two summers ago.
“Just another step in our journey last year. Again, I think the guys coming back, they know what it takes. Again, it’s one thing to think you’re good enough, it’s another thing to know that you’re good enough.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart and his players made it clear earlier this week at SEC Media Days that they are confident they are good enough, but the pain still exists.
Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings