Naysayers “brought this Alabama team together,” according to Nick Saban and Player

Many Alabama fans accepted the idea that the Crimson Tide didn’t belong in the college football playoffs after losses to Tennessee and LSU.

Since the second half of the Ole Miss game, however, another Tide team has emerged. Alabama performed well against the Rebels, Austin Peay and Auburn, showing fight, tenacity, energy and effort. Defense didn’t look good in the Iron Bowl, but Bill O’Brien found some offensive creativity. Alabama scored 49 points, had an even running game, created plays for wide receivers and had a healthy Bryce Young. After continuing his streak of 10 wins this season, Nick Saban hailed the naysayers in the media and fanbase for “bringing this Alabama team together.” The Tide earned a 49-27 win in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

“The proudest was when everyone thought they were out and there were a lot of naysayers out there, this team didn’t give up,” Saban said after the Iron Bowl. “They haven’t given up on themselves or each other. They kept fighting and won some tough games to end the season. I am proud that everyone persevered and stuck together.”

Alabama suffered multiple injuries throughout the year, including a shoulder injury suffered by Bryce Young. It forced other players to improve and The Tide found various ways to win. Alabama has recorded two losses; However, it has the longest streak in major college football for 10-win seasons (15). Coach Saban explained the most important message for the team in difficult moments.

“I think a lot of the naysayers, a lot of the people who made very negative judgments about this team and a lot of the things that were said and written about this team united the players,” he said. “They said things like, ‘This is all we have, but it’s all we need.’ I think if they are fans and we have some great fans. We have great fans tonight, a great stadium and a great atmosphere, and we appreciate that, but negative people and naysayers, if you support the University of Alabama, you harm the university and the program. It’s a reflection of our culture and how positive we are. This program was positively structured.”

Saban recalled the first spring game he coached in Alabama and had thousands to support.

“It was built on 95,000 fans that came to the spring game the first year we were here,” he said. “Everyone wanted to be there. It wasn’t built on naysayers. It wasn’t built on negative. It wasn’t built on expectations that if we don’t succeed at a certain level there will be a lot of criticism and I think that brought this team together more than anything.”

Emil Ekiyor Jr., a veteran offensive lineman, said it’s “hard to ignore criticism from naysayers.”

“It brought us closer together as a team,” he said. “We leaned on each other, and the saying that came to mind was, ‘We are all we have and we are all we need.’ I think it has brought us together these last few weeks and it has shown how we stick together as a team in difficult situations. It helped us.”

He answered some sentimental questions about whether this will be his last season in Alabama, but Bryce Young also spoke about dealing with adversity. The junior quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner said it was “something he doesn’t do with a frown.”

“It’s hard for everyone,” he said. “You go into long games and long hours, it’s tough. I have no regrets, I enjoyed every moment of it. It was fun. The ups and downs of facing adversity, that stuff sucks, but I’m always ready to fight with my brothers. I’m really thankful for the regular season we’ve had.”

Alabama is ranked 6th in the most recent Associated Press Top 25 poll.

If it moves up to No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday, The Tide has a shot at slipping into the CFP.

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Stephen M. Smith is the senior editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. You can “like” him. Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.