Nick Saban heard it.
His players certainly did too – most notably Will Anderson. Saban politely calls these Alabama fans “naysayers,” and you can hear the passion as he spoke about them Saturday night. Alabama had just defeated Auburn, 49-27 in the Iron Bowl, for its third straight win since its second loss of the season.
The trainer, who rants about avoiding outside noise, struck a different tone when addressing discontent within the Crimson Tide fan base. He’s seen this team fueled in the weeks since losing overtime at LSU on Nov. 5.
“We are all we have and we are all we need.”
That’s the refrain Alabama players have been repeating since that nadir in Baton Rouge when the second loss in three games seemed to torpedo any playoff talk. But now, while still an outside possibility, a bit more chaos, coupled with Alabama winning over Ole Miss, Austin Peay and Auburn have the tide in talks again.
Saban and several Crimson Tide players said that negativity from outside the program’s walls lit a fire.
“Definitely,” said Alabama offensive lineman Emil Ekiyor. “It’s hard to ignore playing at a university like this. But I think as a team it brought us closer together. Just leaning against each other.”
It was Anderson, the all-American linebacker, who Ekiyor said brought the slogan “We’re all we’ve got and all we need” to the Alabama locker room. Bryce Young repeated it and they repeated it over and over during practice and warm ups.
What followed wasn’t always pretty, but Alabama eluded Ole Miss with a 30-24 winner before beating FCS Austin Peay last week and giving Auburn (516) the highest offensive yardage total since losing Oct. 15 in Tennessee missed.
Ekiyor said the motivation kicked when things couldn’t get any darker.
“Everyone was so down after the (LSU) loss and it helped us collect ourselves and lean on each other,” he said. “I think we’ve grown a lot closer through those experiences and maybe helped each other in the last couple of games.”
Defensive lineman DJ Dale said he’s not usually one of the underdogs
“But of course some things you can’t really avoid,” he said. “…Nobody sees what we do on a daily basis, so their opinion doesn’t matter. That’s how I see it.”
And while Saban noted the fire these “naysayers” lit in the dressing room at that moment, he’s not a fan of this discussion in the broadest sense. He first thanked the fans who braved Saturday’s wet weather and whose noise contributed to six false starting flags at Auburn, saying he had something else for the seedy underbelly of the culture.
“People who are negative and naysayers when they support the University of Alabama, you harm the university and the program because it reflects our culture and how positive we are,” Saban said. “And this program was set up positively. It was built on 95,000 people who came to the spring play the first spring we were here and everyone wanted to be a part of it.
“It wasn’t built on naysayers. It was not built on negative. It wasn’t built on the expectation that if we don’t succeed at a certain level, there will be a lot of criticism. And I think that’s what brought this team together more than anything else.”
Culture has been a talking point for Saban and a number of former Crimson Tide players who have been critical of what they’ve seen this season. Questions about the mindset came not only from bar stools and cheap seats, but also from alumni who once wore the uniform.
While Saban said the culture has been something they’ve been emphasizing over the past few weeks. He said on a recent radio show that “it hurts my heart” to see this criticism from alumni, but “we’re working on it.”
He gave the dressing room a full-bodied endorsement on Saturday.
“The culture of the program is as good as ever and the players are competing just as well as ever,” he said, “so I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the culture here. We lost two games by four points. No one feels worse about that than me and the players who have worked tremendously to win these games in difficult places on the road and that’s all I can say.”
Now Alabama will have to wait.
It’ll take some help making its way into the college football playoffs, but at least the program is proud of how the last three weeks of this regular season have played out.
And in return, they offered the haters something of a thank you. They helped close ranks on Alabama’s football program, which has been doing its part since the buses left Tiger Stadium on the first Saturday in November.
Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.