The New York Post reported on Sunday that Alabama coach Nick Saban turned to New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera for some inspiration as the Crimson Tide prepares for the Bowl Championship Series championship game in Miami on Monday, Jan. 7.
"We just watched video of Mariano Rivera, and he talked about he struggled at some time in his career because he was trying to be a perfectionist, and that when he's in the bullpen, he sees the crowd, he hears the crowd, he knows sometimes that he's been getting a lot of positive self gratification for what he does and sometimes getting a lot of negative self gratification for what he does," Saban said. "But when he runs out and they hand him the ball, he's got one focus; he's not worried about the crowd, he's not worried about any of the external factors. One focus: Three outs; how am I going to get three outs?"
Saban said the point he was trying to make to his team was the importance of focus.
"I think a team's ability to do that, to stay focused on the things that are going to affect the outcome of the game, are critical in games like this," Saban said. "And you know, you could say, 'Well, that's nothing;' well believe me, being around young people, being in games like this, that's something and it's something big."
For his part, Rivera has been focusing on continuing his comeback from reconstructive knee surgery that forced him to miss most of the 2012 season.
Rivera told the Post on Saturday that he's not completely healthy, but he's close.
"It's not 100 percent," Rivera said of the knee he injured on May 3. "I would say it's 95 percent. By the time spring training finishes, it will be 100 percent."
Rivera is penciled in once again as the Yankees closer. The game's all-time leader in saves with 608, Rivera had just five of those in nine appearances last season.
The Yankees are taking a risk handing the closing duties back to a 43-year-old recovering from a major injury, but given that Rivera wants to pitch, it's fair to assume the job is his to lose.
Rafael Soriano closed for New York over the final five months in 2012 and was solid, saving 42 games in 46 chances with an ERA of 2.26 and a WHIP of 1.17.
However, Soriano opted out of the final year of his contract and then turned down the Yankees' one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer in November.
Soriano remains unsigned, likely due to the draft-pick and draft pool cash penalty attached to signing him because he was extended a qualifying offer. Other free agents such as Michael Bourn, Kyle Lohse and Adam LaRoche are in similar situations.
That was a key change in free agency in the sport's new collective bargaining agreement and one that has borne out some unintended consequences.
As for Rivera, he's not talking about anything beyond the 2013 season.
"I have another contract for this year," Rivera said. "You never know what's going to happen next year."
Rivera did say he doesn't expect last year's injury to have any lasting effects into this season.
"Just make sure when I get there, I'm ready," Rivers said. "I'm starting to get more active every day. I have a month or five weeks to start doing things (before reporting to spring training)."
The rest of the Yankee bullpen is returning intact for 2013, with David Robertson slated to be the primary setup man for Rivera and the addition of a healthy Joba Chamberlain for a whole season, likely to work the seventh inning.
Lefthanders Boone Logan and Clay Rapada will also be back, with whoever loses the battle for the final spot in the starting rotation between David Phelps and Ivan Nova likely slated for long-relief work. Youngster Mark Montgomery may also be ready to make the leap to the majors at some point in 2013.
Phil Watson was a writer and editor at several daily newspapers for more than 20 years and is now a freelance sports journalist and commentator based in Upper Michigan.