ATHENS, Ga. – First Southern California lost, then Florida. At the sunrise-to-stumble-home tailgates, they couldn't decide which they enjoyed more. The weather was warm. The beer was cold. There was booze in the streets, bands on the porch and black cocktail dresses in the stands.
This was the perfect party for their perfect Dawgs, the biggest on-campus game in years and the boldest bash maybe ever. All in honor of an imminent return to the top of the polls.
Then the devil went down to Georgia and ruined the whole dang thing.
Roll Tide? Oh, it's rolling baby, it's rolling.
A program that for a decade couldn't get out of its own way now can't be stopped. Just a month into Saban's second season, and Alabama is in the national title hunt.
Whatever enjoyment everyone else had as the league's traditional kingpin stumbled is officially over. The Tide has turned. This is a program in progress, yet with both power and potential. Anything seems possible right now. If not this year, then soon enough.
This won't be the last city Saban silences, all dressed up and nothing to cheer.
When it was over, everyone in crimson was beside themselves. Black-clad Dawg fans could only shuffle out, muttering under their breath. They showed up looking to leapfrog Oklahoma to No. 1. They left wondering whether they still had a pulse.
The only angry Alabaman was the architect himself. Saban looked as if he had stepped in one of UGa's dropping, not the coach that had humiliated No. 3 in their house.
His fans might have been dancing to the band, but he could barely remember the 31-0 first half thanks to an intensity lapse that let Georgia make the score respectable.
"We got outscored 30-10 in the second half," he barked.
This is exactly the mindset that delivered Bama here a year ahead of schedule.
Twice in his postgame media conference Saban banged his fist on the table, aftershocks of frustrations from some bad, if unimportant, play. He went on long tangents about mental strength. Every bit of praise was followed by twice the criticism. He frowned even more than usual.
"That is not how we want to play, that is not how we play and we should not be happy about that," he said. "I hope we learn."
He already had chewed out the team for five minutes in the locker room. ("He laid into us for a little bit," smiled linebacker Cory Reamer.) He already had gone on and on about the dangers of embracing success. Later, in case the severity wasn't understood, he would invoke a cult's mass suicide.
"If you want to drink the Kool-Aid," he said.
For Saban, this entire operation isn't about moving to 5-0, making a case for No. 1 or laying the wood to Georgia for all those Atlanta recruits to see. This is about beating everyone, finishing 14-0 and hoisting the BCS championship trophy in the air.
That's it. There is no other goal for Saban. He isn't doing this to win some game in September. Let alone top the polls at this point of the season.
"It doesn't matter what you are ranked until the end," he said.
Other than that it was good times for Saint Nick. There even were conflicting reports that he smiled in the victorious locker room.
"Yes, he smiled and told us he loved us," Reamer said.
"No," said cornerback Javier Arenas.
"Maybe," laughed quarterback John Parker Wilson.
"I'm excited," said Saban, looking not the least bit excited.
He knew he was over the top. He wasn't faking it, he can't. Not that it was without purpose. He wants his team focused, not for Kentucky in two weeks but for practice in two days. Even if it makes him look the villain that enrages opposing fans.
"I know everyone is going to be all over me in the press," he said. "But I'm honest."
He's painfully honest. USC and Florida proved no opponent can be overlooked. Not if you want to win, which is all Nick Saban wants to do. His idea of a victory celebration is waving once to the crowd, shaking his coordinators' hands and having a Little Debbie snack cake.
For a real good time, he calls recruits.
He's a study in maniacal focus, a sight to behold. It's why thousands greeted his plane when he first arrived on the job, why they sold out his first spring game, why they're saving a space for a statue of him alongside Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings and the other Bama greats.
It isn't his fun demeanor that earns him $4 million per year. Even people who like him jokingly call him "Coach Satan." Satan always seemed to take enjoyment in stealing souls, though. So he's a dour Satan, perhaps. He's a Satan who is focused on more souls to steal, more Saturday Nights to ruin on the road.
His human side can remain hidden. He doesn't care. He knows he's beloved for his ability to deliver glorious football nights like this one. In getting a roster turned around so quickly. In making mistake-prone Wilson into a savvy game manager. In getting a team so focused it can walk into a Sanford snake pit and score on its first five possessions.
It's his ability to get Alabama back to powerhouse status, a force to be feared across the league. It's how he's not the slightest bit satisfied at doing it.
"Can we finish games when we didn't do it tonight?" he asked. "Can we finish a season? Can we play with consistency?"
Biggest victory of the year and Saban wasn't happy.
"I'm happy," he said before pausing. "I know I don't look happy."
Imagine how the rest of the SEC feels.
- Nick Saban