There were tears, long faces and the sounds of eerie silence early Saturday evening in the bowels of the Georgia Dome. Andre Smith and Terrence Cody were among the last Alabama players getting dressed. With no game for a month, there was no reason to hurry now.
A few feet away, in an adjoining room, Nick Saban shook his head, wearing the look of a battered warrior, still mumbling about a couple of key plays that got away.
His team had just punched a ticket to the Sugar Bowl — one of the most coveted prizes in college football. But one would have never known it from his red nose and weary, watery eyes. He spoke softly but one could sense the bulging lump in his throat and the dagger stuck in his heart.