With Alabama down 13-0 at the half to Georgia, Nick Saban made the profoundly bold decision to bench his starting quarterback Jalen Hurts for freshman Tua Tagovailoa. Anybody reading this right now knows that this culminated in ultimate vindication for Saban, with Tagovailoa tossing an insane 41-yard touchdown to DaVonta Smith in overtime to seal the victory.
Hurts did not play well in the first half. There are no bones about it. He was 3/8 for 21 yards, and looked like he had never seen a pass rush quite as fast and strong as Georgia’s. Nevertheless, he had been 25-2 as a starter at Alabama, and was in his second straight national championship appearance. This is not often a circumstance where the signal caller gets benched.
As hurtful as this must have been deep down for his pride, Hurts responded to it like a champion. He supported Tagovailoa from the get-go of the second half, stayed present in the sideline huddle, and was the first person out on the field congratulating his backup on his first touchdown pass:
After the game, Hurts showed no sign of, er, hurt:
In the postgame locker room, Hurts reiterated that he had no reason to be down: “We just won the national championship. I’ve got nothing to be sad about.”
Obviously, football is a team sport, and Hurts is on a team that just won a title. Nevertheless, it’s hard to fathom many people in his position being quite as gracious as he was in the aftermath of what again must have been a personal hardship beneath the surface.