Tua Tagovailoa will be unbearable — mostly because he’ll be unbeatable. The National Championship was Tagovailoa’s last and only hurrah as the nation’s golden boy.
When he took the field in the second half, he was impossible not to root for. A true freshman taking over for a struggling Jalen Hurts in the national championship, down by 13? Time to stand up off the couch. Time to order another round.
Tagovailoa led Alabama to an overtime win, 26-23, with a championship-clinching touchdown pass to receiver DeVonta Smith. The outcome was a strange mix of inevitable — Alabama always wins and always takes over games in the second half — with a lovely, unexpected twist. Tagovailoa’s arrival as the NCAA’s next poster boy made Alabama’s win fresh. It wasn’t the same boring win we’ve seen before with the Crimson Tide’s steady-headed quarterbacks and hulking, NFL-ready running backs carrying the ball behind hulking, NFL-ready offensive linemen.
Tagovailoa provided the unpredictability Nick Saban seems to fear. That unpredictability is why Saban had stayed with Hurts–he of the one interception but limited pocket passing–all season. But trailing 13-0 at half, that 19-year-old ball of Hawaiian chaos was what Alabama needed to win. It’s impressive that Saban tried something different, and took a huge risk. Tagovailoa had a moment which showed why Saban feared playing him — the quarterback threw a dumb interception toward two receivers and three defensive backs. His receivers weren’t even looking for the ball. But most other moments, he was brilliant and most importantly fearless. Hurts, Greg McElroy, and A.J. McCarron were all so safe and conservative. Tagovailoa was wild, raw and perfectly unafraid of Geogria’s touted defense (or Saban’s wrath). Tagovailoa finished the game 14 of 24 for 166 yards, three touchdowns and the interception.
But the dark reality set in when Smith strode into the end zone to end the game. Tagovailoa made one of the iconic plays in college football history, he came out of nowhere to do it, and he’ll be all the media can talk about this offseason. He won’t be a novelty by next season’s opener. Tagovailoa seems destined to quickly become one of of the nation’s best passers. And he’s on a Saban-operated team. For the rest of his coddled college existed, Tagovailoa will have many of the best players in the nation as teammates. He and Saban may win the next two National Championship and will almost certainly be in the group of four that will decide it each season. Tagovailoa would probably be a favorite to win the next two Heisman Trophy awards.
When he spoke to an ESPN reporter after the game, he seemed to be apologizing to his parents for not immediately thanking God. Whatever his intentions, they were good.
So he’s an upstanding young man, too?
Tagovailoa will be the next Tim Tebow: perfect — and then perfectly hatable. He will be a Goody-Two-Shoes, who will never seem to go down on shoestring tackles.
Fans around the country will grow to not like him. And then they’ll do some self loathing for hating such a good guy, which will only make them hate him more. It’s worse than Fat Bastard’s vicious cycle.
Tagovailoa is destined for success under Saban, who has never had a quarterback with Tagovailoa’s physical gifts. He’s never had anyone in the same stratosphere. After just one game, Tagovailoa is getting tossed around as a potential No. 1 pick for the 2020 NFL Draft. It’s way too far away, yes. But he came out of high school as the nation’s top recruit among dual threat quarterbacks. Saban isn’t one to mess up budding greatness.
Saban won five championships in the last nine years without an exceptional quarterback. Imagine what he’ll do with one of the nation’s best. Tagovailoa will have protection from Alabama’s offensive line and running backs, such as fellow freshman Najee Harris and whatever other superhuman who arrives in this year’s recruiting class. Tagovailoa will have his moments when he’ll struggle, and people will come to cherish those moments. But for the most part, the Crimson Tide will charge through the rest of NCAA football.
You can only respect greatness for so long before it becomes tedious and exhausting. Tagovailoa is about to take Saban to new heights — the young quarterback could become the most essential cog in Saban’s quest to be considered the greatest coach in football history, perhaps greater than Bill Belichick. And everyone will come to hate Tagovailoa for it.