The memes started circulating Friday afternoon, 36 hours before kickoff of Alabama’s most recent Game of the Century.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban had been abruptly sent home Wednesday afternoon after a positive COVID-19 test, and his 40-year streak of never missing a football game seemed in jeopardy as No. 2 Alabama was set to entertain No. 3 Georgia.

Even after hearing reports of Saban coaching the h-e-double hockey sticks out of his team via Zoom (can you imagine some poor graduate assistant/Butch Jones strapping an iPad to his forehead and just walking around so Saban could see everything going on at practice …), it seemed likely that 2020 was going to claim an indefatigable force of nature.

Nicholas Lou Saban.

Then came the memes. Some of a face-painted wrestler named Sting rappelling down from the ceiling to take on a grappling foe. Another featured one of those tele-doctor robots with Saban’s mid-yelling face superimposed on the screen. It was as if there was a glimmer of hope that Saban would conjure up 3 consecutive negative tests to negate the positive one and make a dramatic, Willis Reed-like appearance in the tunnel to lead the Tide onto the field.

Someone, somewhere, knew something. Saban had a chance. And when he appeared on ESPN’s College GameDay donned in a suit from his home office, it seemed pretty clear that Saban wasn’t dressing up for that Zoom call unless he had somewhere to be later in the day.

As the saying goes: If you’re going to take a shot at the king, you best not miss.

And COVID-19 missed Saban.

The ensuing 60 minutes of intercollegiate amateur tackle football under the blinky-blinky lights of Bryant-Denny Stadium seemed to just cement the following hypothesis, a theory made as clear as the 41-24 final score:

Nick Saban is Superman. Don’t @ me.

Don’t believe? OK, let’s start with this. Have you ever seen Superman and Nick Saban in the same place?

No? OK, how about this, then. Just 4 days after being canceled by a worldwide pandemic, there was Saban smiling through his mask pregame and summarily chucking headsets and going Defcon 2 on officials when a call didn’t go the Tide’s way.

It was literally as if the previous couple of days didn’t exist. And other than probably having the conference’s most irritated nasal cavities from the Q-tips-to-the-brain routine he endured from Wednesday on, Saban managed to not only put the unbelievable distraction of his own health on the backburner to coach circles around Kirby Smart and the 3rd-ranked Bulldogs.

Georgia was game, no doubt. A program doesn’t get to No. 3 in the country without having a certain level of bona fides (you can get to No. 5 while being positively mediocre, as North Carolina proved against Florida State on Saturday), and Georgia is legit year in and year out with Smart on the sidelines.

But as legit as the Bulldogs are, Smart simply becomes another statistic every time he is staring across the 55 yards of grass at Saban and the Tide. The Georgia coach is now 0-3 against his former benefactor while the duo were designing killer defenses and winning crystal by the U-Haul load in Tuscaloosa. Smart is now victim No. 22 — as in the 22nd time a former Saban assistant has failed to beat Saban’s Crimson Tide.

The previous 2 outings were much more heartbreaking, of course. We won’t rehash the 2017 national title game much beyond noting that Smart had an Alabama freshman backup quarterback bumbling around on 2nd-and-26 in overtime before losing. And we won’t bring up how his Bulldogs heeled nicely to another Tide backup quarterback the following season in the SEC title game.

Saturday’s 41-24 Alabama victory was different than 2017 or 2018. This was a Saban Masterclass, a lethal offensive combination of Najee Harris stuffing the football down the throats of the Georgia defense, and then Mac Jones throwing it over the top of them to DeVonta Smith, John Metchie and Jaylen Waddle. Add in a defense that somehow got the memo from last week’s 63-48 pointfest against Ole Miss in time to completely stymie Stetson Barrett IV and the Georgia offense to no points and seemingly no hope in the 2nd half.

Was Saturday’s victory perfect? Of course not. Saban will gladly be first in line to expound on that very point.

But what Saturday proved is that you can literally throw just about anything at the 2020 Alabama Crimson Tide and they’ll figure out a way to beat it.

Head coach supposedly comes down with coronavirus? No problem: He will just coach twice as hard from his kitchen and inhale as many of your tests as he needs to so he can be cleared to coach ’em up in person when the time comes.

Defense faces an even bigger test than the 647 yards and 48 points it allowed to Lane Kiffin’s mimosa-sipping bunch in Oxford the week before? No problem: Saban and the staff will conjure up the will and the talent necessary to shut down the 3rd-ranked team in America.

Even after 5 national titles and a zillion big wins at Alabama, Saturday somehow felt bigger in many ways.

More visceral. More real.

This wasn’t Manti T’eo and his fake girlfriend over there. This wasn’t Texas and noodle-shouldered Colt McCoy succumbing in a bed of roses.

This was big-boy football directed by a big-boy coach on the visiting sideline at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

But in the end, it was the same as it has always been.


Because Nick Saban is Superman. Don’t @ me.