Is Tua Tagovailoa the greatest Alabama football player of all time?
We have enjoyed the use of “Alabama’s sweet Hawaiian prince” all season to describe Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — as, by definition, his play is pretty sweet for Alabama and he could earn the prince designation should the Crimson Tide win another national title this season.
But Tagovailoa’s latest effort — a 293-yard, 4-TD effort in a big road win against then-No. 24 Texas A&M — got us to thinking …
Could Tagovailoa actually be Alabama’s greatest football player of all time?
The comments section is below, and y’all aren’t afraid to use it. But hear the argument out first.
1. Is Tagovailoa the greatest Alabama quarterback of all time?
The stats bear out a yes here. Tagovailoa has been rewriting the Alabama record books since he first took the field for real against Georgia in the 2nd half of the 2017 College Football Playoff championship game — when a 2nd-and-26 dagger taught the Bulldogs to behave and writ Alabama’s name in Crimson flame for a 17th time.
Tua’s notable Alabama passing records
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Beating out current Oklahoma QB and fellow Heisman Trophy contender Jalen Hurts as a sophomore started Tagovailoa’s rise to glory on a full-time level. His 3,966 passing yards and 43 passing TDs broke single-season school records. He finished 2nd for the Heisman Trophy and won the Walter Camp Player of the Year and Maxwell Award along with being named the National Player of the Year by The Sporting News and earning consensus All-America recognition.
One could argue the familiar names: Joe Namath and and Kenny Stabler for starters, Bart Starr, Scott Hunter and Jay Barker if you must. Had Hurts been the one to win the job over Tagovailoa, heck, maybe he would be the subject of this piece. But no matter what happens for the rest of the season before Tagovailoa departs for the NFL, he has wrapped up the crown as best QB in Crimson Tide history.
2. Is Tagovailoa the greatest Alabama offensive player of all time?
It gets trickier now, as Alabama hasn’t exactly been Quarterback U. throughout history. Bringing in the rest of the offensive players since 1892 means considering every running back and wide receiver — and some tight ends — in the conversation.
So let’s consider:
Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry did something that Tagovailoa has yet to accomplish — win the Heisman Trophy awarded annually to the most outstanding player in NCAA football. Henry tops the all-time Tide rushing yards list with 3,591, with Ingram 6th at 3,261 yards. Henry also set the SEC and school single-season rushing mark, going for 2,219 yards in 2015.
Shaun Alexander not only was a dominant force from 1996-99 in gaining 3,565 rushing yards, but he did so on a horse-like 727 attempts. Bobby Humphrey gained 3,420 rushing yards, Kenneth Darby went for 3,324 yards and T.J. Yeldon for 3,322. Those numbers all dwarf what Johnny Musso and Dixie Howell piled up en route to the College Football Hall of Fame, too.
While Ingram, Henry, Alexander, Humphrey, Darby and Yeldon were all dominant Tide players who enjoyed NFL careers, none of them dominated games quite like Tagovailoa.
Among wide receivers, Amari Cooper is an all-timer with 3,463 receiving yards on 228 catches — a full 540 more yards than DJ Hall in second place. Ozzie Newsome became the prototype tight end in the mid-70s and until the turn of the century was the best receiver in Tide history with 2,070 yards on just 102 catches.
But receiver stats are changing quicker than Bitcoin’s value, thus making it trickier to quantify value. Also, every receiver needs a QB to pitch him the rock — and Tagovailoa’s current quartet of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are vaulting up the career yards list with every catch. And while Harry Gilmer and Johnny Mack Brown are College Football Hall of Famers and Don Hutson is both a College Football and Pro Football Hall of Famer, their stats pale in comparison.
Alabama has had some stellar offensive linemen, too. Chris Samuels and Andre Smith enjoyed NFL careers. John Hannah is a Pro Football and College Football Hall of Famer as possibly the best guard of all time. Billy Neighbors might be No. 2 on that list. Vaughn Mancha was a dominant center in a bygone era. Ditto Don Whitmire at tackle. Dwight Stephenson was a stud in the late 70s en route to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career
But could any of them at their very best hold a candle to Tagovailoa right now?
3. Is Tagovailoa the greatest Alabama player of all time?
Now we’re talking. Is Tagovailoa better than Derrick Thomas, widely regarded as the greatest linebacker in Crimson Tide history?
Better than Cornelius Bennett?
What about Lee Roy Jordan? Marty Lyons? Woodrow Lowe?
Is this bordering on blasphemy now?
The verdict …
The short answer is this — yes. Yes, while this may well be blasphemy, Tua Tagovailoa is the greatest Alabama football player of all time.
Tagovailoa, at his position and in his era, is just as dominant as any of them. He can change the game with his left arm and legs. He has played in and won the biggest games … with more left to come. He has the records. There are more to come. There are more championships and rings to win and opponents to punish and legendary moments to author.
Tua Tagovailoa is the greatest Alabama football player of all time. Don’t you agree?