Let's call it what it is: In every way, Nick Saban's positive COVID test is a massive blow for college football
At 2:22 p.m. ET on Wednesday afternoon, I fired off a tweet.
“Enjoy every second of Georgia-Bama this weekend.”
That was on the heels of finding out that LSU-Florida was postponed as a result of an outbreak with the Gators’ program. We also found out Wednesday that Ole Miss had an outbreak within its program, and just in case that wasn’t enough of a COVID bummer, we found out earlier in the week that Vandy-Mizzou was postponed, too.
So yeah, I thought, at least we have everything ready to roll for Georgia-Alabama on Saturday night. Count your blessings, y’all.
And then roughly 3 hours later, we found out that Nick Saban and Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne tested positive for COVID.
If that isn’t a peak-2020 punch to the gut, I don’t know what is.
In every way, Saban testing positive for COVID is awful. I won’t pretend to be a medical expert, or anything, but I think it’s awful whenever someone in their late-60s tests positive for a virus. The fact that it’s Saban? Yeah, that hit differently. The fact that it’s 3 days before arguably the biggest matchup of the regular season in college football? Yeah, that hit differently, too.
The good news, according to Saban’s daughter, Kristen, is that he hasn’t shown any symptoms. If you were looking for some positive out of Wednesday’s news, this was certainly it:
No symptoms. He’s literally coaching practice from a Zoom call💪🏼 (I had permission to say this)
— Kristen Saban Setas (@KristenSabanS) October 14, 2020
And also fortunately, Saban was in good spirits during an at-home press conference that was shown on SEC Network. Naturally, the non-health question that was on the minds upon hearing the news was what did it mean for Saban’s status for Saturday’s game against Georgia. Could Alabama find a way to get him to communicate to the team during the game? We found out that’s still being explored.
But still, in terms of football relevance, this is a major bummer. We’re not going to see whether Saban can improve to 22-0 against one of his former assistants. We’re not going to see him trot to the locker room and spit out a few disgruntled words during the halftime TV interview, regardless of what the score is. We’re not going to see what was expected to be a fantastic chess match with 2 of the sport’s top programs.
Well, I suppose we will. But it’ll definitely be different without Saban.
If Georgia wins Saturday, it’d be natural to wonder about how much of that was because arguably the best coach in this sport’s history wasn’t there. And to be fair, we should wonder that.
I mean, this is the guy who had the guts to pull his SEC Player of the Year quarterback in favor of a true freshman at halftime of a national championship. This is the same guy who took a left turn with his program’s offensive philosophy and then went to 4 national championship games in the next 5 years. This is the guy who changed the standard of excellence in the sport for programs like, ironically enough, Georgia.
When Saban announced Alabama’s arrival to the college football world, it was the 2008 Blackout Game against the Bulldogs. Twelve years ago, we didn’t know that Saban was about to build something no program could touch in the 21st century. We didn’t realize that 12 years later, we’d still be talking about how his absence would impact the biggest regular-season game of the college football season.
But here we are, in 2020, where this sort of thing seems par for the course.
The silver lining of Saban being the first SEC coach to test positive is that perhaps it’ll make a greater impact. The best and oldest active SEC head coach did public service announcements for following proper COVID protocols, he wore a mask on the sidelines and by all accounts, he did everything one could ask of someone in his position.
Yet he still got the virus. This is the guy who told his mom during this, “I’m not giving you a hug today because I love you.”
That’s the all-too-real reminder of what’s going on. Saban took this virus seriously. It still found a way to make a loud, significant impact on the SEC community.
It’s OK if your initial reaction to Saban testing positive was to think about how it would impact Saturday night’s showdown. You’re not alone. It’s also OK if your first reaction to Saban testing positive was that of concern for him and his family. Lord knows they won’t be lacking support to tackle this new obstacle in his way.
And it’s also OK if after a week that’s been loaded with frustrating COVID developments in the SEC, Saban’s news just hit you a little differently.
You’re definitely not alone, either.