Fate is a cruel, cruel mistress. We see this in sports all the time. Don't take my word for it. Just ask Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban.
Unless you've been living underneath a rock or you spent over 50 percent of Thanksgiving weekend traveling, odds are that you've seen the highlights from the 2013 Iron Bowl. You know about the 99-yard Alabama touchdown pass, the special teams woes suffered by the Crimson Tide, and the improbable return of a botched field goal attempt that propelled Auburn to a shocking home victory that has changed the BCS title race.
Those plays are, of course, spectacular on their own, highlight reel moments that will live on as long as Auburn and Alabama face off every fall. Even more incredible is the chain of events that resulted in what is, to date, the play of the year. Just how close were we all to being robbed of that historic 109-yard touchdown?
Examine, for starters, the T.J. Yeldon run in the waning seconds of the game. Had Yeldon taken one extra step up-field rather than toward the sideline, or had he slowed down just one second too early, the score would have been 28-28 at the end of regulation. No field goal would have been kicked.
Then there's Saban, who actively campaigned to have that play reviewed in order to determine if one second should be put back on the clock before the end of the fourth quarter. Odds are that the officials probably would have looked back at that play regardless of Saban's wishes, but it is something to ponder two days after the fact.
The story, as it pertains to Saban, hardly ends there. The championship coach had a choice to make with his team 39 yards from the end zone; either put faith into a kicking game that had struggled throughout the afternoon and early evening hours, or put the football into the hands of Heisman candidate quarterback A.J. McCarron.
McCarron was the safe option. Auburn would likely have sent no greater than a three-man pass rush, meaning that McCarron's Hail Mary attempt would have, at worst, either been knocked harmlessly to the turf or caught inside the end zone for a no harm, no foul touchback. Logic, not to mention the benefit of hindsight, suggests that a McCarron down-field heave made the most sense.
Saban didn't agree. He elected to kick for the win.
The field goal booted by Alabama's Adam Griffith is the final piece of the puzzle. Griffith easily could have wildly hooked the ball while trying to put as much leg as possible into the kick, an event that would have seen his attempt fly away from Auburn's Chris Davis. There's also the fact that the ball was but a yard of leg or wind strength away from sailing over the head of Davis but underneath the crossbar and out of play.
None of that, however, happened.
Maybe Auburn really is, as Davis suggested after another thrilling victory, a “team of destiny.” The “Immaculate Deflection” win over Georgia was one thing, a crazy stroke of luck that made for a touchdown for the ages. Those types of plays, while rare, happen nearly every season.
That's not what occurred at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. Several things had to go right in order for the previously mentioned Davis to find himself with possession of the football deep in his own end zone with “00:00” on the clock. All of them did. Team of Destiny?
We don't know, but it'd sure be a lot of fun to find out.