Jalen Hurts’ unselfishness at Alabama was glimpse into mindset that led to Super Bowl
By Mike Vaccaro,
Five years later, it remains the gold-standard good-teammate moment.
Five years later, even with all Jalen Hurts has accomplished, even as he stands a week away from leading the Eagles into Super Bowl 2023 against the Chiefs, it is still a defining glimpse into his soul, and perhaps explains why he has been able to develop, so rapidly, into one of the NFL’s most electric quarterbacks.
This was the night of Monday, Jan. 8, 2018. Jalen Hurts began that night owning one of the best spots in all of college football: quarterback of the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide, ranked No. 1, 12-1 on the season. Hurts had won the QB1 gig the year before as a true freshman, the first time that had happened in Tuscaloosa in 32 years.
His record heading into that College Football Playoff national championship against Georgia was 23-2. He could run. He could throw. There were Saturdays when he looked like the best quarterback in America. Life was good. Life was perfect.
And then he got benched.
The Crimson Tide trailed 13-0 at the half. The offense was stagnant. You figured that head coach Nick Saban was cooking up something in the halftime locker room, but it was stunning when Alabama’s offense came on the field and a freshman named Tua Tagovailoa came trotting on. And he was brilliant, leading ’Bama to a 26-23 win, including a 41-yard touchdown strike to DeVonta Smith that won the game in overtime.
And all across the second half, the TV cameras went searching for Jalen Hurts. That was what they had to do. A star quarterback gets sent to the bench? Surely, at the least, there would be a few shots of eyerolls. Maybe, if they got lucky, they’d see Hurts actually pouting on the sidelines, or yelling, making a prima-donna nuisance of himself.
What the cameras found was remarkable.
But for different reasons.
For all the right reasons.
When Tagovailoa threw his first TD pass and gave the Tide life, it was Hurts who was first to greet him, pounding on his shoulder pads. When the kid had his second scoring throw, again it was Hurts who ran onto the field and hugged his erstwhile backup. And at game’s end, after his replacement had made one of the forever throws in college football history, Hurts ran around in spastic glee just like every other one of his teammates.
If you didn’t know he’d been benched, you wouldn’t know he’d been benched.
And it got even better.
“It was important for me to stay true to myself and be the person I am, and the leader I am, regardless of the circumstances,” Hurts said in the locker room later on, as reporters replaced the cameramen fruitlessly looking for signs of bitterness or envy. “It’s my duty to do things like that, and to do all those things genuinely.”
That was an OG reaction from a 19-year-old kid, and immediately the reaction was palpable and visceral. I wrote about Hurts and the replies flooded in, folks taken by a strong picture of sportsmanship and selflessness at a time, especially in college sports, when both seemed in such short supply.
It was assumed that Hurts would transfer within a few days. He didn’t. He stuck around Alabama for another year, competed with Tua, but served as a backup. He did get one moment of glory, relieving an injured Tagovailoa during the 2018 SEC Championship game, guiding ’Bama into the CFP. He graduated that December, but still had a year of eligibility.
At first he thought about Maryland, where he could’ve put up some absurd numbers. But Saban — perhaps touched by Hurts’ own unselfishness — suggested Oklahoma would be a better fit, with better receivers and an offense-minded coach, Lincoln Riley. Saban did that knowing Oklahoma would be far more of a potential threat to him than Maryland ever could be. Hurts went to Oklahoma, had a great year, led the Sooners to the playoff. And now he sits one game away from a Super Bowl.
Sometimes, it turns out, Leo Durocher was dead wrong. Sometimes nice guys finish first.
Was on the FAN with Joe Benigno Saturday and he mentioned something that hadn’t occurred to me and is a little bit sobering. We used to treat the Rangers’ 54-year drought like a Biblical plague around here. The Jets last won the Super Bowl — yep — 54 years ago. Good thing “1969!” isn’t as rhythmic as “1940!” was.
Davey Johnson turned 80 this week, and it says here that if David Wright hadn’t commandeered No. 5 and made it his own eternally, it would soon be hanging in honor of the other Davey.
It isn’t often you can call a movie both “delightful” and “disturbing” but I would say “The Menu” qualifies.
Think it might be time we all started taking a harder look at Fordham, which is making a whole lot of noise in the Atlantic 10 this year thanks to Keith Urgo and a batch of scrappy and fun players.
Whack Back at Vac
John Visconti: So Kyrie Irving wants to be traded, eh? I have been a die-hard fan of this hard-luck franchise for 55 years and I say, good. Let this pathologically self-centered, emotional train wreck, with his insatiable desire for attention and his childlike grasp of world affairs, take his nonsense elsewhere.
Vac: I suspect when this happens, Nets fans will feel like they can breathe for the first time in forever.
Alan Hirschberg: Monday, LeBron James had “serious” soreness, so he (and Anthony Davis) didn’t play in Brooklyn. But on Tuesday, there they were on the Garden court. Two miraculous recoveries! When did the East River acquire the healing power of the Grotto of Lourdes?
Vac: I believe it also shows that the distance between MSG and Barclays Center remains far greater than the 8 miles as the crow flies.
@DigiElon: The Empire State Building has a good chance of being here 100 years after every single one of its critics are gone. I got the building -110.
@MikeVacc: Let’s hope so. And let’s hope the next time it goes green and white it’s to celebrate the Jets (speaking of 100 years) …
Frank Giordano: If the Jets get Aaron Rodgers (I hope not!), despite what the great Joe Namath has said … the Jets cannot give him number 12, can they?
Vac: It was a nice gesture, but I think the Jets would sooner open the gates at MetLife missing a goalpost than Joe Willie’s number off the wall.
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