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Historic title game loss leaves Alabama locker room in shock

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Saban proud of team after loss (0:55)

Nick Saban speaks with Tom Rinaldi about what went wrong for Alabama and what he told his team after the loss to Clemson. (0:55)

TAMPA, Fla. -- Dalvin Tomlinson faced his locker with a white towel draped over his head, utter silence surrounding him.

Ryan Anderson, one of the SEC's most intimidating and boisterous players, also faced his locker, head down and speechless, as he refused to take reporters' questions inside a solemn Alabama dressing room following the once top-ranked Crimson Tide's 35-31 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T.

A locker room previously filled with so much joy and so many wins -- 26 straight to be exact -- felt like walking into a tomb, as players trudged in and out, barely speaking to anyone, wondering how the heck the supposed best team in the country let a historic season slip through their fingers.

The program that had owned college football in dominant fashion by winning four national titles in the past seven seasons was nearly a touchdown favorite and was supposed to have one of the best defenses to ever grace the collegiate gridiron.

But as a wild fourth quarter closed with a last-second, 2-yard touchdown pass from now legendary Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson to Tide troller Hunter Renfrow on what will go down as one of the greatest pick plays ever, Alabama's 2016 shine rusted on a cool night in Tampa.

A team that had worked so hard to turn 26 straight wins into an epic No. 27 that would summon best-ever talk for its coach, its defense and the team overall, watched as the wrong colored confetti covered them as they slinked off the now purple- and orange-soaked turf at Raymond James Stadium.

"It's like a death in the family," linebacker Rashaan Evans said.

Maybe, it was the death of a dynasty.

Before Monday's kick, talk teetered back and forth between whether Alabama could retain its title. There were legitimate question marks that turned into boils Monday.

A 14-0 lead vanished. An offense with a new coordinator and the attitude that nothing would change or negatively affect it, was 2-of-15 on third downs.

A defense that we just knew would leave Tampa challenging not just Alabama's all-time best defense in 2011, but all the other all-time defenses associated with it, collapsed in perplexing fashion in the final quarter -- Alabama's quarter.

Instead, Alabama gave up a deafening 511 yards and 35 points to create pin-drop silence in their locker room.

"I don't know how to describe this feeling," said 1,000-yard rusher Damien Harris, who finished with just five carries for 24 yards. "Simple as that."

A controversial pass-interference call to set up Watson's 2-yard touchdown -- which garnered its own controversy with the pick of cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the end zone -- will forever live with Alabama players, coaches and fans, but so will the fact that Clemson was the better second-half team.

They won the second half 28-17, stripping Alabama of its supposed destiny and creating a what-could-have-been season.

"They just outplayed us," Evans said.

"Nobody wants to feel this."

Which is something you rarely ever hear come out of Nick Saban-coached teams, but that was the truth on Monday.

Things were so distressing in Alabama's locker room that All-American Jonathan Allen felt he let his team down, despite registering seven tackles and a sack.

Allen hadn't fully processed the fact that his final game ended in a loss in the biggest game of the season, but he hopes that it will provide some motivation for next year's team.

"You gotta understand and realize that you can't win all the time," Allen said. "As much as it hurts, that's life.

"You really found out about someone's character when they lose. It's hard to swallow that."

Senior linebacker Tim Williams was proud of his team. The finish was gut-wrenching, but he praised his teammates, coaches and the program of Alabama, which he thinks will be right back in 2017.

"There's no excuse for the end result," Williams said. "It's life, that's why I shed my tears because I left everything out there on that field. At the end of the day, man, I don't regret nothing because I know I gave it all for my brothers.

"It's OK, man. It's all right. We're gonna get right. We're gonna be all right. We're Bama."

So now Alabama must find itself. It must rebound with a team that still has a strong core, but will lose defensive monsters Allen, Anderson, Tomlinson, Williams and Reuben Foster.

It'll be down an Outland Trophy-winning left tackle and has some work to do with freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, who seemed worn down by season's end and started to bleed the mistakes that only a freshman can deep into the season.

The veterans' advice was not to let one game define this team, but now this game almost makes everything before it an apparition. The highs of the 2016 season will never match the cavernous low of early Tuesday morning.

Saban is the master of psychology in these situations, but this is going to take time. This was a historic loss for a program with historic aspirations that now becomes merely an afterthought in a story everyone thought Alabama had written.

"It's something we'll never forget, but I hope it fuels these guys to come back and win it all," tight end O.J. Howard said.