TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban told Alabama fans he had never coached a more determined or dedicated team than the one that just polished off its second Allstate BCS National Championship in three years.
And the clincher was praiseworthy, too.
"I've never seen a more dominant performance than what they did in the national championship game against LSU," Saban said to a roar from the estimated 32,000 fans filling one side of Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.
The Crimson Tide celebrated the title in the same fashion it did Saban's first with the Tide two years ago, nearly two weeks after that 21-0 victory over LSU. The coaches and players crowded onto a stage set up at midfield while highlights played on the videoboards and left tackle Barrett Jones and departing stars like Trent Richardson, Dont'a Hightower and Mark Barron spoke after winning what the school counts as the program's 14th national title.
The tone was a little different. At the same event two years ago, Saban said it was the beginning, not the end.
"A couple of weeks ago in New Orleans, the man proved he knew what he was talking about," university president Robert E. Witt said.
Saban has continued to stock up with blue-chip prospects and is lining up what recruiting services are touting as the nation's top class for 2012. Now, the question changes: Is it the beginning, the middle or the end?
"I say the beginning," linebacker Nico Johnson said. "We're still going to stay focused and Coach does a good job at what he does to keep us level-headed. We're chasing 15. Already, we're chasing it."
The Tide project as a potential top-five team again next season, but the losses are heavy. Richardson, Hightower, Barron and fellow All-Americans
Dre Kirkpatrick and
Courtney Upshaw are gone, among others.
They did leave in style, though, with the second title of their careers. Saban called that accomplishment "pretty damn special" and Richardson described as incredible.
"Some dreams aren't even that big, but when stuff like that happens it's incredible," said the Heisman Trophy finalist, who is skipping his senior season and still seeking an agent and place to train. "That tells you about the program we have here and the kind of program we built here, and we're still building. We're not done yet. The tradition here, Bama is always going to be good. That's just how we work, and you're going to get the best coaching that you're going to get is right here in Alabama in Tuscaloosa."
This championship season came after a deadly tornado ripped through the town and Alabama, and offensive lineman Aaron Douglas died from a drug overdose.
"We needed this here and we're glad to bring it back to Tuscaloosa, and try and bring hope and faith back to our town," Richardson said.
The fans showed their appreciation again on Saturday, lining up hours before the event started with the first 1,000 getting plumb sideline spots.
Players dumped a confetti-filled jug on Saban afterward, and fireworks and confetti were launched around the stage.
One of those early arriving fans, Wayne Holloway, got to the stadium nearly three hours early to make sure he and grandson Liam Shoemaker, 7, got a spot on the sideline. Plenty beat him into line to celebrate a team that finished second in the Western Division after a regular-season loss to LSU.
"It's hard to say they're just better than any team Bama's ever had, but to do a shutout," Holloway, a Tuscaloosa paint contractor, said. "That was a monumental game because Alabama didn't win the Western Division, didn't win the Southeastern Conference championship but had to play their way back into it.
"Then to beat one of your archrivals, that made it very special."
He has a Crimson "A" tattooed on his right arm commemorating the 1992 title team and a crimson elephant on his left for '09.
"I haven't made up my mind this year," Holloway said.