AP photos by Rob Carr|
Alabama’s A-Day Game drew an estimated 92,138 fans to Bryant-Denny Stadium. Officials turned fans away from the gates in the second quarter.
Saban’s 1st Tide team draws record attendance for annual spring game
By Josh Cooper
TUSCALOOSA — Alabama’s defense looked mostly the same, and its offense looked mostly the same. Oh, and Saturday’s A-Day Game filled Bryant-Denny Stadium to capacity with an estimated crowd of 92,138.
With the sun shining and a cool spring breeze whipping through the air, nothing could stop plenty Crimson-clad fans from cramming into the home stadium for a glimpse at next season’s team.
Outside the stadium, cars jammed the highways, and fans packed the streets. For one April day, it felt like fall had descended on Tuscaloosa.
“To have however many people as we had today, I thought that brought a lot of self gratification for the efforts the players have given the last month,” said first-year head coach Nick Saban, who was decked out in a sport coat and tie for the occasion.
“I hope that we can continue to channel that energy in a positive way to get where we want to go and continue to build this program into something special.”
In terms of on-the-field action, the White team beat the Crimson squad 20-13, as the White had the first-team offense, while the Crimson team had the first-team defense.
However, the fans delivered the most impressive numbers of the day. With free admission, Alabama drew more than 40,000 more fans than it did in its previous spring best — 51,117 attended the 1988 game in Birmingham.
With Alabama coming off a 6-7 season in which it suffered its fifth straight loss to rival Auburn, the Tide fans poured into Bryant-Denny to watch a team they hope Saban has rejuvenated. Saban arrived in the offseason from the Miami Dolphins with a $4 million salary and a pedigree that includes a national title at LSU in 2003.
“The fan support today was amazing,” said Alabama center Antoine Caldwell, who won the Dwight Stephenson Award, which honors the A-Day Game’s most outstanding lineman.
“I have always thought there are no other fans like that of Alabama.”
Quarterback John Parker Wilson completed 18 of 36 passes for the winning White team for 244 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
DJ Hall had five catches for 87 yards and a touchdown and won the Dixie Howell Memorial Award as the game’s most valuable player.
Even a spring game brought out the intensity from Alabama coach Nick Saban, who spent much of the day stationed about 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage, watching the action.
Hartselle High product Nikita Stover hauled in three passes for 58 yards and one touchdown.
Wilson showed some more mobility in the pocket, using the option on a 1-yard running play — Wilson wore a black non-contact jersey, so the play was based on an official’s discretion as to whether he was going to be tackled. Wilson also had nice touch on a 29-yard pass play to Hall in the first quarter.
Unlike during Alabama’s first two scrimmages of the spring, cornerback Simeon Castille did not score a touchdown, to which Castille jokingly said after the game, “Yeah, disappointing.”
Overall, Alabama’s first team offense gained 316 yards, most of which were on Wilson’s arm.
“I think today is one of the better day we had all spring,” Wilson said. “We took care of the ball, didn’t have any interceptions, moved the ball and did what we had to do.”
But while players joked before A-Day about how it would play out, it was clear that nobody had planned for the kind of event that it became.
The band played during almost every possession. The fans were as fanatical as always, and the team competed as if it were the regular season and not just a scrimmage.
On the white team’s last drive of the fourth quarter, Wilson threw a deep pass to Hall near the goal line.
Hall and cornerback Lionel Mitchell fought for position, with Mitchell eventually breaking up the pass and sending Hall to the ground.
Hall got up slowly as the trainer trotted out to see if he was OK, then the 6-foot-3 186-pound receiver gingerly walked off the field.
“It felt like a game opener — not A-Day,” Hall said.
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