Saturday, November 23, 2013
McCarron bids Bryant-Denny Stadium adieu
By Alex Scarborough
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- This is how AJ McCarron wanted his final home game to end, standing alongside his younger brother, Corey, the two of them smiling proudly after a win.
Five years as a quarterback at Alabama have been hard, but they also led to this: senior day and one last lap around Bryant-Denny Stadium with thousands of adoring fans reaching out to touch the winningest quarterback in the program's history.
Corey, left, and AJ McCarron sent their family home with one more memory at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The win Saturday afternoon, a 49-0 trouncing of Chattanooga, was beside the fact. What was important was how it unfolded for AJ. His stat line -- 13-of-16 for 171 yards and two touchdowns -- didn't matter. All that did was the moment he shared with Corey, who transferred from South Alabama in 2011 to join his brother in Tuscaloosa.
Corey missed playing with AJ, as they had done their entire lives, and the feeling was mutual. Corey sat out the 2012 season due to NCAA transfer rules and AJ told the NFL to wait its turn, returning to Tuscaloosa for one more year and one last bit of unfinished business.
Oddly enough, it was Alabama coach Nick Saban who facilitated the McCarron-to-McCarron connection both brothers had long awaited. Saban found his coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, at halftime and told him to make it happen: draw up a play where AJ could give Corey his first career reception.
"That little boot pass was a pretty sure thing where you knew he was going to have a chance to be open," Saban said. "I think they were pretty excited about it."
"It was awesome," AJ said after the game. In a stroke of directorial genius, he brought Corey on stage to speak with the media for the first time, the two standing side by side. "I keep telling people that's the reason why I stayed, for memories like this."
It was only a short pickup in a blowout win, but the way AJ and Corey's mother, Dee Dee Bonner, celebrated in the stands, you would think AJ had just won his fourth championship ring by connecting with Corey on some last-minute miracle reception. The moment won't be shared by Alabama fans everywhere, but it will be talked about among family forever.
"I could hear her screaming as soon as he caught it over everybody," AJ said, laughing. "The rest of the crowd was like, 'Great, a 5-yard gain,' and she was still yelling. The whole family was probably crying."
Said Corey: "It was worth every second. That was one of the greatest moments of my life. I'll never trade it for anything."
As Saban noted during his postgame comments, some seniors had careers that won't be looked back on as being productive in terms of statistics. Corey will likely be one of those forgotten contributors who practice hard and never play with the first-team offense. But his brother will go down in history as one of Alabama's best. It was ironic and fitting that the two connected in their final home game together.
The win Saturday night pushed AJ to 36-2 as a starter, past Jay Barker for the most wins in school history. He now holds the school record for passing yards, touchdowns and consecutive passes without an interception. Should Alabama remain undefeated and win another championship, he would have his third ring as a starter and fourth overall, a record no one holds and no one is soon to break.
When AJ made his way around the field after the game, every fan remaining inched forward to send him off. Even a Chattanooga cheerleader sprung toward him for an impromptu hug. AJ reached the end of his lap and took off his sweatbands and flung them to two children in the stands. And then he was off to the locker room, his career at Bryant-Denny Stadium officially at its end.
"Like I've always said, this has been the best five years of my life," AJ said. "I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. That's why I came back, for memories like this."