The Soft Bigotry of High Expectations

How do you know that you have a demanding fan base? When, before your second year, you face this question at your conference's annual preseason confab:

"You talked a minute ago about your goal is to get Alabama back to being a dominant program. For the Alabama fans, what's a realistic timetable? What timetable can you give them that's realistic to bring Alabama back to dominance at (a) national(ly) prominent level?"

If Alabama fans were ever willing to wait to return to the days when other SEC teams looked to Tuscaloosa and trembled, their patience is now running thin. But here was St. Nick, at the 2008 SEC Media Days after practically getting mobbed at the same event a year ago, trying to tamp down expectations.

"You guys use that word 'expectations' a lot," St. Nick said, as if it were somehow unreasonable for media members and the public to ponder how well his team might do in the coming season. "And I try to minimize it a lot because I think it's dangerous, because we're trying to focus on what we can do to make our team the best that it can be."

Allow C&F to editorialize a moment here. Shark attacks are dangerous. Running into the U.S. Capitol and yelling "jihad" is dangerous. Expectations for a football team are not dangerous. Not that this would be the first time St. Nick has engaged in hyperbole.

But this was time for St. Nick, amateur psychologist, to try to use Jedi mind tricks on the Alabama faithful. "You will accept seven or eight wins."

And so the season opener against the Team from the Upstate becomes what your father used to call a "character-building" experience.

"They're picked to win their league. But I think what it's going to help us do is enhance our development in terms of our identity as a team because it will certainly show us where we are in terms of how we compete against one of the best teams in the country, even though it's a first game and it's on the road."

Translation: Alabama will begin the season 0-1.

"You know, eight years ago I started out not having a lot of success either, but you have to build. And that's what we're trying to do right now, is build on positive energy and a great opportunity so that we can have success in the future."

Translation: You'll take your 7-5 regular season and you'll like it!

"But I would be more concerned about these guys focusing on being complete players and how they can contribute by being complete players rather than some goal of how many passes they catch or how many tackles they make or how many interceptions they make or something along those lines."

Translation: Shreveport's lovely in December.

St. Nick might not be the most humble man the world has ever seen, but he can also be bluntly honest, as he was when asked about Les Miles' observation that LSU wasn't the only team from Louisiana to beat the Tide.

"Well, he told the truth," St. Nick said. "He told it like it was."

Not that some of the players, at least, aren't sensitive about what happened last year. Senior center Antoine Caldwell was asked about the disappointment of going 6-6 last year.

"7-6," he corrected the reporter, who neglected to include Alabama's prestigious win in the Independence Bowl.

And Caldwell is clearly not on board with St. Nick's script.

"I'm the type person, I don't want to regret anything I do in life," he said of his decision to return for his final season. "And I feel like, if I was in an NFL training camp or playing for a team and I look back and see, 'Alabama won the SEC champinship,' I might fall out."

If Alabama doesn't do well this year, it is St. Nick who is in danger of falling out. Of favor with the fans who last year worshipped him and expect a lot more in 2008.

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