National Championship Football

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood hold the trophy after their win against Ohio State in an NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game Tuesday.

It was no fun watching Nick Saban and Alabama steamroll their way to another national championship, especially when their best player was from Louisiana.

But maybe we can all stifle our instinct to dislike Alabama — and blame Saban for leaving LSU — and admire, for a moment, what his team accomplished this year. And, for that matter, what all of college football and college athletics have accomplished.

There were nay-sayers who believed that college sports should be suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak. But coaches, including Saban, said that athletes would be better protected if they played their games and kept themselves safe from the virus as a matter of loyalty to their teammates and their coaches and their schools.

By that time, major league baseball and the NBA were playing games and demonstrating that it could be done safely.

Sure, there are many more college athletes and schools could not afford to install their players in a protective bubble in Orlando, like the NBA did.

But the schools and conferences made it work. There were some cancellations and postponements and reschedulings, but in the end conferences like the SEC played most of their games.

Conferences like the Big 10 and Pac 12 initially called off their seasons, but eventually, they came to appreciate that if they can play college football in Athens and Auburn, there is no reason they cannot play it in Lansing and Los Angeles.

Ohio State, Alabama’s latest victim, played only five regular season games and the Big 10 changed its rules to let them compete for the conference championship. With such a thin schedule, they did not belong in the national championship tournament. But they had a capable team, as they demonstrated in beating Clemson.

In a nation suffering through a stubborn pandemic and political turmoil, sports give us something to enjoy and unite around.

The Saints are in the NFL playoffs, and they won a game Sunday even though one of their best players, Alvin Kamara, was unable to practice with the team due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Pelicans are playing again, as are college teams. LSU’s women’s gymnastics team was back in action last week, and it’s always heartening to see the way Tiger fans support women athletes, even when restrictions thinned the crowd.

Southern and Grambling will play an unusual spring season and the Bayou Classic has been temporarily relocated to Shreveport because of Superdome renovations.

When LSU won its historic national football championship in 2020, it was a joyous moment for the whole state.

That was just a year ago this week. It seems like a lot longer.