ANAHEIM _ University of Alabama Coach Nick Saban is taking particular pride in that the Crimson Tide got here by playing spoiler to the popular preseason prediction of Florida vs. Texas in the BCS Championship Game at the Rose Bowl.
"Florida has an outstanding football team, outstanding football players, and we probably played as well as we could play as a team to win that game, and I'm proud of the way our players played in the game," Saban said. "I mean, they had an I-won't-be-denied sort of attitude. But sometimes it works that you lost the game the year before, so the players were really up for the game this year.
"We earned our way to be here."
Saban made the comment during his arrival press conference at the ESPN Zone in Downtown Disney, shortly before Texas coach Mack Brown took the opposite route, saying his team "felt so much pressure" after being preseason No. 2.
Both teams practiced earlier Saturday and visited Disneyland while their head coaches met the media. The coaches fielded numerous questions about keeping the focus on the game with all the obvious distractions.
"I told our players a story the other day about the U.S. hockey team," Saban said. "Probably one of the greatest victories of this century by any team was when they beat the Soviets in '80 or whenever it was, the 'Miracle on Ice.' Do you know what people don't remember? That didn't win the gold medal (by beating the Soviets), they had to win the next game against Finland.
"So what did they learn when they beat the Soviets? They learned when they made a commitment and everybody had a single-minded purpose and I-won't-be-denied kind of attitude and everybody went out there and played their best what they could accomplish, and then they had to go play another game.
"Hopefully our players will learn some of the same things from what they did in the SEC Championship Game and be able to stay focused on those things, because if we don't then you let in all the outside influences."
Practice report After suiting up at Orange Coast College, Alabama went across the street to practice on the fields adjoining Costa Mesa High School. While OCC's stadium has artificial turf, the Tide was able to work out on grass.
Senior cornerback Marquis Johnson had a large cast on his left hand/wrist after sustaining a thumb fracture during the final practice before the team broke for Christmas.
"Well, he practiced today, and he's using his hand again," Saban said. "He didn't practice with a black shirt on, which means he was able to have contact. Now, whether he can catch the ball with a cast on his hand or not, he has caught some, but it could affect his ability to catch.
Working out with the team were three players lost for the season due to knee injuries: sophomore running back Jeramie Griffin, sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower and redshirt freshman defensive end Damion Square, who were all in black (no contact).
Alabama appears to have brought everyone on the 105-man roster and full support staff.
Having fun Saban was asked by a reporter if he was having fun.
"Is this fun," he said, drawing laughter during a long pause. "You know, what's fun for me is practice. I really enjoy practice. I really enjoy being around the players. I really enjoy the teaching part of it. You know, some of the other things, it's an entertainment business, and I really do appreciate what you all do to make our sport, college football, and what our players do important and interesting, and you create a lot of interest for a lot of other people, and I do appreciate that. And it's important to the game.
"So I'm having fun out of respect for what you all do (more laughter). That's about as diplomatic as I can be."
When essentially asked the same question, Brown said, "I've always enjoyed the journey. I didn't enjoy the losing."
Tide-bits A new playing surface was installed at the Rose Bowl on Saturday after Oregon and Ohio State played there Friday.
Saban on sophomore running back Mark Ingram: "I think, first of all, Mark is an outstanding person, and I think he has been a marvelous member of our team. If he won a Heisman Trophy as the best college football player, I would give him a trophy for being one of the best guys on our team in terms of the kind of team guy he is, the kind of practice player he is, the kind of character he has as a person. His family is first to him, and he's been a marvelous, marvelous ambassador for the University of Alabama and our football program and our football team. From a character standpoint, I think he has great leadership in the example that he sets, but he's also a very talented guy. You know, as a coach, when you have some of the best players on your team are those kind of people, those are the easiest teams to coach because they affect other people, and that's what makes it a lot of fun."
Brown was vague about the role of kick returner D.J. Monroe, who was reinstated after his driving while intoxicated charges were dismissed late last week. "Well, we're looking at D.J. to see if he's missed too much work on kickoff return. Right now he's very involved along with Marquise Goodwin, and one of them or both of them will return kicks on Thursday night." Meanwhile, Russell Carter, a sophomore backup defensive end who played in nine games this season, had been declared ineligible due to academic reasons.
Brown was asked about the career path of his older brother Watson, the former UAB coach (1995-2006) now at Tennessee Tech, and if he at times felt sorry for him. "I am not. The reason I've had a different career than Watson is because I've had better jobs. I've always thought he's a better football coach than I am and he does a tremendous job with very little, and he's done it throughout his career. And if you ask whether I've had a better career or Watson, I would really think Watson has had a wonderful career. How many people can be a head football coach in college for 20-something years and touch that many lives? I haven't felt sorry for him because very few people get to be a head coach. Those that become head coaches usually don't get to stay after three years. So he's had wonderful moments, and he had a winning season at Tennessee Tech this year, the first one that they've had in a long time. Watson was as proud of winning the state championship in Tennessee and winning their sixth game and having a winning season at Tennessee Tech as we would be if we won this ballgame."
Try and guess which coach said the following: "We felt like the No. 1 thing we learned is you can't continue to talk about the game. You've got to talk about the process, because you've got to do whatever you've done to this point to get here all week and all month because it's a month and two days since we played Nebraska until we'll play on Thursday night. But we feel like that you have to do a great job in preparation, then you have to be able to relax and play, understanding there's so much at stake, but if you think about what's at stake and don't prepare properly, it'll jump up and bite you." It was Brown, when asked what he learned about playing for the national championship here four years ago.