That 2nd-and-26 feels so long ago, huh? I still hear Chris Fowler’s voice crack alongside the roar of thousands of Alabama Crimson Tide fans. “Touchdown! Alabama wins!” One of the greatest national championship games in college football history ended with Hawaii high school football’s all-time leading passer launching an unrivaled legacy in Tuscaloosa. You were named Offensive MVP of that College Football Playoff title game, but that championship moment alone isn’t what makes you the greatest Alabama quarterback ever.
Fast forward. The 2018 season was the single-greatest year by a QB in Alabama football history. You took home Walter Camp Player of the Year, the Maxwell Award, SEC Offensive Player of the Year, an All-American selection, and were a Heisman Trophy finalist for the first time. Damn, you were fun to watch as a sophomore. School records for passing yards (3,966) and touchdown passes (43), plus you set an NCAA record with the highest passing efficiency of any QB in history.
Still, that incredible season didn’t make you the greatest Alabama quarterback ever.
Somehow, you were even better as a junior! Yet another Heisman ceremony was looming. Thanks to incredible chemistry with NFL-bound wide receivers Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, your Crimson Tide offense was nearly perfect. Over 300 passing yards per game. Over 70 percent of passes were completed. Few teams could fathom matching the Tide’s 46.8 points per game.
Despite all those stats and accolades, that deadly accurate left arm is not what made you the greatest Alabama quarterback ever.
As I wrote this, you were under the knife in Houston to repair a posterior wall fracture that came from a dislocated hip against Mississippi State. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lyle Cain confirmed that you’ll make a full recovery, but the road back from this season-ending injury would take months. People were already comparing this right hip injury to one that ended Bo Jackson’s career almost 29 years ago.
There is a grim outlook surrounding everything, and Alabama football fans all over the country flooded social media with thoughts and prayers. Teammates visited Birmingham to wish you well. No one would have faulted you for bottling up, embracing the fear and struggle that lay ahead.
And yet, I saw videos of you playing a ukulele and smiling hours after it happened. In the face of a career-threatening injury, you were the same inspiring kid everyone came to know these past few years.
You met with thousands of kids who looked up to you. You took time to pray with a cancer patient days before the biggest game of the season. You defended Jalen Hurts and championed your teammate in the face of his own adversity. You put your faith first, family and friends second, and football third. Nothing changed that dynamic, and yet, you still blew everyone away with your talent.
I mean, you did the impossible and made Nick Saban smile on a football field.
It is your incredible character and selfless actions, Tua, that make you the greatest Alabama quarterback ever.
It’s not going to be an easy road back. The 2020 NFL Draft analysts are already predicting that you’ll slide because you likely won’t play at all next season. It’s a terrible situation for you and your family to lose out on potentially millions of dollars because of a freak accident.
But honestly? There’s no doubt in my mind you’ll be back and better than before.
Your Twitter bio includes “1 Corinthians 2:9.” I’m not well-versed on the Bible, but I decided to look it up and see what it was about.
“However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him.”
Once again, you proved to me that you were ready to face this injury and recover before it even happened. Few others would be able to face this with as much charisma and class as you, and yet, nothing about that surprises me anymore.
Good luck, Tua. And selfishly, I hope you land with my Pittsburgh Steelers. There are few other men I’d rather have leading my team.
This article was originally published November 18, 2019. On January 6, 2020, Tagovailoa declared for the 2020 NFL Draft, ending his tenure at the University of Alabama.