Losing isn't in the dictionaries at the University of Alabama. That's how it goes when your team has won at least 10 games each season since 2008.
However, if you ask an Alabama football fan what the worst loss in school history is, there are a few different routes they might go.
There was the time a 5-6 Southern Miss team led by Brett Favre drowned the Crimson Tide, 27-24, in 1990. Alabama losing 38-40 to Central Florida at home wasn't pretty either, and it was the nail in head coach Mike DuBose's coffin in 2000. Older folks may also remember the time Alabama quarterbacks combined for eight interceptions in a 24-0 loss to Tennessee in 1970.
Those were all putrid losses and terrible memories for 'Bama fans. But they don't compare to what happened on November 17, 2007. That day will forever be known as the day Alabama suffered its worst loss ever, a loss that took place under Nick Saban nonetheless — and it's what Nick Saban said after the crushing defeat that made it 10 times worse.
As the University of Louisiana Monroe returns to Alabama this weekend for the first time since that 2007 upset, let's take a trip down a memory lane fans probably had blockaded all these years.
The ULM Embarrassment in Nick Saban's First Season
Saban's first season in Tuscaloosa wasn't exactly off to a hot start. The team entered this game 6-4 and was coming off back-to-back losses to LSU and Mississippi State. An easy non-conference game against a Sun Belt opponent is what the team needed before the Iron Bowl.
ULM hung around just long enough. The Warheads went up 21-14 in the third quarter and stymied Alabama's offense completely in the second half, as the Crimson Tide laid a goose egg. That was the final score. Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson threw two interceptions, and that was that.
It was undoubtedly a low point. Many fans weren't sure if Saban was the guy for the job following the loss. In fact, Saban told the story of a gas station attendant who told him after the upset loss that Alabama wouldn't win a championship as long as "that Nick Saban guy" was there.
Nick Saban shares a funny story about when Alabama lost to Louisiana-Monroe in 2007, his first season in Tuscaloosa. pic.twitter.com/JM6MXd4Hst
— Lynden Blake (@LyndenBlake) May 3, 2022
Saban Compared Loss to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor
Upon one of the worst losses of his career, Saban then used the postgame press conference to apologize to fans and compare the loss to the September 11 attacks and the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
"Changes in history usually occur after some kind of catastrophic event," Saban said afterward, "It may be 9/11, which sort of changed the spirit of America relative to catastrophic events. Pearl Harbor kind of got us ready for World War II, and that was a catastrophic event."
"They talk about alcoholics and people like that who never ever change until they hit rock bottom. Well, they change because when they hit rock bottom they have awareness, they have an acceptance and a commitment to change. That's what our players need to do right now because the past two weeks since the LSU game, I haven't seen the same spirit, the same work ethic. That's something we have to get right."
Yes, those are the words of the greatest football coach ever. It was incredibly insensitive to liken a football game to two of the worst tragedies in American history, which is partly why this is the worst loss in program history. (Despite what a spokesperson for him said at the time, per ESPN, he absolutely was comparing the two.)
But maybe that's why Saban became the greatest? To him, this was his rock bottom. And judging from the way he turned things around at Alabama, he certainly didn't stay in rock bottom for long. Saban finished his first season 7-6, which would be the last time he didn't record at least 10 wins in a season. Alabama finished 12-2 the following season and at the end of the 2009 season beat Texas to capture the BCS National Championship Game.
Fifteen years after the devastating upset to ULM, Saban still remembers the game.
Nick Saban Hasn't Forgotten
ULM returns to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first time since 2007, which prompted Saban to reflect on that ugly loss. Many of his players were too young to remember it, but Saban remembers it like it was yesterday.
"I don't forget things. I remember when these guys beat us. I know that our players won't remember that because history sometimes is not that important, and they were probably — what would you say — five, six years old when that happened?" Saban said at a press conference.
Coming off a sloppy win over Texas that featured more penalties in the Saban era than any other game, Alabama can't rule out another upset to ULM. If that sounds ridiculous, just ask Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Nebraska how they're feeling after losses to Sun Belt teams.
"What does it mean to be favored by 21 points?" Saban said. "Well, there were two teams that I know of — maybe more I don't know — that were favored by about the same amount that actually got beat. So I guess it doesn't mean anything, and that's why we have to play games. It's important for the players to learn that they have to focus and prepare for every team and every opponent so that they can go out there and play to the best of their ability because sometimes even when you win, you can lose."
Alabama isn't invincible from upsets, and they will happen every once in a while. But November 17, 2007 will always be a dark day for Saban and Alabama fans. Luckily, the school has enough rings to ease the pain.
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