Alabama football was at the center of the college football world this week. The Crimson Tide hosted SEC East power Georgia in one of the biggest games of the regular season, and at mid-week, Nick Saban tested positive for COVID-19.
ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi was in Tuscaloosa all week, as that crazy news cycle played out. Saban’s positive test came in on Wednesday. He was rushed home from the facility, and he coached via Zoom for two days. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, he had three confirmed negative tests, indicating that the initial one was a false positive.
It looked like Alabama football was going to have to play its biggest regular season game without its legendary head coach. Early Saturday, after word that his third straight negative came through, he made his return to the sideline. Alabama would shut out the Dawgs in the second half, pulling out a very impressive 41-24 win at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“It was a wild week, last week, obviously,” Rinaldi said as a guest on ESPN Radio’s Keyshawn, JWill and Zubin. “From Wednesday, being with him in the adjacent staff room, to his office when the door opened and Jeff Allen popped in, ushered coach out, and we then knew what happened. He then left the facility immediately, told that he had tested positive. Over the next three days, five separate tests to two different labs, all while 240 other tests given to players and staff came back negative.”
The rest of Alabama’s daily testing certainly indicated that his test may have been negative, though athletic director Greg Byrne tested positive at the same time as Saban. If the head coach was carrying the virus for a day or two before his positive test, one would assume that someone else in contact with him would’ve contracted it, but that was luckily not the case.
Rinaldi says that Nick Saban tested twice each day on Thursday and Friday, with the tests sent to different labs to try and ensure the results.
“And then he finds out right around 12:30 that the last test he’s taken, early Saturday morning, which was flown to a lab in Mobile to the SEC lab there, comes back negative. He gets that news, he makes a bee line to the team hotel, which is across the street from the football building in Tuscaloosa on campus, and essentially begins to rejoin meetings immediately,” Rinaldi continued.
Had Saban not had those three days of negative results, his communications with the team would’ve been cut off 90 minutes before kickoff. We’ll never know if would-be-interim coach and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian would’ve led Alabama back from its halftime deficit and to a big win, but with the full staff on hand, the Alabama offense was humming on Saturday.
Against the nation’s top defense, Mac Jones threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns, Najee Harris had 152 yards and a score on the ground, and Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle each topped the 160 yard mark and found the end zone. It was a clinic for the Tide in the second half, and cemented their status as one of, if not the favorite to win the national championship.