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Talk about dealing with adversity: true freshman Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts came within seconds of winning the 2017 national championship game for the Crimson Tide–only to see Clemson’s Deshaun Watson lead the Tigers to a last-second touchdown and smash the dreams of ‘Bama fans nationwide.
“Hurts was literally one second away from a national title,” wrote Sporting News.
Despite the loss, it was clear that Hurts was a superstar, and a bright future and a huge NFL payday surely awaited him. Right?
Not so much. Although he took the painful CFP loss in stride and led his team to another outstanding season the following year and a date in the championship game, fate was about to be tough on Hurts anew… after throwing an interception and leading a lackluster offense in the first half, ‘Bama coach Nick Saban benched Jalen.
He was forced to sit and watch as backup Tua Tagovailoa led the Tide to an incredible overtime victory and Offensive Player of the Game honors.
The following season, Hurts, the one-time phenom, was relegated to backup status. It was an epic comedown for the player who had led his squad to a 51-5 record and seven College Football Playoff games in three years.
It’s at this point that many people would have read the writing on the wall, and realized that maybe they were just not good enough. But not Hurts.
This moment to me sums up the incredible class he showed right after being benched, and how he showed his love for the team and didn’t focus on what must have been his own incredible personal disappointment:
That is a classy dude. Instead of sulking, he reveled in the success of his teammates.
A year later, he spoke of the moment:
“I’m a competitor and I would’ve loved to come back and you know, bring the team back like I’d done many times before,” Hurts said during an interview published Saturday [March 7, 2020] with ESPN’s Outside The Lines. “But it happened the way it did and we were national champions at the end of it. Put emotions to the side. I’m not a robot, but you (grow) out of yourself and into the team.
“Me being emotional, what good would that have done to the guys around me? The joy of being able to hold up a national championship trophy and achieve that goal as a team regardless of how I got there, it’s a joyful moment.”
He went on to explain how he respected Tagovailoa and how they’d actually maintained a friendship:
Hurts eventually transferred to Oklahoma, had a successful season there, then was drafted with the ignominious 53rd pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2020 NFL draft–the fifth QB selected, after Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow (1st), his former backup Tagovailoa (now Miami’s starter, selected 5th), San Diego’s Justin Herbert (6th) and Green Bay’s Jordan Love (26th).
Many questioned whether Hurts could even play quarterback in the NFL, and thought he should change positions if he wanted a shot at playing at that level.
But Hurts once again didn’t back down. After an unimpressive start to his NFL career, Jalen finally earned the starting job in Philly and has improved steadily, and despite injuries, just led his team to a tie for the best record in the league at 14-3 and a spot in the Super Bowl.
My buddy is an Eagles fan, while I am a Bears Man because their Mike Ditka-Buddy Ryan designed ’85 defense is still without question the GREATEST IN THE HISTORY OF THE GALAXY, and I used to love texting him juvenile things like, “that must have Hurts” after a rare loss.
But I have grown to respect Jalen and his attitude–just please don’t tell my main man Philly Phil M.
I get that Hurts didn’t overcome cancer, lead his troops to battle, or save the lives of innocents threatened with imminent danger. He’s not that kind of a hero. But like many NFL players, he’s involved in philanthropy and makes efforts to improve the lives of the people of Philadephia. I find his ability to overcome setbacks with attitude and hard work to be impressive, and he’s the kind of role model that we should honor in this day and age–maybe instead of the satanic Grammy performer Sam Smith? Just a thought.
Sports are just sports–footballs thrown around, pucks being slapped with sticks–one can argue that they’re unimportant. But they can teach us lessons. My son was a high-level high school basketball player, and although NBA stardom was not the goal, the game, the camaraderie, and the teamwork taught him life-long lessons that make him the young man he is today. As they did me back in the day.
It’s also worth noting that right smack in the middle of Black History Month, two black quarterbacks will face off in the Gridiron Classic for the first time in history.
Win or lose, Jalen Hurts can hold his head high.