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By 10:30 on Saturday night South Beach’s Fontainebleu hotel was filled with more people wearing Alabama team gear than have ever stormed the fancy lobby wearing gear of any team. Bama fans had descended en masse to the Alabama team hotel in their coaches polos, houndstooth apparel, crimson blended with the tropical palettes of the circular bar in a maelstrom of Roll Tides. Bama quarterback AJ McCarron sat on a sunken coach alongside his mom and his girfriend, Miss Alabama 2012. As McCarron, wearing a gray and white flannel shirt, made out with his girlfriend, a horde of middle-aged Bama men gathered in a circle around him, standing on tip toes to capture a glance of their signal caller.
A group of Bama fans even stood discussing McCarron’s make-out with his girlfriend. “Do y’all think he’s focused?” asked a middle-aged man in a buttoned down crimson shirt, tiny elephant on his left pocket.
“Hell, would you be focused? Look at that!” said his friend.
“This,” said a waitress in a plunging black top and a tray full of liquor “is crazy.”
It was an incongruous pairing, the down home Bama fan base gone all Hollywood, three yards and a cloud of dust meets angel dust.
Outside the Fontainebleu lobby, traffic was at a standstill all over South Beach.
It took 45 minutes to ride five miles in a cab. It took two hours to drive from the media hotel to South Beach.
A Bama fan seeking to meet his buddies held up a phone at the bar, Google traffic data. “Every damn direction is red,” he said.
And it was true, Bama fans had even painted Google maps crimson for a day.
It was impossible to go anywhere in Miami, like news had just broken that an asteriod impact was near and all were fleeing. Only in this case everyone was trying to get to the party. Overwhelmed valets stacked luxury cars on top of each other, Maseratis next to Bentleys, Ferraris so close to Rolls-Royces you couldn’t even open the doors to either.
Surveying the wild scene in the Fontainebleu, I just kept thinking, “Nick Saban has to hate this.”
All of it, the excess, the glitz, the glamor, somewhere he was in a suite watching Notre Dame’s third down and six or more pass plays on constant repeat, pushing his headphones tighter against his head, squinting to help allay the sound of pulsing music, the rockstar lifestyle attempting to overwhelm the process.
If Alabama loses this game there will be one analogy that comes to mind, of the heavyweight champion, the better fighter, who finally believes all the hype and succumbs to the excess, loses to the upstart. Saban is a hype deflator, the man who slaps his first round draft picks in the head and tells them they’ll be lucky to keep their scholarships next year, the eternal glass is half empty coach.
But on Saturday night in Miami all glasses were full.
A round of four drinks at the Fontaineblue sets me back $77.
Here and there a Notre Dame fan circles the bar, overwhelmed by the Crimson crush. By midnight one Notre Dame fan’s shirt is completely unbuttoned.
He’s shaved ND into his chest hair.
At one corner of the bar stands Jimmy Clausen, former Notre Dame quarterback and current Carolina Panther back-up, and his entourage. At the other corner of the bar is Greg McElroy, the 2009 Bama national champion who was last seen being sacked 11 times in his first career start for the New York Jets, with his girlfriend.
Party music pulsed, neon lights flashed, men and women downed drinks two at a time.
All of it, the scene, the party, the lifestyle was the anti-Saban.
Here was Saban, who fled Miami and the NFL after two years, for the relative peace and calm of a college campus. For a place where there were no distractions, where he could hermetically seal himself into a football office, perfect his craft and nothing else mattered. Now with two national titles added to his resume, he was back into the party-music blaring capital of the country, the place he’d fled to become one of the last coaching legends. Just six years ago he’d said he’d never leave Miami, now he has a statue in Alabama.
There are no statues in the Fontainebleu lobby, although there are several bodies deserving of them.
Amazingly, as midnight neared the lobby became even more crowded, the music louder, the throbbing incandescent beat of tropical neon colors reflecting off the marble floor. The line for Liv nightclub stretched in every direction. Men clamor for entrance, women in short, tight brightly colored dresses, heels so tall they’re all like teetering ballerinas, angle for position inside Miami’s three-story dance temple to excess.
There are boobs everywhere in the Fontainebleu, side boobs, top boobs, under carriage boobs, every great city has something it’s perfected. Rome had architecture, Paris has fashion, London and New York have finance, Los Angeles has stories, Miami has boobs. Specifically, how many different ways can you show cleavage without a nipple being exposed. It’s amazing, really, the Manhattan Project of cleavage. Later at the Clevelander on the ocean, models will take the stage and be body-painted in Notre Dame or Alabama bikinis but now, it’s pure chaos inside Liv, dancers and stairs and blinding lights and heat and heels and alcohol and throngs on the dance floor moving in time to the music so rapidly, they seem lost to the beat of the music itself.
Somewhere upstairs Nick Saban was not lost to the beat of the music itself.
He was grinding away.
By three in the morning the party was still going in Alabama’s hotel.
The players were long since in bed. Their coaches were too.
But still the question lingered, had the party overwhelmed the process?
We’ll find out in about twelve hours.