TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — As Nick Saban walked down the home end zone tunnel to begin the second half Saturday, surrounded by several veteran players as he's done hundreds of times before, he overheard a select few come to a particularly striking realization.
"I know it's something for them to know that ... two or three of the guys were walking out the tunnel to go out for the second half and saying, 'This is the last time I'm going to walk down this tunnel with you,' and so," Saban said before taking a few seconds to compose himself as he fully grasped the significance of the moment. "... I'm glad to see them do well. And they played well today."It was a rare sign of emotion from the usually stoic head coach, who has repeatedly said this year's team holds a special place in his heart.
And while many of the headline-makers in Saturday's 56-0 drubbing of Mercer were among Alabama's talented underclassmen, several seniors also had their moments in the sun in what would be their home game.
For senior safety Hootie Jones, it was having his mother, Jessica Carr, there to watch him play for the first time. Carr is currently battling Stage 4 Lymphoma and had to wear a hospital mask Saturday due to a weakened immune system.
"It was good to see my mother, this was the only game she got to come to this year, so I was happy to see her," said Jones, whose second-quarter interception was the first of three turnovers by the Tide secondary.
"I was very thankful to (be able to) go out there and give her something to see (since) this was her first game — first and last home game. I just want to thank her for being here."
A few of the seniors admittedly didn't understand the significance of the day until they were summoned to go out onto the field during the pregame Senior Day ceremony.
"It really hit me when we had to go out there and introduce all the seniors, and I almost shed a tear," said senior receiver Cam Sims, whose 8-yard touchdown reception put Alabama ahead 42-0 late in the third quarter. "But when I saw my momma, I knew I had to focus up and kind of help her calm down. And then once the game came, I had to hit that switch because we had to get that win."Along with the pregame ceremony where 21 members of the senior class were honored their families, a few managed to make a significant impact on the game.
That included senior guard J.C. Hassenauer, who made his first career start in his 23rd game when he replaced junior left guard Ross Pierschbacher in the starting lineup. Hassenauer then slid over to serve as the second-team center once fellow-senior Bradley Bozeman was taken out midway through the second quarter.
"It was great, it was definitely a blessing to be out there, especially on Senior Day," Hassenauer said. "This is (my) last game in Bryant-Denny Stadium and it's kind of bittersweet. ... I'm definitely going to miss this moment and miss the fan base, the whole atmosphere (inside the stadium)."
The victory Saturday was the 51st for the Crimson Tide's senior class, which tied a NCAA record for most career victories by a senior class set by last year's Alabama squad.
With potentially four more games left to play, including next Saturday's winner-take-all top 10 Iron Bowl matchup with No. 6 Auburn, the opportunity is there for this year's group of seniors to even improve on their 51-4 career mark.
"That's a remarkable thing," Jones said of the record. "We'll forever cherish that and forever have that in our little history."
That history was clearly on Saban's mind throughout Saturday as he sought to get as many seniors — even never-used walk-ons — into the game in some capacity, especially once the game was well out of hand in the second half.
"I think we dressed every (senior) player that was eligible for this game and tried to get every senior in the game, and I think we accomplished that," he said.
This article is written by Alex Byington from The Decatur Daily, Ala. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.