An overflow crowd watches Saban's Bama debut

Updated: April 22, 2007, 12:42 AM ET
Associated Press

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban is already filling Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium -- and then some.

An overflow crowd of 92,138-plus fans attended the Crimson Tide's spring game Saturday, nearly doubling the school's A-Day attendance record and forcing university officials to start turning people away in the first half.

That kind of turnout for essentially a scrimmage was yet another indication of how much Saban's hiring in January has stirred up a rabid fan base hungry for a championship.

"It shows the passion that people have for the University of Alabama, and it certainly makes me feel great about being here as head coach," Saban said.

The previous high attendance for an Alabama A-Day game was 51,117 at Birmingham's Legion Field in 1988. Admission was free.

The previous best for a Southeastern Conference spring game was believed to have been 73,000 at Tennessee in 1986, according to Alabama. The 92,138-seat stadium was full, and there were fans watching from the ramps also.

They saw quarterback John Parker Wilson lead the White team to a 20-13 win over the Crimson, led by the first-team defense. He completed 18-of-36 passes for 244 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But the fans delivered more impressive numbers.

"It was awesome," Wilson said. "We were standing around there like, 'Man, there's a lot of people here.' We didn't expect that many people. To see that kind of support just makes us feel good."

Cornerback Simeon Castille said he would have been content to watch on TV instead of braving the traffic for an intrasquad game if he were a fan.

"I still can't believe it, really," Castille said. "It's a spring game and we have 92,000 people here."

By comparison, national runner-up Ohio State drew 75,310 at $5 a ticket for its own spring game on Saturday and champion Florida earlier pulled in 47,500.

The fans came wearing "Sabanation" and "Got Nick?" T-shirts, and started arriving several hours before the game. All this for a scrimmage by a team coming off a 6-7 season that closed with four consecutive losses and hasn't won a Southeastern Conference title since 1999.

Alabama lured Saban away from the Miami Dolphins after his second season in the NFL with an eight-year deal worth some $32 million. He drew heat for his repeated denials that he was a candidate for the job, making the fans' excitement that much sweeter.

"What we did today sends a message that there's a lot of support and enthusiasm for what's happening here right now," Saban said. "I certainly appreciate it. It makes me and my family feel good about being here.

"God knows we went through little bit to get here, but we're happy to be here."

Wearing a sports coat and tie, Saban paced around the field throughout the game, standing about 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage for each play and mostly content to be an observer.

"You see the body language. You see how guys react and respond," said Saban, who drew a standing ovation just jogging across the field before the game. "I thought that was better. What our guys have had to learn is that your body language tells the other guy how it's going. If I'm showing that I'm hurt, I'm showing the guy he's getting the best of me. It's kind of like a boxer's mentality."

The Tide's two biggest offensive weapons from last season had big games. Wilson found DJ Hall for a 17-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. Hall was the game MVP after catching five passes for 87 yards.

The game didn't shed much light on the tailback competition. Glen Coffee opened with the No. 1 offense and had four carries for 15 yards before leaving with what Saban described as a minor shoulder injury.

Last year's backup, Jimmy Johns, gained 26 yards on six carries. Terry Grant had 47 yards on eight carries along with five catches for 29 yards, and Saban said the speedy Grant could fit in well as part of a tandem with bigger backs like Johns and Coffee.

Backup quarterback Greg McElroy was 14-of-33 for 139 yards with a touchdown.

"Today was one of our better days this spring," Wilson said of the offense. "We took care of the ball. We didn't have any interceptions, we didn't have any fumbles. We moved the ball."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press