TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Three blocks from Bryant-Denny Stadium sits the Bear Bryant Museum, a homage to the legendary coach and Alabama football in general.
Its curator is Taylor Watson, who started in 1992 after graduating from Alabama with a history degree.
"My first year was hard to beat. Go 13-0 and win a national championship," Watson said.
It was Alabama's 12th national championship. But the Crimson Tide has not won the SEC championship since 1999.
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That run may be on the verge of ending. When South Carolina visits today, it finds a program that feels its glory days are back. Alabama is ranked second in the country, undefeated and winners of 18 of their past 20 games under coach Nick Saban.
"It's been nostalgic," Watson said. "There was huge talk about we have to get past Coach Bryant for us to move forward. Well, the irony of that is Coach Saban has come in and in his own unique ways done exactly what coach Bryant did in '58" when he arrived from Kentucky.
Watson grew up in Huntsville, Ala., the same town as South Carolina senior safety Darian Stewart. But while Watson grew up an Alabama fan, Stewart's loyalties were with rival Auburn.
And given the way things went while Stewart was growing up, it led to a happier fanhood. Alabama was down, and Auburn was up.
"I was loving it," Stewart said. "Auburn was winning. Beating Alabama every year."
Auburn won the Iron Bowl six consecutive years, a streak snapped last year when Saban and theTide capped an undefeated regular season with a 36-0 rout. Alabama lost to Florida in the SEC title game and Utah in the Sugar Bowl, but it hardly took away any of the luster.
"I think the only difference in Alabama and other programs is - not that other programs don't have rich traditions - is that's what that state lives for is college football," said USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, a former Alabama player.
"Whether you're an Auburn fan or an Alabama fan, it's diehard. That's what they spend their life savings on, buying season tickets. It's a great tradition, they take football really, really seriously. And I'm not saying other places don't, but I think they take it to another level."
USC freshman spur Damario Jeffery grew up in Columbia, but he went to Alabama on an official visit. He saw the presentation the Crimson Tide makes, saying "for a football player, it's like heaven up there." The facilities are impressive, and even the meal selection floored him.
"They tell you about the tradition, they tell you about all the championships," Jeffery said. "You see all the photos, all the rings, things like that. But for me it wasn't about all that."
Given all the national titles, Alabama fans could be forgiven for growing up assuming that being the best was a birthright. That made the 15 years after the last national championship hard.
The losses to Auburn were hard enough. Then there were sanctions and probations from the Mike Dubose era. There was the humiliation of coach Dennis Franchione leaving after two years for Texas A&M.
On the field, the closest the Tide came to getting another title was 1994, when it lost to Steve Spurrier's Florida team by one point in the SEC championship game.
There was a lot of anticipation before the 2000 season, but that team fell flat and finished 3-8. The 2005 team finished 10-2 and led fans to believe coach Mike Shula was turning things around, but he was fired after a mediocre 6-7 record the next season - leading to the hiring of Saban.
Now, fans think they have their new Bryant.
At least that's the hope.
"I think most Alabama people realize we're at the highest level we've been since that '92 year, maybe since the 1970s," Watson said. "But Alabama fans are still so shell-shocked from the last 10 years, that there's still this little feeling that something else could drop."