Alabama football coach Nick Saban wants to make sure the defending national champions take nothing for granted.
Saban said Tuesday during an Athens (Tenn.) Area Chamber of Commerce benefit dinner at Tennessee Wesleyan College that he recently showed his team a tape of James “Buster” Douglas' stunning 1990 knockout of Mike Tyson as a warning to avoid complacency.
“You become the target,” said Saban, whose team is seeking its third straight BCS title and fourth in the past five years. “Everybody's got our name circled. Everyone wants to beat us. You've got to get ready for that. When the game comes, everybody wants to win. Who prepared to win the game the right way?”
Saban's visit to a town less than 60 miles south of Tennessee's campus produced more than 100 complaints over the past several months, according to Athens Area Chamber of Commerce president Rob Preston. After all the tumult preceding his appearance, Saban received a hero's welcome in a setting that resembled a booster event.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The State
The Alabama coach got a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 1,500 fans who paid $50 for tickets and lined up single-file amid sweltering conditions to see him. Saban stepped to the podium inside a giant tent after multiple playings of “Sweet Home Alabama” and the school's fight song.
“This is the kind of community that I grew up in when I was a kid, (with) a lot of great people, a lot of down-to-earth people who have great values and are hard-working,” said Saban, a West Virginia native.
Alabama athletic department spokesman Jeff Purinton said Saban makes a handful of these types of appearances that aren't booster-related each year, including a recent corporate event in New York.
Saban's fee for Tuesday's appearance was donated to Nick's Kids Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting children, family, teacher and student causes that typically receives any money he receives for these types of events.
Saban didn't focus on specific aspects of Alabama's upcoming season Tuesday and instead discussed the ideals that help a team win.
He emphasized the necessity to set the right example and noted that all the players he's ever coached “don't give a hoot what you know until they know that you care about them.”
He said each individual must realize that every choice has a positive or negative consequence. He preached the importance of character, self-discipline and work ethic.
“I know I'm old-fashioned and I know I'm crazy with this stuff, but I believe it,” Saban said. “It works for us. That's why we have success. I also think you have to have a positive attitude about what you're trying to do. You've got to have a vision for what you're trying to do.”
Saban spoke for 35 minutes and then took questions for 20 minutes. At one point, a questioner expressed concern about quarterback A.J. McCarron because his girlfriend “is such a beautiful woman and A.J. needs to concentrate on football.”
“I'd like to put you in his situation and see what you'd do,” Saban quipped before spending the next few minutes raving about McCarron's leadership.
Preston said about 90 percent of the people who bought tickets to Tuesday's event were from outside McMinn County, and that fans had bought tickets from as far away as Florida and North Carolina
The first person in line was Sara Chihasz of Loudon, Tenn., who said she arrived at 1:30 p.m., four hours before organizers began collecting tickets.
Nearly all of them were wearing Alabama gear.
“I knew it would be a sea of crimson, and I love it,” Chihasz said.
Only a handful of fans were wearing Tennessee orange. Most of them expressed regret over the complaints that had surrounded Saban's appearance in the weeks leading up to it.
“You've got a very successful man in his profession,” said Mike Bell, a Tennessee state senator who stood in line wearing a Tennessee shirt.
“I wish the people would accept him for that and not make such a big deal that he's the Alabama football coach, even though I'm a deep orange football fan. I hope we beat the tar out of Alabama next year, even though we've not done it for several years.”
As soon as Bell got those words out of his mouth, an Alabama fan standing behind him interrupted.
“Dream on,” said Floyd Shadrick of Chattanooga. “It's not going to happen in my lifetime.”