Be glad Tua passed this way
Before he said a word Monday, you could tell it was over and Tua Tagovailoa would never pass this way again. You could tell by the look on Nick Saban's face and the catch in his voice. You could tell by the way Tua glanced at the floor as his head coach praised him, more as a person than a player, as if the weight of his decision and his departure were hitting him and hitting him hard.
It was time to make a business decision. While his choice to forego his final year at Alabama and declare for the NFL Draft was obvious after that terrible hip injury and the most serious in an unfortunate series of surgeries, that clearly didn't make it any easier. What his head told him he had to do may not have been what his heart preferred.
The uncertainty surrounding his future as a football player didn't end with Monday's press conference. There will be plenty of rehab and speculation between now and April 23 when the NFL Draft begins, fittingly, in the gambler's haven of Las Vegas.
Because of his injury history, drafting Tua the player may be a roll of the dice. Believing in Tua the person is as close to a sure thing as you'll find in this sport.
"Tua has probably had as much of an impact on our program here as any player that we've ever had, and I'm not just talking about as a football player," Saban said. "There's a spirit about him that has impacted myself and everybody around him in a very, very positive way."
Two players in particular have impacted Saban in his Alabama tenure in rare and distinct ways. That they played the same position - for a time, at the same time - makes their intersection all the more fascinating. Where Jalen Hurts made Saban cry - in a good way - Tua made him smile wider than anyone else.
Go back and watch Saban's reaction to second-and-26, the championship-winning rainbow dart the freshman closer Tua threw in relief of the sophomore starter Hurts. The look on the coach's face as he sprinted onto the field with arms raised may have been as close to pure joy as we've ever seen from the uber-serious GOAT.
Tua did that again and again and again, and not just for Saban. For a long time, Alabama football was all about getting in your face. Then came Tua, and Alabama football could still do that -- and put a smile on your face even if you didn't grow up with crimson as your favorite color.
Tua turned a big business back into a little kid's backyard game, the burdensome expectation of winning into the breathless anticipation of the tricks he might pull from his left sleeve along the way. Even as he beat you, he would captivate you with his gifted arm and unquestioned guts, his prayerful hands and a respectful nod.
He was the embraceable evolution of joyless murderball.
More than throwing a school-record 87 touchdown passes and setting a college football career record for pass efficiency, more than winning one SEC title and one national championship, Tagovailoa's greatest legacy may be uplifting the impression of an already storied program for the better.
What was it he said on his Instagram after the LSU loss, after his arm and his guts weren't quite enough despite an 85-yard touchdown pass on his final throw in Bryant-Denny Stadium? "The game needed loving. I gave it my heart."
What was it he said Monday as he walked away toward an uncertain but hopeful future with his legacy here already secure? "One last time: God bless, Roll Tide."
Like one of his slants pouring straight into a receiver's hands, that exit line hit a lot of people right in the heart. Tua will never pass this way again. We should all be glad he did.