Saban meets Pinkel not as teammates, but rivals on the football field

The year of 2012 was supposed to be one of reckoning for the entire world. Planes were supposed to crash, as was the internet in its entirety. Food was supposed to fall into major shortages and hordes of people were supposed to flock to grocery stores just to grab whatever they could.

Instead, 2012 has been a year of reckoning for Gary Pinkel, the head coach of the SEC’s newest member, the Missouri Tigers.

No one’s planes have had any troubles (other than these Bama fans), thankfully, and food is still plentiful along the shelves of Publix across the South.

However, after starting out the year with a pristine 3-0 mark, Pinkel’s Tigers have whimpered instead of roared into their first SEC schedule, dropping the program’s first three games within the conference.

[Related: The Road to 15 continues, a look at Alabama’s remaining schedule]

Now, this Saturday, Pinkel’s day of reckoning approaches.

However, the day, the year, and the situation have all been approaching for the better part of 40 years.

Not quite as ancient or as sacred as the predictions of the Mayans, but at least we can Google the evidence of the relationship between Pinkel and Alabama coach Nick Saban far more easily.

Back in 1972, both Pinkel and Saban were teammates on a Kent State football team that brought together a campus shredded by the anti-war sentiments of the era.

Only two years prior, the Ohio National Guard shot and killed four Kent State student protesters and wounded nine more.

While not known for its football program, the school itself needed something, anything, to grasp on to in the wake of these tragedies, and everyone – peaceniks, freakniks, beatniks, you name it – enveloped themselves in the simple joys and distractions of a team on a mission.

That season, exactly forty years ago, the Kent State Golden Flashes won the Mid-American Conference championship and two teammates, Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel, would ride the wave of that experience towards successful and interwoven coaching careers.

While Saban was a safety and Pinkel the team’s star tight end, each went straight into the ranks of coaching following their playing years. Both took on roles as graduate assistants with coach Don James out at Washington, becoming co-workers immediately following their days as teammates.

Now, this Saturday and for the very first time, the two face each other as rival head coaches, at the helm of two programs heading in very different directions.

As mentioned previously, Pinkel’s squad started the year hot, racing out to a 3-0 record behind the accurate arm and mobile legs of quarterback James Franklin. However, Mr. Franklin has been limited for each of the team’s three SEC contests due to varying injuries. So frustrated has Pinkel been with the fragility of his quarterback that he even went so far as to question Franklin’s toughness to the media.

Never a good idea when trying to carry a program to the level of the elite.

Saban, on the other hand, has built what has practically become a monument to the college football gods. With two national championships in the last three years and possibly another on the way with the team sitting pretty as the nation’s unanimous No. 1-ranked team, Saban has easily outpaced his former teammate in terms of coaching accolades thus far.

In fact, so busy is Mr. Saban nowadays that he was not even able to make it to the 1972 team’s 40-year reunion held this summer. Pinkel was in attendance.

This weekend, however, with their shared former mentor Don James looking on, the two will share a football field once again.

Saban may not have been able to make it to the summer reunion, but 40 years after the fact, a reunion of another sort takes place.

There will be no cocktails or stories of bygone days of glory. There will be barbs, curse words, hard hits and points scored. There will be a meeting of one coach struggling to take his team to the next level against a former teammate and co-worker that has defined for the nation what it means to take a team to that next level and into the elite.

For one, this will simply be another game following a bye week on the road to another potential national championship.

For another, this will surely be a day of reckoning.

Information and statistics sourced from

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