Atlanta -- When Blake Sims signed with Alabama the critics said he would never play quarterback for the Crimson Tide.
But Sims just kept working.
When they moved him from quarterback to running back, Sims never complained.
He just kept working.
When they moved him to the scout team in order to give the varsity a better look in practice, Sims never complained.
He just kept working.
And when Blake Sims, who had fought his way back onto the depth chart at quarterback, prepared for his senior season, Alabama brought in a transfer from Florida State (Jake Coker) who was supposed to win the job. Sims never complained.
He just kept working.
Saturday night, as confetti rained down on the floor of the Georgia Dome, Sims held his daughter, Kyla, in his arms as he was presented the Most Valuable Player trophy in the 2014 SEC Championship game.
"It's hard to know what to say," said Sims, after completing 23 of 27 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-13 win over No. 16 Missouri. "There are so many people to thank, so many people who believed in me. This is an incredible team and all of these guys had my back all season. This is just a great moment."
Sims grew up in Gainesville, Ga., about an hour north of Atlanta. His last high school game was for the state championship played right here in the Georgia Dome. By winning this game Saturday night, Sims gets to keep playing, maybe for a national championship.
The win will put No. 1 Alabama (12-1) into the first four-team college football playoff, most likely as the No. 1 seed, when the pairings are announced on Sunday. Alabama is expected to play in the national semifinals on Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban said after the game that Sims has come to symbolize what he admitted was one of his favorite teams.
"With all that Blake has gone through, he never went through a day when he didn't do what he was supposed to do," said Saban. "He never complained. He just went to work every day and did his job. As a coach you love that kind of persistence. It is a credit to his character."
"That is what has made this team very special," added Saban of Alabama's 24th SEC championship team. "I really like coaching these guys."
Sims opened the game with nine straight completions, tying the SEC Championship game record.
Missouri (10-3), which won the SEC East, fell behind 21-3 at halftime but then scored 10 unanswered points to come within eight, 21-13, on an Andrew Baggett field goal with 4:37 left in the third quarter.
"I was concerned that I had done a lousy job of getting us ready to come out for the second half," said Saban. "But our guys understand that it's a 60-minute game. I thought they would respond to Missouri's challenge and they did."
Sims put together a text book drive that covered 64 yards on 10 plays and gave Alabama a 28-13 lead with 14:55 left.
Then Sims led a 90-yard drive, which included a 17-yard run to for a crucial first down, to put the game out of reach for Missouri.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said that those two drives meant the difference in the game.
"I thought we made a run at it in the third quarter," said Pinkel, whose team reached the SEC Championship game for the second straight year. "But then they answered with a (64-yard) drive and then they got a 90-yard drive. So they responded really like you want a football team to do. That's what good teams do."
It was also a big night for Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, who had 12 catches for 83 yards. With 115 catches this season he broke the record of 113 set by Vanderbilt's Jordan Mathews in 2013. His 83 yards gives him 1,656 on the season, just 83 yards shy of the season record set by LSU's Josh Reed in 2001.
Cooper had his string of six consecutive 100 yard games snapped. His 12 catches broke the SEC Championship game record of 11 set by Florida's Riedel Anthony in 1995.
Last March I was in the Alabama football offices as part of my spring tour.
I was talking to one of the staff and eventually we got to the subject of Lane Kiffin the impact the new offensive coordinator would have. I was assured by the staffer that under Kiffin, the former head coach at Tennessee and USC, Alabama's offense would be more creative and productive.
It has certainly been that. With 504 yards on Saturday the Alabama offense now has 6,376 yards on the season for an average of 490.5 per game. The school record is 480.7 yards per game set by the 1973 national championship team.
Ironically, Alabama has been as its best this season with the up-tempo offense that Saban, in his more candid moments in the past, professed not to like. After watching Blake Sims run it for 13 games, call the Alabama head coach a convert.
"The reason we run that offense is because of this guy right here," said Saban said, tapping Sims on the shoulder. "Blake plays better when we go up-tempo so all of us get on board with him.
"And I'll tell you this: Without Blake and this offense we wouldn't be where we are right now."
That's why Saturday night was so sweet for Alabama and for Blake Sims. It was really unexpected. When Alabama lost to Ole Miss (23-17) on Oct. 11 and followed it up with a struggling 14-13 win over Arkansas, this looked like an Alabama team with too many flaws to be thinking about a championship. When Sims threw three interceptions last week and his team fell behind Auburn 33-21 last week, we wondered how the story was going to end.
But here they are. Blake Sims has the MVP trophy, an SEC championship, and thus will be forever remembered at Alabama for this courage and persistence. And now the Crimson Tide is two more away from a 16th national championship.
"This team has overcome a lot," said Saban. "Everybody takes care of each other. They are not selfish. They work together. It is a special group."