The Legend of Jaylen Waddle Does Not End Here
Crimson Tide fans have become too familiar with loss.
Before last season began, Dylan Moses was out with an ACL tear. Nearly a year ago, Tua Tagovailoa took his last snap as a quarterback in crimson colors. Saturday, Jaylen Waddle may have done just the same.
In the grand scheme of things, Waddle will be fine. After what Nick Saban called a "very, very successful surgery," there is no doubt that should Jaylen Waddle decide to head to the 2021 NFL Draft he'll still be a top-15 pick as well as one of the first receivers selected.
But that doesn't do much for Crimson Tide fans, who may very well be ripped of the opportunity to watch yet another legend finish his career with grace in the city "Where Legends are Made." All these thanks to awkward tackles with no malice intent.
I said it Saturday, and many have thought it. It's football, injuries happen. It's a team game, let's hope the next man steps up.
But players like Waddle transcend that idea. Some players touch fans not only with their physical gifts but the way they affect the team, community, and a national fan base.
Saban said as much at halftime Saturday afternoon. Waddle's ability put him in position because any other player would have called a fair catch, or taken a knee in the end zone. But not Waddle. Not a guy who's Heisman odds hung on his ability to perform as a returner. Greater yet, Waddle knows that award is second fiddle. His fielding a kickoff out of the end zone gives his team a better chance to take an early lead.
Waddle was such a talent that an offense that sticks to three primary receivers created room for a fourth, even as a freshman. Take notice, that even as talented as Slade Bolden is, he saw very limited action as the fourth man up before this unfortunate injury.
Waddle is simply irreplaceable, as Saban compared him to an NBA legend, Allen Iverson, Monday afternoon.
With all due respect to Bolden, maybe his numbers were close to an average day for Waddle, but the spark number 17 could create is gone for the foreseeable future.
Thankfully for the Crimson Tide and its fans, Bolden looks like a guy who can fill his role effectively in the offense, at least from a consistency standpoint.
Sadly for the Crimson Tide and its fans, that's not the whole story.
Waddle is a leader of this team. Saban himself was visibly distraught much in the same way he appeared in Starkville one year ago. Teammates went out of their way to celebrate a victory and mourn this injury with Waddle, just as they had with Tua a year ago.
I agree, the similarities to Tua Tagovialoa are both frustrating and heart-breaking, but make no mistake, Waddle is his own man who has made his own unique mark on the program. Waddle's teammates respect him for more than just his play on the field.
"I think a lot of guys saw him in the ambulance after the game walking back to the bus," quarterback Mac Jones said of one of his favorite targets Monday afternoon. "I got to say a few words to him. It's hard to walk up to one of your closest friends and see him crying like that, just knowing that his season is kind of over and he doesn't know what his path looks like goin' forward."
If there is one slice of positivity for the Crimson Tide and its fans, it's that Waddle is just as mentally tough as he is physically gifted, as his quarterback detailed.
"Just knowing Jaylen for the last couple of years, he is one of the hardest workers I know and he is going to bounce back from something like this," Jones said. "That's kind of what I told him. I shot him a text again yesterday, but we are all with Jaylen. He knows that if he needs anything, he can come reach out to us and we will help him with anything that we can."
That's the beauty of Alabama football. This is a family. Even in the face of something tragic, this is but a footnote in the story of Jaylen Waddle, whether his career at Alabama continues or not. This family makes due to its motto. This is where "Legends are Made."
If it is the end of his legendary journey here in Tuscaloosa, well, we have some insane memories to look back on from the past two and a half years.
If Waddle is in the NFL next year, his story continues in different colors. His talent doesn't waver, and the NFL will have a decade's worth of highlight reels to prep.
If he returns, well, he shoots right back to the top of the Heisman odds, creating more Crimson Tide highlights for Alabama fans to enjoy, giving his team every opportunity to compete for another championship.
Either way, Jaylen Waddle, you are a Legend, and we are all rooting for you.