Tonight was the last night of the Alabama dynasty.
That doesn't mean that Alabama will never win a national championship, or even that it will be a long time before they do. The smart money is on Nick Saban winning at least one more before he leaves Tuscaloosa.
But the period when Alabama towered over the college football landscape, when it lost five games over the course of four years, when its name began to carry the same undertones in college football that names like the Yankees and Patriots have at times held in their respective sports -- that time period is over. Alabama is now is just another college football team. A very good team -- one of the best. Just not one that seems unbeatable.
We knew it would happen, of course. Dynasties in sports don't last forever. Despite all the success the Patriots have had in recent years in the NFL, they are not seen as the same team that they were from 2001 to 2004, when they won three Super Bowls. And Alabama will likely not be viewed quite the same way they were a few weeks ago, particularly not after the latest loss.
Because what we saw Thursday night was not simply a loss. Oklahoma did things that didn't happen to the Alabama of the dynasty years, or at least didn't happen very often. The 45 points Alabama surrendered were the most it has given up in the Nick Saban Era, per ESPN. The Tide turned the ball over five times. A.J. McCarron, who threw two interceptions, at times looked as lost as he ever has on a football field.
Oklahoma was 8-of-16 in third- and fourth-down conversions. The Sooners gained 429 yards; Alabama has allowed more than 429 yards in just three games going back to the beginning of the 2009 season -- twice against LSU and once against Texas A&M.
And Thursday night marked the first time in five years that Alabama has lost two games in a row. The last losing streak also ended in the Sugar Bowl, also against a supposedly overmatched team, when the Tide lost to Utah, also by two touchdowns. That was the last loss before Alabama's reign of terror over the SEC and college football began.
Alabama's not going away. Nick Saban is still one of the greatest minds in college football and the Top 3 recruiting classes are almost certainly going to continue to roll in. More trips to Atlanta are in the program's future, and the four-team playoff could actually increase the chances that Alabama will play for the national title again very soon.
Barring the truly improbable, though, Alabama isn't going back to where it stood just a few months ago any time soon. It's hard to win three national championship in four years once in a lifetime; doing it again, after the tumble Alabama took this year, seems nearly impossible. Nick Saban being Nick Saban, the Process will continue.
But the dynasty is gone.