The decade began with Alabama winning the football national championship, followed a month later by the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl.
A year later, Auburn stepped forward as the national champion, only to be succeeded 12 months later by Alabama.
Five of the six high school state champions in 2010 were all within easy driving distance of Mobile — Class 6A Daphne, 5A Spanish Fort, 4A Thomasville, 2A Leroy and 1A Sweet Water.
The decade of the 2010s certainly had its highlights for sports fans on the Gulf Coast, but nothing has come close to matching that first 13 months of football domination on all levels.
Alabama was certainly the team of the decade in college football, although Clemson ends the decade as the sports elite program. The Tigers will soon be competing for their third national championship in four years, while Alabama will have to settle for winning exactly half of the national championships awarded within the decade.
Alabama’s prolonged success shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Tide has now recorded the highest winning percentage of any college football program in the 1930s, 1960s, 1970s and 2010s. That’s four of the last nine decades, or twice as many as Oklahoma, the only other program to be on top for more than one decade.
When the decade began, who could have imagined that Auburn would reach the Final Four the same number of times in basketball as football (one each)?
Who could have foreseen that South Alabama football would beat an SEC team on the road (Mississippi State) and another ranked team at home (San Diego State), but finish the decade with a two-win season?
Of course, the big news for South Alabama is that the Jaguars have played their last game in Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
South Alabama is on schedule to open its beautiful on-campus stadium next fall despite the city throwing up roadblocks like it was Florida Street.
The decade also included some incredible individual performances from our very own. LeFlore’s DeMarcus Cousins (basketball center), Foley’s Julio Jones (football wide receiver) and Faith Academy’s Josh Donaldson (baseball third baseman) are all the best in the world at their position.
Bubba Thompson of McGill-Toolen and Jeremiah Jackson of St. Luke’s both became baseball first-round draft picks straight out of high school and are well on their way to becoming Major Leaguers.
A.J. McCarron from St. Paul’s finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, while Williamson grad Nick Fairley was the best defensive player in college football for one season at Auburn.
The decade comes to an end with the San Francisco 49ers in contention for the Super Bowl while starting two former Davidson High teammates (Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt) at safety.
Terry Curtis solidified his position as the greatest high school football coach in state history, capping off the decade with a record eighth state championship at UMS-Wright. The Bulldogs enter the new decade on a 33 game winning streak.
When the decade started, Mobile had one professional sports team. Now, the BayBears are off to Huntsville, leaving professional baseball on the Gulf Coast to newcomers Pensacola and Biloxi.
The loss of the BayBears leaves the future of Hank Aaron Stadium in doubt, but at least the Mobile Sports and Entertainment Group is making a good effort to keep it viable for events.
We still have Ladd-Peebles Stadium in its current state, which is the result of politicians worried more about the next election than what’s best for Mobile. If someone had told us at the beginning of the decade that a walking trail around the stadium would be suggested as the savior of the property, we would have thought that idea was just as crazy as we do now. But, hey, at least the city didn’t enter into an exciting and practical partnership with South Alabama that might have been perceived as benefiting some people more than others. Good thing we again avoided that pitfall of everybody working together.
So, what to make of the sports scene on the Gulf Coast during the 2010s?
It’s easy to see that the region has continued to build on its reputation for producing some of the best individual stars in multiple sports. There’s no reason to believe that trend won’t continue for decades to come.
South Alabama is positioned to take a major step forward with facilities and a commitment to success that is the match of any school not in the Power 5.
As far as professional sports in Mobile … well, we’ve got plenty of other things to be proud of as a new decade dawns.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 17 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. Follow him on Twitter: @kennedy_randy.
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