MORGANTOWN — Ssssssh! Don’t tell Alabama football coach Nick Saban this.
Not this week.
Not with West Virginia playing Alabama in the season opener and certainly not with the Mountaineers being quarterbacked by Clint Trickett, a rather valuable but vulnerable sort of player.
See, Trickett’s known Saban since he was just a little kid. You know, they are from the same area of West Virginia, and like Saban, Trickett’s dad Rick is a football coach who once coached under Saban.
But, see Trickett — the quarterback, not the coach — got a little too talkative the other night during West Virginia player interviews and let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, considering that cat might prove to be a big, angry tiger chasing after him in a pass rush on Saturday.
Turns out that Trickett, when asked how well he knew Saban, admitted that his first kiss was of Saban’s daughter, Kristen.
Later, after giving himself some time to think about it, Trickett was wondering if it might not have been better to have just kept his mouth shut.
“I don’t know if I should have said that. (I’m) not sure he knows that,” Trickett said.
But wait, before you go reading anything into this, there is another point Trickett believes you should know.
“For clarification, we were like 6 years old,’’ Trickett said. “Just so everyone knows that.’’
His dad worked for Saban at LSU in 2000. If you do the math, you figure out that Clint Trickett was an elementary school kid then and that’s when it happened.
So much for this Alabama-West Virginia thing being a heated rivalry.
Fact is, as this week goes on and the game draws nearer, Saban keeps getting more and more humanized from the football god he had become in a public image built upon four national championships.
This humanization process probably began this summer when he agreed to go to ESPN headquarters and appear on Colin Cowherd’s “Cage Confessional” as part of Cowherd’s “Colin’s New Football Show.”
Well, see, and I’m dying if I’m lying, because you can see it yourself if you Google it, Saban made himself as human as you can possibly be as he admitted to once being afraid of Santa Claus.
“When I was a kid, I was very afraid of Santa Claus,” Saban said, smiling and speaking to Cowherd, who was wearing a Santa hat and white beard. “We had to stay up until midnight on Christmas Eve and open our presents and Santa used to always come in and I always used to cry.”
Then, as part of this “confession” Saban also revealed exactly what it was that got him involved in sports, leading to a career as a quarterback that brought a state championship to Monongah High, then as a graduate assistant under Frank Cignetti at West Virginia to launch his coaching career.
So there he was, wearing not a Bear Bryant hound’s tooth hat, but instead a Mario Brothers Luigi cap, taking a selfie with Cowherd, then admitting he originally went out for Little League baseball to avoid taking accordion lessons his mother had signed him up to take.
Imagine if he had gone to that accordion lesson instead of baseball practice, you might have been able to find him at a country club near you this weekend playing, “The Beer Barrel Poker” at your cousin Rosa’s wedding reception.
Having gotten into sports, Saban became a huge Mountaineer fan, probably at about the same age Trickett was when he kissed Saban’s daughter.
“WVU football was the biggest thing going when I was a kid," Saban recalled in a recent press conference in Tuscaloosa. “Going to Mountaineer Field to watch West Virginia play was the highlight of my year. I still have great memories of home. I have great memories of the people and relationships I have at home, and I’ve always been a Mountaineer fan.”
In fact, he was such a Mountaineer fan that some of his warmest memories come from sitting in old Stansbury Hall, his toes dangling over the edge of the upper deck, peeking through the railing to see Jerry West pumping in jump shots and driving to the basket on the way to becoming one of the greatest players ever.
“I remember listening to my little brown transistor radio when (University of California’s) Darrall Imhoff hit a jump shot to end a game in (1959) to win, 71-70, in the national championship game. You don’t forget stuff like that,” Saban said.
Actually, it was a tip-in by Imhoff, who later would become West’s teammate with the Lakers, but who’s counting?
Like Saban, West still remembers the moment, admitting more than 50 years later that “it was a bitter time for me. I felt like we let the state down and all the people that supported us.”
Those experiences as a kid watching WVU play hooked Saban to the point that he would wind up elbowing his way in among the state’s sports legends with West, Sam Huff, Rod Hundley and so many others through his coaching.
But now, as Saturday draws near, Saban has crossed the state line.
“Now I’m Alabama’s coach, so I’m an Alabama fan. We don’t really have to be concerned with any of that,” he said.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel