It's the most powerful two-word question there has ever been. We ask it about our own lives and world history. As in "What if Archduke Franz Ferdinand's car hadn't stopped in front of that Sarajevo café in 1914?" or "What if I had married my high school sweetheart instead of this weirdo sitting across from me at dinner right now?" Disney+ has a Marvel series "What If...?" There's even a romcom starring Harry Potter titled "What If?"
In the college football world of the 21st century there has always been one "What if?" that overshadows all others. It has lingered since the game clock hit zeroes on Jan. 7, 2010, the 12th edition of the BCS National Championship Game. It has now reemerged this week as Saturday marks the first meeting of those two teams since that night, the CFB juggernauts known as the Alabama Crimson Tide and Texas Longhorns.
"I think that it's easy to say, 'What if?' and we say it a lot when we shouldn't," explained Lisa Salters, the sideline reporter that night in Pasadena. "But in this case, the what if question is a valid one for that game. What if Colt McCoy doesn't get hurt?"
"The question, 'What if Colt didn't get hurt?' is why I live in Birmingham," confesses Greg McElroy, the Alabama quarterback that night, now an ESPN analyst. He laughs: "I lived in Dallas for a couple years but got that question a lot. I felt like it was probably time to relocate."
"I'm in France, they bring it up. I'm in Italy, they bring it up," says Marcell Dareus, former Tide defensive tackle. "People remember me for it so much. It changed my life. Thank you, Colt."
As for Colt McCoy himself?
"There's very little places I go where people don't talk about it," says the Arizona Cardinals backup quarterback. "This game sort of started the trajectory of Coach Saban and Alabama and all the success that they've had. And I think it's just Texas has taken a gut punch from that game."
OK, lets back up here. A rewind to that Monday night in the Rose Bowl. A scene set. Be forewarned, all you youngsters out there who only know what college football is now. What the sport was a dozen years ago feels like a through-the-looking-glass version of 2022.