With remembrances pouring in from all corners of the sports world, college football is not immune to reflecting on the passing of The Greatest, Muhammad Ali.
A native of Louisville, Ky., Ali was feted across vast spectrums of the Cardinals athletic programs, the football program in particular. Another man from the sport who would know a champion when he sees it has offered his thoughts on the icon as well.
Nick Saban appeared on ESPN Radio Saturday morning and, giving his penchant for using quotes from famous athletes for motivating his football players, the Alabama head coach was asked about the impact Ali had on him personally as a kid growing up in West Virginia — and how it still impacts him to this day. The coach also talked extensively about Ali’s activism, compassion and charisma.
Below are excerpts of the interview as transcribed by al.com. For the entire of the audio of the interview, click HERE:
When I was a kid, I remember working in my dad’s service station in West Virginia. When he’d have a fight … we’d all listen to the car radio. All the doors were open and people were standing around. We didn’t have anywhere it was televised then.”
“It’s not in the human condition to be a champion, to be as good as you can be. You have to have special characteristics, special traits, which Muhammad Ali certainly did. … Champions don’t belong on the ground. When he got knocked down in one of the (Joe) Frazier fights, he got up and finished the fight because (with) his pride, he didn’t belong there. That’s not who he is. That’s not how he wants to be thought of. He got up and finished the fight. There’s also a quote ‘I never win the fight inside the lights. I always win it somewhere far, far away.’ Doing road work, working hard to prepare for the fight. … A lot of analogies of philosophical things or things that people said about him, I think really reflect what being a champion is all about.”
“Without being specific to the issues, he believed and had a lot of compassion for other people in his beliefs. Because of his religious beliefs, he didn’t believe in war or fighting. So he refused to do that. I think that it was the beginning of people who think a little different, think outside the box, represented their rights in a really positive way, he was one of the first that ever stood up for that. To give up three years of his prime because of it certainly shows his conviction to it. He had to have great strength as a leader to do those kinds of things, and there are very few people who are willing to do that. … Great boxer — but all the other things is what made him unique as a person, as a leader. I don’t know of any other athlete that’s had a greater impact on society than he has.
“I think it was his charisma, and how he said what he believed, which is what I think sometimes people relate to. Even if they disagree, they can relate to the leadership. I was an Ali fan in every fight he ever fought. I thought he was the greatest champion ever, probably the greatest boxer ever. Whether it was his style, and the combination of his style and his persona or personality, it’s just unmatched almost by anyone. That’s why so many people could relate to him, and so many people loved him.