Michelle Green didn’t have tickets for the Southeastern Conference championship game last month in Atlanta, but her living room in Liberty City was almost as tense as the Georgia Dome was when Alabama was trailing Georgia late in the fourth quarter.
“For me, it was a nerve-racking game,” said Green, the mother of Crimson Tide leading receiver Amari Cooper. “I was praying and going to the bathroom every other minute. My daughter, Aspen, said, ‘Mom, settle down. I bet you Amari makes a touchdown before this game is over with.’ ”
Moments later, Green’s “baby boy” came through, hauling in the game-winning, 45-yard touchdown pass from quarterback AJ McCarron, arguably the biggest offensive play in the Crimson Tide’s season to date. While half the Georgia Dome erupted into “the loudest cheers I’ve ever heard in my life,” Cooper said Saturday, his mom and sisters shed happy tears.
“We were jumping for joy,” said Green, a mother of five who also cares for her two teenage nephews. “What a moment.”
Six members of Cooper’s family — Green, her brother, her daughters Aspen and Ashley and two nephews — plan to enjoy what could be the freshman’s next big moment in person Monday night when the second-ranked Crimson Tide (12-1) take on No. 1-ranked Notre Dame (12-0) at Sun Life Stadium in the BCS National Championship Game.
Cooper, who grew up in Coconut Grove running track before becoming an Under Armour All-American receiver at Miami Northwestern High in 2011, still looks like a baby-faced freshman (he turns 19 on June 17), but his ability to stretch the field and make leaping catches could prove vital to Alabama’s title hopes.
With an Irish front seven led by the defensive player of the year in Manti Te’o — a group that led the nation in scoring defense, ranked fourth in run defense and was downright nasty in the red zone — Cooper (6-1, 198) could be called upon to be the difference maker in the passing game.
“To me, Alabama is not here without Amari Cooper,” ESPN analyst David Pollack said.
“They’re not in this championship game without that guy. He is the next Julio Jones. He’s that good. He’s explosive. He knows how to jump up and get the football. He runs good, instinctive routes. He’s that guy that really makes it difficult to crowd up and start cheating up in the run game. If I’m Notre Dame, no other guy on that team scares me going deep. When Notre Dame blitzes, they better have help over the top because Amari Cooper is going to run by everybody.”
Sprinting past the competition, his mother said, has never been a problem for Cooper. Born the last of five children, his mom enrolled him in track at a young age. At first, Green said, Cooper didn’t even want to play football, “but he quickly fell in love” and became a terror on the Pop Warner circuit in Coconut Grove.
After the family moved to Liberty City so Green could take in her nephews, Cooper began to star at Northwestern, developing into a favorite target of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Big East’s Offensive Player of the Year and the MVP for Louisville in Wednesday night’s Sugar Bowl win over the Gators.