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As the only voter in The Associated Press Top 25 poll who picked the Crimson Tide No. 1 every week, I took my share of flack from around the country, but that's part of the game.

I stuck with the kids from Alabama because they gave me no choice. How do you bail out on a team that refused to lose?Genius? Nah, I'm the same guy who picked the New England Patriots to beat the Chicago Bears a few years ago in the Super Bowl.

The last winner I picked was a horse named Chateaugay in the Kentucky Derby, years before any of the Alabama players were born. But I knew this Alabama team was special because I did something others apparently failed to do: homework.

Believe it or not, I cast my first ballot for the Crimson Tide last February.

In a preseason poll conducted by the Football Writer's Association of America at the NCAA College Football Forum in Kansas City, I picked the Tide to be No. 1 in the nation.

I took the time to talk to Alabama coach Gene Stallings; to a good friend, Bill Lumpkin, a sports editor from Birmingham, Ala.; and to Larry White, of the Alabama sports information office.

I looked at the talent on this Alabama team and became convinced that the Tide would field one of the greatest defensive units in college football.

Games are won on defense, and that is more than a cliche in football.

Over the summer, The Associated Press gave me the opportunity to cast the Arizona ballot in its weekly poll, and I was pleased to take part.

But at one point during the season I wondered if I might not lose my voting privilege. I worried that I might be embarrassing the AP.

Irate telephone calls and nasty letters to my newspaper, mostly from Miami fans, came pouring in after Mark Edwards of the Decatur Daily in Alabama revealed my identity.

One man in Miami threatened to fax me his rear end. A woman in Florida wrote that I was "morally irresponsible and inherently evil" for voting for Alabama.

The Los Angeles Times raised the question as to what kind of moonshine I had been drinking.

I had the chance to talk to Pete Rose, too, on his talk show in Florida. He gave me a good ribbing, said that Miami was by far the better team, and surprised me with a keen understanding of college football.

Every vote I cast in the AP poll, from the preseason through the final ballot after the bowl games, was based on my honest opinion. It was not to attract attention.

The chance of this ever happening again, or having happened in the first place, must be a zillion to one. I was right all along, it turns out, but not, I'm sorry to say, because I am brilliant - only because I did my homework.

It was an interesting adventure. Most of it was in fun and I never once doubted my vote. Even when Washington and Miami were riding high, and Alabama was just slipping by, something told me fate was with the Crimson Tide.

After all, this is Alabama's centennial year of football.

So maybe the ghost of Bear Bryant was somewhere on the sidelines next to his former player, coach Gene Stallings.