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Alabama quarterback touching all the bases

The Alabama quarterback’s agile brain can sop up tradition the way the biscuits do the red-eye gravy down at the Waysider, the Tuscaloosa eatery where Bear Bryant regularly mumbled through breakfast.

Greg McElroy knows the names, dates, facts, figures and all-time starting lineups for his favorite franchise.

Cut a vein and watch him bleed Crimson?

Actually, Think Blue.

“I can tell you the Dodgers’ lineup right now, top to bottom,” McElroy boasted in a meeting room not far from the Alabama trophy room where Mark Ingram’s Heisman Trophy just moved in.

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OK, then, do it.

“James Loney at first,” McElroy said, “Second base we’ve got [still unsigned] Orlando Hudson, shortstop we’ve got, obviously, the great Rafael Furcal, third base we’ve got Casey Blake. Left field we’ve got Manny, who else, and Juan Pierre when Manny was on his ‘vacation’; I can’t believe they traded him [Pierre], he was great.

“Center field we have Kemp and then right field, Andre Ethier, he’s my favorite.”

Alabama and Texas are playing Thursday for the Bowl Championship Series national title at the Rose Bowl.

If former Dodger Raul Mondesi, the Alabama quarterback’s idol, was flipping the pregame coin, well, McElroy might have to collect himself before the first snap.

It’s almost too funny.

The guy leading the Crimson Tide into Pasadena was born in Los Angeles, raised in Texas, and made his name in the state where the stars fell.

And now he’s leading 13-0 Alabama against 13-0 Texas, not far from where he lived his first decade.

And yet, despite spending numerous days and nights at Dodger Stadium, and at the Coliseum to see USC games, McElroy has never stepped foot in the Rose Bowl.

“I don’t think you could have written a better script,” said McElroy’s dad, Greg McElroy Sr.

If you had never heard of Greg McElroy until a few weeks ago, well, join the club, as he has spent most of his life waiting in line at Disneyland.

When McElroy’s family moved to Texas when he was 10, little Greg ended up enrolled at Southlake Carroll High and sat three years behind Chase Daniel, the future Missouri star.

“It never bothered me much waiting my turn,” McElroy said, a stunning statement in the world of play-me-now-or-I’ll-transfer-or-sue. “If the coaches thought I was the best player, I would be playing. . . . My parents instilled in me that anything worth doing was worth waiting for.”

And that can only be followed with: “Wow.”

The McElroys didn’t move to Texas to finagle their son’s football fate. Greg’s dad, in marketing and sales, in 1998 accepted a job to oversee the building of the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

“I think a lot of families would say they moved because of the football program,” Greg Jr. said. “That wasn’t the case at all in my family.”

The move from West Hills was actually traumatic for Mom, Dad, Greg and his sister

“It was difficult for six months,” Greg Jr. said. “I still kept in touch with my friends in L.A. I finally made friends in Texas.”

McElroy got one high school shot to shine -- and it involved a little serendipity.

Southlake Carroll, a Texas powerhouse, was running the pass-averse wing-T formation when the McElroys hit town. Luckily, though, the school hired pass-happy coach Todd Dodge, now at North Texas.

That allowed McElroy, in his senior year, to lead Southlake to a 16-0 record and the state title, throwing for 56 touchdowns and 4,687 yards.

In 2004, though, Greg’s dad had taken a sales and marketing job back in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. Greg Sr. never missed one of his son’s high school games, commuting back to Texas for the weekend.

He said you could thank ownership for that.

“The McCourts were wonderful about it,” Greg Sr. said.

McElroy didn’t get much of a look from the University of Texas, which had locked up its future in Colt McCoy, so he ended up in Alabama.

His dad then moved back to Texas, taking a job as senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Dallas Cowboys.

In Tuscaloosa, his son again played the waiting game. Greg sat behind John Parker Wilson until getting his chance in this, his fourth-year junior season. McElroy has directed the Crimson Tide to a 13-0 record, bringing his high school/college ledger to 29-0 as a starter.

The season hasn’t been easy. After a fast start, throwing nine touchdowns and only one interception in Alabama’s first six wins, McElroy hit the wall. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass in his next three games, against Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee.

“He experienced some difficulty,” his dad said. “It is so overwhelming, there’s so much passion there, there’s lots of pressure for a 21-year old kid.”

McElroy is a smart kid, a Rhodes Scholarship candidate, and he kept hitting the football books. He has already graduated, and the lowest grade he has pulled in college was a “B” in, of all subjects, management and leadership.

McElroy might request a grade change after the Auburn game, a breakout performance in which he led and managed Alabama to a dramatic come-from-behind victory. McElroy came of age in the final minutes, directing a 15-play, 79-yard drive that consumed 7 minutes 3 seconds and was capped by his game-winning touchdown pass, to Roy Upchurch, with 1:24 left.

“We always saw the light in him,” senior tight end Colin Peek said, “because we’re with him every day in practice. I think for the public, and the world, they finally saw Greg McElroy as the standout quarterback, on that last drive, when he was almost able to will his team down for a touchdown.

“I think that’s when everyone sort of had that light flipped in their head saying this kid’s a great quarterback and he can do some deadly things for the team if he plays this way.”

McElroy followed with a deadly performance in the Southeastern Conference title win over Florida, completing 12 of 18 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown.

His life since hasn’t been the same. McElroy is now the man about Tuscaloosa town, getting stopped in restaurants.

How do you miss a guy who stands out like Conan O’Brien?

“I’m pretty recognizable,” McElroy joked, “as far as the red hair, the swooped hair. And, you know, the freckles. You just don’t see a lot of kids with freckles at 21.”

McElroy, born in California, says he will always consider himself a Texan, although winning the BCS will surely make him Alabama’s favorite son.

If Alabama beats Texas, McElroy will be as happy as when Eric Karros signed his glove.

If the Crimson Tide loses, well, that would be worse than the Dodgers trading Mike Piazza.

Either way, spring training is not far off.

In McElroy’s perfect world, the lineup will be: Alabama front and center, with Manny Ramirez in left.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com


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