Tide Has Noise Practice For Dogs

It has been pointed out on more than one occasion that legendary Alabama Coach Paul Bryant had an effect on college football rules. He once said that he studied the NCAA college football rule book so that he would know how the rules could help him. "How can you play the game if you don't know the rules?" he asked, rhetorically.

Bryant knew that anyone on the line of scrimmage who didn't have anyone on the line outside him was an eligible pass receiver. He used that to his advantage, most notably with pass-catching tackle Jerry Duncan in the mid-1960s. John Vaught, the head coach at Ole Miss, didn't like the effect it had on his team when he played Alabama. Vaught was on the NCAA football rules committee, and he got the tackle eligible play outlawed.

In the early 1970s, Bryant didn't like the fact that his players were sometimes tackled by a defender grabbing the jersey. That led to the tearaway jersey. A few years into that, the NCAA outlawed the tearaway.

In the early 1970s, Bryant used Danny Ridgeway, a quarterback who had suffered a knee injury, to shuffle plays into the game. The "Alabama Playboy," as he was dubbed, would trot to the huddle, tell the quarterback the play, and then jog back to the sidelines. That led to a rule that a player who went to the huddle had to be in the game the next play.

(To the delight of the crowd, particularly the student section, Bryant did allow Ridgeway to run one play from quarterback, a safe handoff that wouldn't jeopardize his knee injury, in a 66-0 win over California in 1973. Ridgeway earned letters in 1993-75.)

Not so well known is Bryant getting Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Dodd to help him in his petition to the Southeastern Conference to allow a two-point conversion after touchdown tie-breaker in 1960. (Georgia Tech was an SEC member at the time.) Bryant didn't want the Tide-Yellow Jackets game to end in a tie, and asked that a team in the game be allowed to run or pass following a touchdown for a two-point conversion. The two-point rule passed by the NCAA in 1958 left it up to conferences, and the SEC had not implemented the rule. The SEC turned Bryant down. Fortunately, Digger O'Dell kicked a field goal on the final play of the game to give Bama a 16-15 victory.

The effect of Bryant on the rules of college football is legendary. Former Michigan State Coach Duffy Daugherty, a legend himself and great friend of Bryant, said, "Bear might or might not be the best football coach who ever lived, but he sure has caused the most commotion."

For all his "commotion," though, Bryant was never able to have one rule enacted: he wanted the SEC to get rid of the cowbells at Mississippi State.

That comes to mind this week as Alabama prepares to go to Mississippi State. In 1980 Alabama was coming off back-to-back national championships and was undefeated and ranked first in the nation.

Sound familiar?

In that 1980 game in Jackson, Mississippi State upset Bama, 6-3. The primary reason Alabama lost was the Tide did not play well. Bryant thought there were a couple of other reasons. The referee was the father-in-law of former Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan. And the referee did not enforce the SEC rule that a team had to be allowed a timeout if the crowd noise prevented reasonable ability to call signals. Bama's quest for victory ended in confusion at the goalline against the Bulldogs.

The SEC has since passed a rule regarding cowbells, though one would be hard-pressed to take it seriously. Mississippi State can only ring the bells in those times when the band is permitted to play, which is not when a team is at the line of scrimmage. You can imagine how well that has been enforced.

Former Alabama Coach Gene Stallings was wont to admonish the Alabama crowd to be respectful of the opposing team, for Tide fans to be quiet enough to allow the opposing team to be able to run their plays. One suspects that the clever Stallings was providing a subtle reminder to Alabama fans, and particularly the students, to be as loud as possible when the opposing offense was at the line of scrimmage.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban, an advocate of home crowd noise as a part of the home field advantage, said, "I think the preparation part of what we need to do to play well on the road in the SEC is one of the most important parts of what every player needs to do. It's always more difficult, silent count on offense. This is always a difficult place to play The last two times we were over there it was 7-0 at halftime in 2011, and 17-3 in 2009 going into the fourth quarter. So we've had some tough games."

Probably it is not as difficult to go silent – the quarterback calling audibles at the line with hand signals – in the 10th game of the year than, for instance, in the din of College Station, Texas, in the second game of the season.

Wide receiver Christion Jones said, "We practice noise. We have noise practices. Communication and AJ (quarterback AJ McCarron) applying communication to the perimeter, to the outside is very important this week. Mississippi State is a very hard place to play. Their crowd is very much into the game. Our communication this week is going to be very important."

Asked if he noticed the cowbells, Jones said, "You can't help but notice them."

Alabama, which is coming off back-to-back national championships and undefeated at 9-0 and ranked first in the nation (sound familiar), will be in Starkville Saturday to play Mississippi State. Kickoff is at 6:45 p.m. CST. ESPN will televise the game.

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