Freshman Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith scored one of the most interesting touchdowns of the bowl season with 8:41 to play in the Independence Bowl game against Oklahoma State in Shreveport. It certainly brought back memories for former Crimson Tide star Jerry Duncan, who was watching on television from his home.
Alabama was down 31-17 in the fourth quarter, but had pulled to within a touchdown when Javier Arenas returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, Eric Gray and Chris Rogers recovered for Bama at the Cowboys' 21-yard line. On second and goal from the two, Alabama put all the wide receivers on the right side. Left tackle Andre Smith "missed" a block and then dropped back to about the five-yard line. Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson faked a pass to the right side, then turned and fired a lateral pass to Smith, who was completely unguarded, caught the ball (if he'd dropped it he could have picked it up and still run with it since it was a lateral), and took it into the end zone untouched.
"My phone lit up like a Christmas tree," said Duncan.
It was Duncan who made the tackle eligible famous. And also brought about NCAA legislation doing away with the play.
"We had three or four tackle eligible plays," Duncan said. In those days if there was no one lined up outside the tackle on the line, he was an eligible receiver. The rules were changed so that eligible receivers have to be in certain numbers, 1-49 or 80-99. And five interior offensive linemen have to be in numbers 50-79 (except in certain kicking situations).
Duncan met Smith when the Birmingham Monday Morning Quarterback Club had a banquet to honor Smith as the Jefferson County Lineman of the Year following his senior prep season at Huffman High School. "We sat together and the captain, (former Auburn star) Mike Kolen, had us stand up," Duncan said. "Kolen said, ‘There's a 1960s tackle and next to him is a modern tackle.'
"I don't guess I weigh as much as one of Andre's legs," said Duncan, who played at about 180 on national championship teams in 1964 and 1965 and on the undefeated 1966 team. "When he was headed for the end zone I thought anyone who tried to tackle him would be crazy."
Duncan, who will be inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in June, has taken note of Nick Saban, Alabama's new head football coach.
"He seems like a no-nonsense guy," Duncan said. "That makes me wonder if he's do away with the ‘Jerry Duncan I Like To Practice Award.'"
In the early 1970s, former Tide Coach Paul Bryant began the practice of having his coaching staff select players who had been spring practice standouts and he named awards for former players. One of the first awards was for the player who was most enthusiastic about practice, and it was named for Duncan.