Memories Of Beat Writer

I hope y'all are in the mood for a little nostalgia today, what with the school term drawing to a close and the major sports winding down. I thought today's column would be a fine forum for a trip through the Alabama's recent gridiron past. Specifically, a reflection on my nine years of covering Alabama football.

There have been no national championships and only one SEC championship since I jumped into this maelstrom in the summer of 1998, but there have been plenty of memories nonetheless.

So I present a Best and Biggest and Baddest and Most and Worst of Alabama football, 1998 to present.

Best comeback: My first year on the beat, the Crimson Tide posted a rather nondescript 7-5 record, but describing Alabama's 22-16 win at LSU that year bent belief.

The Tigers, in trying to snap their 39-year hex against Alabama at ``Death Valley'' were seemingly in complete control of this one. Alabama's only score until late in the fourth quarter was a flukish, tipped 53-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Zow to Quincy Jackson early in the third quarter.

LSU led 16-7 late in the game and Herb Tyler drilled what should have been a touchdown pass to Abraam Booty to put it away. Except former walk-on Marcus Spencer had his hand in the middle of the play and somehow wrenched the ball out for an interception in the end zone. The Tide moved 62 yards in 52 seconds, scoring on Zow's 21-yard wheel route to Shaun Alexander with 2:24 to play.

Daniel Pope executed a perfect bouncer for an onsides kick and Jason McAddley recovered for Alabama at the LSU 40. Four plays later, Jackson grabbed another tipped pass from Zow to complete the miracle comeback with 38 seconds left.

Best I recall, the victimized LSU cornerback on both those tip plays was a guy named Robert Davis.

Biggest win: Alabama 40, Florida 39, OT, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, 1999. I think I still have the stat package from that game lying around somewhere.

Alabama went for a two-point conversion relatively early, missed, and chased those points the rest of the game. Florida wins in regulation if not for a fumbled punt recovered by Marvin Brown late in the game.

Of course the overtime extra point hijinks get played up, notably because both teams missed their first chance, but the Tide's Chris Kemp got a reprieve with Florida jumping offsides. This win keyed Alabama's only SEC title in my tenure and gave embattled Mike DuBose a raise and a short-lived extension.

Most satisfying win: In my book, it's Alabama 34, Tennessee 14 at Neyland Stadium in 2002.

The win that broke Tennessee's seven-year winning streak -- the longest ever by any Bama opponent -- was a dominating performance by a ravenous team.

A couple of plays that stand out to me: Gerald Dixon's 66-yard runback of a bungled lateral that UT back Derrick Tinsley thought was a pass; Santonio Beard's long run with a pitch on which Vol fans will tell you started with Tyler Watts' knee on the ground and continued after Beard's knee hit the ground. All things considered, Tennessee doesn't have much room to complain regarding this rivalry's turns and twists over the last decade.

And, of course, Charlie Peprah did score after that robbery of Jonathan Wade. Peprah was rooked on his backward plunge into the end zone that was ruled down at the 1.

Little remembered fact: Alabama attempted just 12 passes in the game and had 128 passing yards.

Worst loss: For sheer heartbreak, I don't think I've seen a more deflating situation than the Tide's five-overtime loss to Tennessee the year after the above game.

Alabama had possession late with a 20-13 lead and could have run out the clock with one first down. A UT penalty on first down set up a first-and-2, I believe. Three snaps later, the Tide was punting after it failed to punch out a first down. Even after Tennessee scored to tie, Tyrone Prothro's electrick kickoff return and a facemask penalty gave the Tide a chance for a winning field goal in the closing seconds. But like so many other things that year, the kick failed.

The overtime -- well, Tide fans probably don't want a rehashing

Worst decision: Throwing for the end zone on fourth down from the Florida 27 with about nine minutes left and the Tide leading 31-3 in the 2005 game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

I can't help but think that call was all about rubbing it in Florida's face with the game completely and utterly in hand. In the postgame, offensive coordinator David Rader, in trying to justify that call, talked about what a dangerous offense Florida had with potent comeback potential. Apparently Rader was watching a different game than the one the media and 83,000 fans were watching, because those Gators on that day were done.

You have to remember, this call came just moments after frustrated Florida had drawn a personal foul infraction when somebody went after Brodie Croyle's head. Yet Croyle was still in the game, and so was Tyrone Prothro.

Fourth and five from the 27? You can run up the middle, pooch punt, try a field goal, dump off a pass somewhere.

Throwing for the end zone was stupid. And, yes, I made that judgement before Mike Shula and Co. made that call.

Editor's Note: Thomas Murphy is Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register and a contributor to 'BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com.


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