It's 1994 All Over Again.....
I'm not old enough to have seen what many consider the best quarterback shootout in Alabama football history. In fact, I wasn't even born.
I'm speaking, of course, of the classic 33-32 Crimson Tide victory over Ole Miss in 1969 at Legion Field. Alabama's Scott Hunter threw for a then school-record 300 yards and two touchdowns, out-gunning --- if not out-shining --- Ole Miss' Archie Manning, who passed for an SEC record 436 yards and two touchdowns and added another 104 rushing yards and two more scores.
I am old enough to remember the greatest quarterback shootout involving Alabama football in my lifetime, the Crimson Tide's 29-28 victory over Georgia at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 1994. I was 21 years old at the time, in my first year working for The Crimson White, and covering just my fourth college football game ever.
Georgia, led by All-SEC quarterback Eric Zeier, led almost the entire game, including 21-10 at halftime and 28-19 entering the fourth quarter. Zeier threw for 263 yards and four touchdowns in the game, but it wasn't enough for the Bulldogs to win.
Alabama, with Jay Barker at the controls, scored the last 10 and 19 of the last 26 points in the game to win on Michael Proctor's 32-yard field goal with 1:12 remaining. Barker passed for a phenomenal 396 yards in the game, far eclipsing his previous career high.
That game remains one of the most exciting I've ever seen in person, and until last week's 41-38 Alabama win over Arkansas, perhaps the most thrilling I'd ever seen in Tuscaloosa.
Might history repeat itself on Saturday night? The two teams meet for a night game at Bryant-Denny again, with ESPN again doing the broadcast.
Like it was in 1994, Alabama is unbeaten and ranked in the Top 25 (ninth then, 16th now). Georgia was once-beaten and trying to stay in the SEC East race then, just as it is now.
Rather than breaking down the top individual match-ups for the upcoming game, I'll instead compare the major players from that game 13 years ago to their counterparts today. Doing so won't necessarily teach us anything about this week's game; I just thought it would be interesting.
That disclaimer aside, here are five prominent figures from the 1994 Alabama-Georgia game and how their stack up against the current players in those positions:
Alabama's quarterback: Jay Barker (then), John Parker Wilson (now)
Barker had some high moments in his Alabama career before the 1994 Georgia game: He had guided the Crimson Tide to the 1992 national championship, and directed a memorable touchdown drive to tie Tennessee in 1993. But before his performance against the Bulldogs, Barker was considered more a game manager --- a care-taker quarterback, if you will --- than someone who would make the difference between his team's winning or losing.
That all changed on Oct. 1, 1994, when Barker's arm was the biggest reason Alabama came back to beat the Bulldogs. Included in his 396-yard showing was a 49-yard touchdown pass to Toderick Malone early in the fourth quarter, a play you can still see in the Crimson Tradition video that is shown on the JumboTron before every game at Bryant-Denny.
Barker also led the Tide on an 8-play, 38-yard drive in 58 seconds for the game-winning field goal, in which he ran 13 yards for a first down and connected with tight end Tony Johnson on a 22-yard gain for another. The performance propelled Barker to All-SEC honors and an unlikely fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy balloting by the end of the season.
Wilson has been a far better quarterback than Barker statistically to this point in his career, though his 9-7 record as a starter pales alongside Barker's 27-1-1 mark before the Georgia game (he would end his career a phenomenal 35-2-1 as a starter). But no one would argue that Wilson is not a better and more-polished passer than Barker ever was.
Wilson also has a memorable fourth-quarter comeback to his credit, one that came just a week ago. He went 7-for-9 for 55 yards passing on Alabama's game-winning touchdown drive against Arkansas, all with no timeouts.
Georgia's quarterback: Eric Zeier (then), Matthew Stafford (now)
Zeier set 18 SEC records in his time at Georgia, finishing his career as the league's all-time leader in passing yards (11,153). He actually broke the mark during the third quarter of the 1994 Alabama game (he's since been passed by Peyton Manning, Chris Leak and fellow Bulldog David Greene).
Zeier dominated the first half against Alabama in 1994, throwing for 171 yards and three touchdowns as Georgia took a 21-10 lead into the halftime locker-room. His fourth touchdown gave the Bulldogs a seemingly insurmountable nine-point lead late in the third quarter.
Stafford has started only 11 games in his Georgia career, and has really only been excellent in three or four of them. The sophomore did complete 18 of 24 passes for 234 yards and two scores in the Bulldogs' 35-14 season-opening win over Oklahoma State, probably his best performance to date.
Both men were among the top quarterback recruits in the country coming out of high school, Zeier from Marietta, Ga., and Stafford from Dallas, Texas. Each enrolled a semester early to get a jump on learning their team's offense, and each became the starter early in their freshman seasons (Zeier's first career start, interestingly enough, came at Alabama in 1991).
Alabama's top receiver: Toderick Malone (then), DJ Hall (now)
Like Barker, Malone had not had many big games in his college career before facing Georgia in 1994. That all changed against the Bulldogs, as the Attalla native caught eight passes for 173 yards and two scores.
I referenced Malone's 49-yard score in the fourth quarter above, a play on which he juked Georgia's defensive back at the line and was left all alone inside the 10 when Barker's pass found him. Considering how rarely Alabama threw downfield in the Gene Stallings days, the play was practically unprecedented.
Malone also caught a 35-yard scoring pass from Barker early in the third quarter to begin the Tide's comeback march, and would be a big-play man for the Tide offense the rest of the year. But he was never better than he was that night against Georgia, and his receiving yardage total remains the third best in school history.
Hall has been a pretty steady contributor for the Tide throughout his career, and already holds the school record for receiving yards. The senior is only 12 away from the all-time marks in catches (152) and five away from the school record for receiving touchdowns (18).
Hall is coming off perhaps the best game of his career, with six catches, 172 yards and two touchdowns against Arkansas despite playing the second half with a strained quad. Malone never made it in the NFL, but Hall almost certainly will.
Georgia's all-purpose back: Hines Ward (then), Mikey Henderson (now)
This is not an exact comparison, but it's best one I could find. While Ward played running back, quarterback and wide receiver during his time at Georgia, Henderson was strictly a defensive back and punt returner before moving to wide receiver this season.
Ward, now an All-Pro receiver with the Pittsburgh Steelers, had a memorable night against Alabama in 1994. Playing exclusively at running back (he wouldn't play quarterback until Zeier graduated), he rushed for 137 yards, and also caught five passes for 24 yards.
Ward didn't get into the end zone, but did set up at least one Bulldog touchdown. His 19-yard run late in the first half moved the ball to the Tide 6, leading to a Zeier TD pass that put Georgia up 21-7.
Henderson was a little-used walk-on defensive back before 2006, when Georgia's coaches made him the starting punt-returner. He averaged 14.7 yards on 25 returns, including touchdowns of 86 yards against Tennessee and 67 yards against Western Kentucky to earn first-team All-SEC honors.
Henderson moved to wide receiver this spring, and has earned a starting job. He is currently Georgia's second-leading receiver, with eight catches for 77 yards in three games.
Alabama's kicker: Michael Proctor (then), Leigh Tiffin (now)
Proctor was a major contributor to a national-championship team as a freshman in 1992, and an All-America performer as a sophomore in 1993, but cemented his legacy with the 1994 Georgia game. Proctor's 32-yard, no-doubt field goal provided the winning edge for the Crimson Tide with just 72 seconds remaining.
But what gets overlooked was one of Proctor's other two field goals on that night, a 33-yarder with one second remaining in the first half. The kick hit the left upright and bounced through to cut Georgia's halftime lead to 21-10, perhaps a sign that the night would ultimately belong to Alabama.
Proctor was a steady kicker for much of his Alabama career, though he did slump late in his senior season of 1995. He finished his Crimson Tide days as the team's second all-time leader in scoring (326 points) and field goals (65), and missed only one extra point in 132 career attempts.
Tiffin hasn't been nearly as consistent as Proctor was, despite having arguably one of the stronger legs of any kicker in Crimson Tide history. Tiffin missed five field goals in four games last year and has already missed five in three games this season, an uninspiring career mark of 14-for-24 on 3-pointers.
Tiffin is of course best known for his nightmarish game at Arkansas last year, though that could change with a game-winner against Georgia (or someone else) this year. Crimson Tide fans, no doubt, hope it's not that close.
Creg Stephenson has covered Crimson Tide athletics for several print and online publications since 1994, and currently writes for The Anniston Star. Email him at email@example.com
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