1974 Game was One to Remember

Think Alabama got away with one two weeks ago against Arkansas? That's nothing compared to the great escape the Crimson Tide pulled off the last time it played Florida State.

The last time Alabama and Florida State met in football, they were about as different as two college programs could be. Alabama was undefeated, ranked No.3 in the country, defending national champions, and three-time defending Southeastern Conference champions.

Entering its meeting with the Seminoles at Denny Stadium on Oct. 12, 1974, the Crimson Tide had beaten its first four opponents of the season by an average of 34-12.

Florida State, meanwhile, was mired in a 16-game losing streak, hadn't won since Nov. 1972, and hadn't beaten a ranked team since 1968. The FSU administration was reportedly giving serious thought to shutting down the program.

But the Seminoles nearly pulled off a miracle that fall day 33 years ago.

With the Crimson Tide's top two quarterbacks --- Gary Rutledge and Richard Todd --- sitting out due to injury, Florida State took a 7-0 lead into the third quarter. Alabama's Bucky Berrey --- more on him later --- kicked a 44-yard field goal to cut the Seminoles' lead to 7-3 entering the fourth quarter.

That set up a wild fourth quarter. Alabama first pulled to within two when FSU coach Darrell Mudra --- who coached from the press box, by the way --- took an elective safety on a punt with 1:27 left in the game.

Alabama took over at the FSU 48 after the free kick, and moved into scoring position when third-string quarterback Jack O'Rear connected with freshman Ozzie Newsome for a 32-yard gain to the 16.

It looked for a while, though, that Danny Ridgeway and not Berrey would get the chance to be the hero. Ridgeway and Berrey both kicked for Alabama in 1974, with Ridgeway handling all extra points and short field goals.

When Alabama lost yards on its first two plays after the first-down pass to Newsome, Berrey, the Tide's long-range kicker, got the call.

The sophomore from Montgomery drilled the field goal through the uprights to give the Crimson Tide the lead and the eventual win, but he was far from calm in doing so. In fact, Berrey, holder Robert Fraley and snapper Rand Lambert were all feeling the pressure.

Berrey, now a retired real-estate developer who lives near Rockford, recalled a humorous conversation with coach Paul "Bear" Bryant just before the field-goal attempt.

"We were getting ready to get lined up for the field goal and (Bryant) called me over and draped his arm across my shoulder and said, 'Son, it's just like practice,'" Berrey said this week. "Then we lined up and (Florida State) called a timeout."

"I heard him yelling, ‘Bucky, come here.' I go over and he drapes his arm across my shoulder and says again, ‘Son, it's just like practice.'

"I'm thinking the whole time, this ain't nothing like practice. If I miss this, I'll have to leave the state of Alabama."

Speaking to the Tuscaloosa News after the game, both Lambert and Fraley said they had similar feelings.

"I was afraid I would blow the whole thing," Lambert said.

Said Fraley, who would go on to even greater acclaim for his performance against Tennessee the following week, "I was scared … if I don't catch that thing, I can never go in this dressing room again."

The Crimson Tide managed to win the game despite not scoring a touchdown and gaining just 229 yards on offense, a paltry total in the wishbone days. Bryant said after the game that his team badly underestimated the Seminoles, who helped the Alabama cause by missing three field-goal attempts of their own.

"I sure don't have many statistics to worry over tonight," Bryant told the Tuscaloosa News. "We didn't take them seriously because they hadn't won in so long."

Berrey agreed. "Florida State, now, it means power and good football," he said. "Back then, it was like Louisiana Tech. Obviously, we took them real lightly."

The win sparked the Crimson Tide to a second straight undefeated regular season and fourth straight SEC title, a record that would be tarnished only by a 13-11 loss to Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl.

Alabama won the SEC again the following year and in four of the next five seasons to cap off perhaps the most dominant decade by one program in college football history.

FSU would lose three more games before finally snapping its 20-game losing streak with a 21-14 win at Miami on Nov. 8, 1974. The Seminoles went 3-8 in 1975, which would mark the end of Mudra's tenure.

Florida State would eventually right its ship, of course. In 1976, Birmingham native and lifelong Alabama fan Bobby Bowden took over the Seminoles and has won 295 games, 11 conference titles and two national championships since.

Creg Stephenson has covered Crimson Tide athletics for numerous print and online publications since 1994, and currently writes for The Anniston Star. Email him at creg_stephenson@hotmail.com

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