Dixon's scoop-and-run TD deflated Vols

Alabama's senior class had borne the brunt of the streak, taking UT's recent dominance personally. So it was fitting that senior cornerback Gerald Dixon would set the early tone Saturday, scooping up an errant lateral-pass and returning it 66 yards for a touchdown.

The play quieted the 107,000+ partisan crowd, but Dixon wasn't paying attention. "Running towards the endzone, I can't even remember what I was thinking," he said. "Just get to the endzone and give the referee the ball."

The call was a swing pass from Tennessee's Casey Clausen that just tipped off the running back's fingertips to fall at Dixon's feet. Had it been a foot farther forward, the play would have become a harmless incomplete pass. But the official didn't hesitate in ruling it a live ball. "I thought it was a lateral," Dixon said. "If the official called it, I would have stopped. But he didn't, so I just grabbed it and ran it on in.

"No, no, there was no doubt. If the ball is on the ground, get it. If they say it's not a touchdown, then I walk it back."

Playing bigger than his 5-10 frame, Dixon is Bama's ninth-leading tackler and its most consistent cover man. (Associated Press)

Writers in the press box were complimenting Dixon on his presence of mind in picking up the football. But afterwards he explained that the Bama defense practices the play every day. "The ball was on the ground. In practice, if the ball is on the ground we go ahead and scoop it and run it in.

"I guess practice makes perfect."

Perfect indeed, as Dixon's early touchdown gave the Tide a boost of confidence against an opponent that had frankly had its number in recent games. "Any time you go on the road and open with a big play, it's important," Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione said. "At Arkansas it was Shaud Williams' (touchdown) run on that first play. In this game it was Gerald Dixon's play.

"Dixon's touchdown did not mean it was our game. We still had to play a long ways. But it's big for us to get off to a good start on the road in what can be a difficult place to play. It gives you immediate confidence."

The early score stunned the Tennessee fans, but according to Dixon the Volunteer players came back out just as determined to move the football.

They just didn't count on who they were up against. "When they came back out they were fine," Dixon recalled. "They wanted to play again.

"We just shut them back down."

Franchione agreed, "I don't think it hurt Tennessee that much. You knew they were going to bounce back. But it was a boost for our team."

Criticized for most of his career, Dixon is making his final season his best.

Having lost to Tennessee seven years in a row, the Tide players knew it would take a decisive performance to stop UT's momentum. "We wanted to come out and show everybody who the best team was," Dixon said. "We talked about ‘team' all week. We just wanted to show everybody that we could win as a team."

When the two squads met last season, Alabama played essentially even with Tennessee for three quarters, before being overwhelmed in the final period. That day the Volunteer receivers got the best of Bama's secondary, including Dixon.

But he and his teammates are not the same unit as before. "I'm really proud and happy for our secondary," Franchione said. "They were a group that was maligned at times last year. They had some tough days and have kept working."

In his final season at The Capstone, Dixon has been the Tide's most consistent defensive back and the secondary's emotional leader. After eight games the Maryland native has 32 tackles, six pass breakups, one quarterback hurry, one tackle for a loss, two interceptions and Saturday's fumble recovery for a touchdown.

In Saturday's game, Tennessee put the ball on the ground five times, losing three. And the Volunteer quarterback was intercepted three times. "That's our defense forcing things," Dixon said. "Just go in there and strip the ball out. Make plays on the ball like we've been doing all year."

With a seven-point lead at halftime, the Tide extended the margin to 10 points by the end of three quarters. But a long offensive march by Alabama coupled with another UT turnover stretched the final margin of victory to 20.

Dixon and his fellow seniors were determined to put an end to Tennessee's winning streak.

"We wanted to pour it on them all day; I can't (deny) it," Dixon acknowledged. "We wanted to pour it on them. I can't tell you how great it feels to be able to celebrate in their house."

Excluded from post-season play by NCAA sanctions, Dixon and his fellow seniors have determined to carve out a niche for themselves in Crimson Tide history. "It's one of those things you'll tell your kids and friends about years from now," he explained. "When I meet up with (fellow seniors) Jarret (Johnson) and Kindal (Moorehead) years down the line, we can say our class is the one that stopped the streak. The class of '99."

"As seniors we talked about it all week," Dixon continued. "We tried to downplay it, but coming up here and beating these guys is almost as good as winning the SEC championship (in 1999)."

And what about the victory cigars that were everywhere in the post-game Tide locker room?

"I think I took a couple of puffs."

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