No wonder Tide defensive end (and Memphis native) Kindal Moorehead is smiling. "Saturday's win was beyond big," he said. "It was my last chance to beat Tennessee in a game that I'm going to remember for the rest of my life."
When Moorehead signed with the Tide way back in 1998, Tennessee fans hurled the usual accusations. Despite the fact that Memphis is significantly closer to Tuscaloosa than Knoxville, Vol partisans have long acted like signing every athlete in every corner of their elongated state was somehow Tennessee's birthright.
And of course Bama's recent NCAA probation--founded in large part on allegations of improprieties in Memphis--only intensified the slander thrown Moorehead's way. So to use his words, Saturday's decisive victory over the obnoxiously onerous orange was absolutely "beyond big."
"With me being from Tennessee, going home will be easier now," Moorhead explained. "I knew it was my last chance. People used to ask me ‘Why didn't you go to Tennessee? You never could beat them.'
"I've finally got that monkey off my back."
Lose to the same team seven years in a row, and it's no surprise that people will start to doubt your resolve. But Moorehead saw something in this year's Tide squads that the pundits could not. "Looking at our team you knew it was a special team. I knew this was probably the best chance we had of my five years.
"This team is together. We fight together; we stick together. We knew we had a good chance of beating them."
Moorehead and the Alabama defense were officially credited with four sacks against Tennessee, but he and his running mates harassed the UT quarterback all game long, forcing him to throw out of rhythm and off his back foot. "Keeping (Casey) Clausen off balance, that was the plan," Moorehead said. "We wanted to hit him early and let him know that we were there.
"Hitting him was our goal. He was coming off an injury, so I don't think he really wanted to get hit."
Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione agreed. "We got good pressure on Clausen most of the night. He hurt us a time or two stepping up into the pocket and finding some people, but I don't think we let him throw very many times tonight on rhythm. We did a good job keeping him off balance and keeping him moving.
"That's not Clausen's strength, to throw on the move."
For the game, Moorehead played 44 of Bama's 56 defensive snaps, totaling four tackles and one tackle for a loss. But he was a disruptive force all game, and afterwards he shared Defensive Line Player of the Game honors with Jarret Johnson.
Against the Volunteers, the senior lineman and his teammates were on a mission. Win the old-fashioned way, by physically beating your opponent. And in the crucial fourth quarter, Tennessee gained all of eight yards total offense.
"We knew we had to pick it up in the fourth quarter," Moorehead said. "That's how Tennessee won the game last year. I think they had over 100 yards last year in the fourth quarter and we had negative (yardage). We knew when it came down to the fourth quarter we were going to have to pick our game up."
Heading into the game, Tennessee media had gigged the Tide squad, calling them a "Dairy Queen team," that melts in the fourth quarter. So Moorehead and his teammates had a point to prove. "Winning it in the fourth quarter was satisfying," he said. "There were games this year that we let slip away. We had to put them away in the fourth quarter, and we felt like we finally did that against a good football team."
Afterwards the Tide team celebrated on the field with the Bama fans in attendance, but few Tennessee followers were on hand to watch. "I hated that all their fans had left," Moorehead recalled with a chuckle. "We went over and celebrated with our fans. We have some of the greatest fans around. They were still out there cheering after we went to the locker room. They're going to stick with us no matter where we go.
"It was a great win for the fans."
The celebration continued in the Alabama locker room, with Moorehead leading his friends in a "personalized" version of ‘Rocky Top.' "In the past they always showed film of the Tennessee players singing that song in their locker room," Moorehead explained. "So we couldn't wait to sing it ourselves."
NOTE: Normally this would be a subscription story, available only to Crimson Ticket or Total Access holders. But we're frankly ahead of our quota this week, so we're making it available to all BamaMag.com readers.
Obviously our hope is that reluctant subscribers will be motivated to give us a try. Monthly subscriptions cost only $7.95, and for Crimson Tide fans at least, we can pretty much guarantee satisfaction.