Corky Simpson Still Voting Bama No. 1

Corky Simpson knows what it's like to lead the parade, in more ways than one. When Alabama went to number one in the nation midway through this season, it was the first time the Crimson Tide football team had been ranked first since the final poll of the 1992 season.

An interesting footnote to that 1992 national championship season was that Alabama got one vote for number one in the Associated Press pre-season poll and one vote each week through the season and leading up to the bowl games. One vote. The AP poll, which is made up of selected sportswriters and sportscasters, had 61 voters that year.

After the Sugar Bowl in which Bama dismantled previously top-ranked Miami, 34-13,Corky Simpson of the Tucson Citizen followed his weekly routine. He voted Alabama Number One. There was a difference that first week of January, 1993, though. The other 60 voters joined him.

The Crimson Tide team of Coach Gene Stallings was a unanimous number one, taking every vote in every poll. Simpson had been way in front of all of them.

When Alabama had a national championship celebration a few weeks later, Simpson was invited to Tuscaloosa to take part in the festivities. Plans called for him to ride in a convertible in the parade that featured the players, Coach Stallings and his staff, the Million Dollar Band and cheerleaders, and a New Orleans funeral band.

In one of the few things that went wrong in connection with Alabama football, the car with Simpson in it broke down on University Boulevard. And even that worked out all right. "It was more fun to walk than to ride," Simpson said from his home outside Tucson, where he is now retired.

Lest anyone think Simpson was some crackpot voter in 1992, nothing could be farther from the truth. Before his retirement two years ago, he was nationally regarded as one of the finest sportswriters in America.

He was the first member of the Arizona Associated Press Sports Editors Hall of Fame. In 1988 he was named the national sportswriter of the year by the AP.

Simpson recalled how he came to get on the 1992 Alabama band wagon so early. "I owe everything to my old friend Bill Lumpkin (retired sports editor of the now defunct Birmingham Post-Herald)," Simpson said. At an NCAA sponsored pre-season football forum in Kansas City, Simpson said Lumpkin confided that if Alabama could get by Tennessee the Tide could win the national championship. That put Simpson in study mode, and he liked what he saw about Alabama.

Simpson said, "I really did some homework on it and in my mind I thought Alabama had a terrific team and I knew Gene Stallings (who had come to Alabama after having coached the NFL Cardinals in Phoenix). I had great respect for him and knew that he was a fine coach. Since the days of Lee Roy Jordan and some of those guys I've always had a great respect for Alabama."

So with Lumpkin's advice and his research, at the end of the forum Simpson cast his first vote of the year for Alabama. "I don't think Bill voted for Alabama," Simpson said.

That summer the Associated Press asked Simpson to participate in the poll as a voter. He agreed and on the pre-season ballot listed Alabama number one.

"And I stuck with them," he said. "I said they'd have to lose before I'd stop. I'd say it was not so much intelligence as stubbornness.

"It turned out to be quite an adventure."

From time-to-time his ballot was questioned by one of the AP editors. Eventually, the lone Alabama voter was found out by Mark Edwards of the Decatur Daily. After that he was on radio talk shows all across America, some of them on a regular basis.

Late in the year he got some hate mail from Miami fans. "One of them must have sat on a copy machine, because he sent a picture of his butt to me," Simpson said. He even got an autographed photo "from the Miami mascot, some kind of bird.

"I came home from work one day and there was a truck outside with a satellite dish. Some guy was there to do a television interview. We didn't know our neighbors that well and they probably thought there was some crime going on at our house."

Simpson said, "When it was over with, I sent a letter to the AP sports editor and told her that I had enjoyed it, but that I was going to retire undefeated. Which I did.

"Somebody came up with the idea that I was fired by the AP, and that's not right. I got upset and went to my publisher and showed him the letter I had sent retiring. He sent the AP a letter and they sent me a letter apologizing."

Larry White, who was Alabama sports information director, arranged for Simpson to come to Alabama for the celebration. Simpson said one of the best things about the year was his trip to Tuscaloosa. "I found out what a beautiful city it is," he said. But he was more impressed with the fans. And with the catfish.

"I was out walking around and walked past the Houndstooth (a famous Tuscaloosa sports bar)," he said. "Someone recognized me because my picture had been in the Tuscaloosa News. They invited me in and everyone wanted to buy me a beer. I really wanted a beer, but I knew if I had one I might have 20, so I told them I didn't drink."

He bumped into Alabama quarterback Jay Barker on campus and had a chat.

"There are great fans there," he said. "I've been to all the big stadiums across the country, and I'll go to my grave believing Alabama has the best fans. They give their heart and sould to that football team. Anyone who has been around them and met them has to feel the same way. They are the most loyal fans I've ever known of."

He was also impressed with the fans' knowledge of football. "They all knew the players Alabama was recruiting for the next year," he said. "When I was a sportswriter covering a team I probably couldn't have named two high school players the team I was covering was recruiting and those Alabama fans knew about all of them."

There was one other thing that made an indelible impression on Simpson. "I love catfish," he said. "I went to the Cypress Inn on the Black Warrior River and that is the best catfish I have ever eaten."

Simpson said, "It was obviously a real interesting adventure and I enjoyed it very much. And every once in a while I'll still hear from someone in Alabama wanting to know how I'm doing, or get a Christmas card."

Simpson still keeps up with college football. He has to. He is one of the voters in the Harris Poll, the poll of college football experts that factors into the BCS selections.

Simpson said he is more surprised by Bama success this year than he was in 1992. "I knew Coach Saban would have them back, but I didn't expect it this quick," he said.

And who is Simpson voting for this year?

"Alabama got my vote this week," he said. "It's the first week I have voted Alabama number one in the Harris Poll. I was a lot smarter in 1992.

"I bounced around with my picks, from Southern California to Oklahoma to Texas to Texas Tech before it dawned on me that the Tide is rolling again.

"It's hard to believe it has been 16 years. I'm glad for the Alabama fans that Alabama is back."

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