Alabama football is a storied program steeped in tradition. The school has been a college football juggernaut dating back to the 1920s with 14 national championships, over 100 First-Team All Americans, and 26 conference championships not to mention NCAA records of 31 10-win seasons and 33 bowl victories.
Many of these accolades would not be possible with out specific moments in history bringing them about, meaning the program’s history is also defined by game-changing plays made by its many stars. These feats are every bit as important to prestige of the Crimson Tide as Bear Bryant’s trademark houndstooth hat.
Everyone loves to quote the statistics: the wins, the championships, the All Americans. But we all hang pictures on our walls depicting these great plays… the moments in time etched in our memories for a lifetime.
Two plays narrowly missed making the top 10 list for great Bama plays.
The first play took play on the third Saturday in October of 2005 in a season where the historical rivalry with the Tennessee Volunteers was actually played on the famous weekend. As the defensive struggle winded to a close, No. 17 Tennessee appeared ready to take the lead and the game with the ball inside the Alabama 5-yard line late in the final quarter.
Volunteer running back Cory Anderson took a handoff and appeared to have a clear path to the end zone. Bama safety Roman Harper met Anderson at the 1-yard line and delivered a lick, dislodging the ball through the back of the end zone for a touchback.
The Crimson Tide offense would take advantage setting Jamie Christensen up for a game winning 34-yard field goal with seconds remaining.
The second honorable mention took place in The Swamp in 1999. One-loss Alabama faced undefeated and No. 3 Florida in their backyard. The game went to overtime where Shaun Alexander broke loose for a game-winning touchdown. Ken Stabler's radio call describing the "Big Red A Flag" on the field after the play is classic and caught the excitement of the moment.
The Tide would go on to destroy Florida in the SEC championship game 34-7 before losing a disappointing Orange Bowl on a missed Ryan Pflueger extra point in overtime.
In 1992, SEC commissioner Roy Kramer decided to shake things up in the college football world by taking advantage of an NCAA clause allowing for a championship game if a conference had 12 or more teams competing. The decision was met with much skepticism as there was fear that the additional game against a quality opponent could very well rob a team of a possible national championship opportunity.
Much as anticipated, this very scenario happened in the inaugural with undefeated and No. 2 Alabama meeting the Florida Gators led by Coach Steve Spurrier, QB Shane Matthews and RB Eric Rhett.
The game was very much in doubt in the closing minutes before Tide cornerback Antonio Langham sat on and jumped a hitch route. The All American intercepted the Mathews throw and took it to the house to clinch the Tide’s victory and spot to play for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl against highly touted Miami.
More on that game later.
The 2009 season was full of close calls throughout the season with narrow escapes against Auburn, Virginia Tech, Tennessee and LSU. However, at the end of the season, the Crimson Tide remained undefeated and found themselves in the BCS National Championship Game against the Texas Longhorns.
Little-used defensive lineman Marcell Dareus would go on to have the game of his life. After putting Texas’s All-American QB Colt McCoy out of the game early in the first half, Dareus closed the second half with a rumble.
He broke through the line and applied pressure on backup QB Garrett Gilbert. Somehow in all of the commotion that then ensued, Dareus ended up with the ball… and off he went.
The touchdown ended up being key to the victory as Texas made a second-half run, but just couldn’t catch up to the big halftime lead as the Tide claimed national championship No. 13.
After consecutive loses in the Iron Bowl in 1982 and 1983 in which Alabama simply could not stop Bo Jackson, the Tide’s chances once again looked bleak in 1984.
Auburn had the ball on fourth down at the 1-yard line trailing by two late in the game. Instead of taking the chip-shot field goal, Auburn coach Pat Dye decided to go for the touchdown handing the ball to fullback Brent Fullwood.
Jackson went the wrong way on the play, allowing Alabama’s Rory Turner to drive Fullwood out of bounds to save the game and winning Bama fans bragging rights for the next year.
While maybe not as historically important as other plays on the list, Tyrone Prothro’s catch against Southern Miss in 2005 very well could be the most spectacular.
The Tide came out flat against the underdog Golden Eagles before Prothro’s grab sparked the team on to a 17-0 victory. The play went on to win ESPN’s Game-Changing Performance of the Season.
Three-time All American Cornelius Bennett will always be primarily remembered for one play. In 1986 the No. 2 Crimson Tide faced Notre Dame and a high-flying passing attack led by highly touted QB Steve Beuerlein.
Analysts openly questioned Bama’s ability to handle Beuerlein. Then one play changed all of that. After the bone-jarring hit by Bennett, the Irish were largely ineffective the rest of the way, losing 28-10.
The Iron Bowl is everything in Alabama, and this is definitely one of the defining plays of the rivalry. In what many have described as one of the most miserable days weather-wise for football ever in the state of Alabama, Bama QB Ken Stabler made one of the plays of the decade.
Trailing Auburn 3-0 in the fourth quarter, Stabler took the ball on a keeper around right end. The Tide signal-caller didn’t stop until he was in the end zone 53 yards later. Just not slipping and falling in those conditions was a feat in and of itself.
Of the 2009 team’s many close games, the one they probably should have lost was against Tennessee on Oct. 24. With inferior talent, Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin took a don’t lose the game approach through out the contest and played field position beautifully against the Tide.
Late in the game with the Tide clinging to a 12-10 lead on four Leigh Tiffin field goals, Alabama had a chance to end the game but lost the ball on a rare Mark Ingram fumble.
After a questionable no-call on a hold resulted in Tennessee completing a long pass that propelled them into field goal range, Bryant-Denny Stadium became deathly silent with impending doom. When the series of timeouts to ice the Volunteer kicker were completed, the fate of the Tide’s season came down to one very makeable field goal.
As the ball was snapped, big Terrence Cody burst through the line and lifted his massive paw to deflect his second field goal of the final period. The eruption of the crowd likely could be heard in Birmingham.
In the late 1970’s, college football was dominated by two programs, Bear Bryant’s Tide and Joe Paterno’s Penn State Nittany Lions. The crowning moment in this rivalry came in the Sugar Bowl after the 1978 season.
Bama led late in the fourth quarter 14-7 and had an opportunity to put the game away. Unfortunately, the Tide lost a fumble on the Penn State 19-yard line. A few short plays later, Penn State face a 3rd-and-goal from the Bama 1-yard line.
According to legend, Penn State QB asked Bama lineback Marty Lyons what he thought they should do to which Lyons replied, “You better pass.” The statement proved to be a prophecy.
The Lions were stopped on third down just short of the goal line and tried once again on fourth. Lyons provided a push into the Penn State backfield and linebacker Barry Krause came over the top, throwing running back Mike Guman back for no gain and giving Bama the 1978 national championship.
As stated previously, in Alabama the Iron Bowl trumps all, giving this play its high ranking. In 1985 Crimson Tide fans were treated to one of the all-time Iron Bowl moments by kicker Van Tiffin.
Trailing 23-22 late in the game, Bama was able to drive to the Auburn 35-yard line. With only seconds remaining, Tiffin trotted onto the field with a chance to be a legend.
Fifty-two yards later, the kick sailed through the uprights and the Legion Field stands emptied onto the field to celebrate the Tide’s state supremacy for 1985.
Now back to 1992. After narrowly escaping Roy Kramer’s first brain child (the second being the BCS system), Alabama came in as heavy underdogs against what many believed to be an unbeatable Miami Hurricanes lead by Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta.
The Canes were extremely talented and not shy about saying so. The game’s festive atmosphere in the party city of New Orleans just added fuel to the fire, and Hurricane players were constantly boasting about the lack of talent for the opposition, primarily led by receiver Lamar Thomas.
According to Thomas, the Tide defensive backs were slow and there was no way they could run with him.
With Bama leading 27-6 in the third quarter, Torretta hit Thomas for what appeared to be an 88-yard touchdown pass. Ironically, George Teague had blown a coverage to allow Thomas to be wide open on the play. The situation lead to what may be the greatest moment in Tide history.
It may have been adrenaline. It may have been the cheering crowd. It may have been the fear of having to sit next to John Copeland and Eric Curry after blowing a coverage on a big play.
Whatever it was, George Teague looked as though he had been shot out of a cannon as he raced down the Canes self proclaimed uncatchable receiver.
To make matters worse for Thomas, Teague wasn’t merely content to make the touchdown-saving tackle as he man handled the ball away from Thomas and took it back the other way.
Because of a penalty, the play ended up not even counting, but never the less at that moment, Miami was officially done and the Tide were on their way to a 12th national championship.
Kind of funny that the greatest play in Bama history was a five yard off sides penalty.