TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you’ve ever lived in this town or spent any amount of time here, chances are, you’ve seen this picture around town.
At Rama Jama’s—a pseudo-Alabama football museum/diner across the street from the stadium—it hangs the back, by the registers, just above the sweet tea dispenser and a picture of Joe Namath. At the Houndstooth bar, it’s on the far left wall, above a booth and next to a pool table. At the Waysider, it’s on the back wall, just below the TV.
“The Catch,” as it’s come to be known locally, is just as much a part of Alabama lore as “The Goal-Line Stand” or “The Kick” or “The Drive” or any other article-prefaced piece of Crimson Tide history.
As Alabama gets ready to take the field against Southern Miss for the first time since Tyrone Prothro’s 42-yard, behind-the-back catch from Brodie Croyle nine years ago in 2005, The Catch still very much lives on. And it's come to represent both the best and worst of what college football can be.
The play was 989, All-Go.
It was 4th and 12 and the Alabama 43, and the Crimson Tide were down 21-10 with 29 seconds before the half. Prothro, as the slot man, had the option of either running a go or breaking off into a post.
The two deep safeties ran with Alabama receivers D.J. Hall and Keith Brown on the outside, leaving Prothro one-on-one with cornerback Jasper Faulk. Croyle noticed the coverage and threw it up.
The rest was instinct.
“It was just seeing the ball in the air,” Prothro said in a phone interview Bleacher Report on Thursday. “Once it got there, I just kind of stuck my hand out as if he wasn’t there, and it just happened the way it did.”
At that point, Prothro didn’t exactly realize what had happened. He knew he had a catch. The referee signaled touchdown.
The play went under review, the first year instant replay was available in college football. The catch stood, but he was ruled down at the one.
“If you could see my face,” Prothro said. “I was kind of mad. But then I realized the fact that we still had the ball on the one-yard line.”
Alabama scored on the next play. It came back and won the game 30-21, keeping an undefeated season that started with so much hype alive, for the time being.
Prothro knew he had made a great play, but not necessarily how big.
After head coach Mike Shula made his post-game speech in the locker room, Croyle found Prothro and said “Daniel Moore is probably gonna be painting that.”
Moore has made a career out of putting famous Alabama and Auburn plays on canvas and selling them to fans and collectors. Croyle’s prediction was spot-on. “The Catch” hangs in just about every local establishment in Tuscaloosa, in homes and in some fans’ dedicated “Bama rooms,” as Prothro’s been told, immortalizing the play forever.
One night, Prothro was at a friend’s house and went to use his bathroom. The picture was in there, hanging on one of the walls.
Prothro didn’t see a replay of his catch until he got home. It was the No. 1 play on SportsCenter that night.
“It looked just about how it felt on the field,” Prothro said. “Just how big the play felt.”
The play was named Pontiac’s game-changing play of the week and later of the year at the end of the season. It won the 2006 ESPY for Play of the Year.
Fans usually tell him that they remember where they were when the play happened.
One of his best friends left the stadium right before, upset at the game that was playing out. As he was walking back to his apartment, he heard a roar from the crowd and had to wait for the replay on TV.
The play elevated Prothro to near-legend status in Tuscaloosa.
“Sometimes it feels like it’s every day (that I hear about it)," he said. "I at least hear about it once a week. It seems like it’s every day.”
Alabama rose to as high as No. 3 in the polls that year before falling to LSU and Auburn to end what started off as a promising season. Prothro’s season ended even earlier.
Leading 31-3 in the fourth quarter against Florida three weeks later, Croyle lofted a pass to Prothro in the end zone. Prothro landed awkwardly on his left leg, breaking it in two places, in a gruesome injury that still haunts Alabama fans to this day.
He told the Associated Press (via ESPN.com) he had 10 surgeries on that leg. Prothro never saw the field again. Alabama made $110,000 from Pontiac for the game-changing performances. Pontiac ran the play over and over again in an advertising campaign for the car-maker.
Because of NCAA rules, Prothro never saw any of that money, either.
Over the summer, Prothro testified in the high-profile Ed O’Bannon lawsuit that revolved around college athletes being able to profit off of their image and likeness.
He is the counter to the if-you’re-good-enough-you’ll-get-paid-eventually argument against paying players.
Prothro was plenty good enough to earn an NFL living. But his injury prevented him from ever doing so.
He made an amazing play that a lot of people made money off of while he was in school, except for him. Prothro had to take out $10,000 in student loans while he played to cover living expenses in addition to his scholarship, loans he’s still paying back now.
"I felt like I was good enough to make it to the next level and I could pay it back six months after I graduated," Prothro said at the trial, per the AP. "I figured that if I made it to the NFL it would be easy to pay it back."
Prothro graduated in 2008 with a general studies degree and hasn’t left Tuscaloosa since, working as a banker at the on-campus Regions and now as an account manager at Coca-Cola.
All he has to show for the play is around $9,000 that came from a private signing he did with Moore shortly after graduation.
Prothro told Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated after the trial that when he approached UA about getting some photos of the play for a book he was writing, he was told he would have to buy them for $10 on the school’s website.
Prothro insists that there are no hard feelings between him and the school. He's still active in the community and the University. Still, it’s rightfully frustrating to come up essentially empty-handed from such a major play.
He said he received plenty of support from fans and the community after testifying.
“People saying they have my back, they’re behind me 100 percent,” he said. “Not just me, but that all players should have some sort of say so in their own image. It’s messed up that I made such a big play like that, and I don’t have any kind of say so in the image.”
But through it all, The Catch lives on.
“It’s one of those things that I pride myself in,” Prothro said. “It’s a play you don’t see often. It’s a play that sticks with people.”