Something Nice - Alabama I live just outside of the District of Columbia. The nearest Southeastern Conference campuses are in Knoxville, Tennessee and Columbia, South Carolina. Both are about an eight hour drive from my door and combined with a new house, a wife and a two year old son, these "things" kinda' prevent me from just getting in the car and driving to an SEC football game. But one thing they don't do is prevent me from dreaming about going to games. Every year, usually around March, I pick up a Gator football schedule and dream about which "road games" I should go to. It doesn't take long for me to snap out of my daydream. Hell, I realize that I'm lucky to be able to get back to Florida Field once a year for a Gator game. Going to see the Gators somewhere other than Gainesville is just wishful thinking on my part. But still I do it. This year my choice for an away game was easy. Without hesitation, I'd choose to go see the Gators play Alabama in Tuscaloosa. There are two reasons I'd pick this game: 1. THE GATORS DON'T PLAY THERE OFTEN - In the past 27 years Florida has only played in Bryant-Denny Stadium a measly three times. Heck, we've just finished playing FSU three times in the last calendar year alone. 2. I LOVE TUSCALOOSA - The SEC is blessed with an abundance of beautiful college towns and if I was listing them in order of beauty, Tuscaloosa would be near the top. But even if the city was as barren as the Mojave desert and the only buildings in town were tar paper shacks (I think I just described Clemson, S.C.) it would still be worth the trip just to go to Dreamland BB-Q. Actually Dreamland is just a step up from a tar paper shack. It's a ratty old building located on the outskirts of town, but folks don't come there to admire it's architecture. They come for the greatest ribs in the South. But Dreamland would not be my first stop in Tuscaloosa, that honor would go to The Houndstooth, a bar just a short distance away from Bryant-Denny. A lot of places call themselves sports bars, but just because they hang a pennant or two and have a game on their TV, there not. The Houndstooth is. First off, it's near the stadium, which means people drink there before, during and after games. Secondly, its walls are filled with "crap" (and I say that with respect). Old autographed pictures, license plates and ticket stubs are just a few of the items that hang from its smoke and beer stained walls. The place screams, "Football Weekend". I'd also go in hopes of finding someone drunk enough to sell me a ticket to the game (Oh yes, the game and the stadium. All this talk of ribs and beer sidetracked me). Bryant-Denny opened on October 5, 1929, with the Tide beating Ole Miss 22-7. It was known then just as Denny Stadium (named after the university's president Dr. George Denny) and had a capacity of around 12,000. Before it's construction Bama played on 8,000 seat Denny Field. By the start of World War II the stadium's capacity had doubled and following the war, seats were added to both endzones, allowing 31,000 Crimson Tide faithful to watch Alabama football. The next major expansion occurred during the "Bear Bryant years", when in 1961, 12,000 more seats were added (as well as a new pressbox). By the end of the 60's the place could hold 60,000. For almost the next 20 years nothing really drastic happened to the stadium (with the exception of that dreaded artificial turf being added in 1969, and the place being renamed Bryant-Denny in 1976) until 1988, when the west side had an upper deck added, which brought 10,000 more seats. The Crimson Tide have enjoyed unbelievable success at Bryant- Denny over the years compiling a 174-23-3 record in games played there. Choosing which games to hi-lite was difficult. In researching Alabama's history at Bryant-Denny I found that not only have they won the majority of their games in Tuscaloosa, but they've won them handily. Some of the more exciting games were those rare times the Tide actually lost at home. Regardless, two of the more memorable games are the 1935 Howard game and the 1981 Mississippi State game. -ALABAMA vs HOWARD 9/23/35 Howard, a small school in Birmingham made their annual trip to Tuscaloosa in 1935 fearing that once again the Tide would kill them on the football field. Many Alabama fans must have felt the same way because only 4,500 bothered to show up for the game. The crowd must have been surprised to find Bama only up by a 7-0 halftime score. The score remained 7-0 entering the 4th quarter. With time running out Howard not only managed to convert on a 4th and 6 from the Bama 30, but they were able to score a touchdown. and tie the game. In the joyous Howard lockeroom after the game, Alabama head coach Frank Thomas presented the game ball to the Howard team. "You deserve it," said Thomas. -ALABAMA vs MISSISSIPPI STATE They say football is a game of inches. On this day it was a game of numbers. A Tide victory would give Bear Bryant his 313th career victory, tying him with Pop Warner and placing him one game from tying Alonzo Stagg for first place in all-time wins. The Tide were also trying to win for the 55th straight time at Bryant-Denny. But there were a few other numbers to consider this day. Twenty- two, that was the number of straight years Alabama had beat MSU before the previous year's 6-3 Bulldog win. The Tide had waited a year to start a new streak against MSU and get some revenge. It wouldn't come easy, because of another number, eleven. Alabama fumbled the ball 11 times this day losing 7 of them, and it was one of the few times that Bama actually recovered that saved the day for them. The Crimson Tide's Joe Carter recovered his own teammate's fumble in the endzone for Bama's lone TD this day. The recovery and a field goal managed to send Bama to their dressing room with a 10-10 halftime score. In the 4th, Alabama Freshman Terry Saunders kicked a 28 yard field goal to give the tide the victory. When asked after the game about the pressure of kicking a field goal with the game on the line, Saunders said, "All I am supposed to do is kick it through, and if I don't, somebody should kick me." The Gators have been fairly successful in Tuscaloosa, winning four of the nine games they've played there. Their 1963, 10-6 win over the Tide was Bear Bryant's only SEC loss ever in Bryant- Denny (and would have been his only loss period, if he didn't lose his last game, a 38-29 upset at the hands of Southern Mississippi). In 1964, the Gators returned to Tuscaloosa with hopes of upsetting the Tide again, and they almost did. After blowing a 14-7 lead in the 4th quarter to fall behind 17- 14, UF and Spurrier got the ball back one more time with just over three minutes left and 80 yards away from a victory. Spurrier marched the team down the field and had them inside the Tide 15 with the final few seconds ticking down. On a second down play, he scrambled to the Tide six. In Buddy Martin's book "Reign of the Swamp Fox", Spurrier recalled the final few plays: "I had scrambled on the play before and fell on what I thought was the 1 1/2-yard line. It was the 6 1/2-yard line. I called the same play we had scored on before. I screwed up. We didn't even throw it in the endzone. I should have thrown Charlie Casey four lob balls. But I wasn't smart enough to do it." The play Spurrier called, a run up the middle, lost two yards, and with the clock under fifteen seconds, and running, the Gators tried to kick a field goal on 4th down. In the confusion Florida only had ten men on the field, and Jimmy Hall's hurried kick sailed wide ending the Gators' hopes of at least tying. The 1990 game, Steve Spurrier's second as UF head coach is one of the most important wins in school history, at least according to Spurrier. In his book "Gators", Spurrier said this about the game, "I really believe that mentally that day we passed into uncharted waters for Florida football, going into unknown territory where we know we can beat good teams and have a chance to win the championship." The Gators trailed 10-0 at the half, but were able to trim the margin to 10-7 early in the 3rd quarter. It looked like maybe the Gators were right back in the thick of things, but Alabama immediately marched down field and were in position to push the lead back to 10, when Will White intercepted a Bama pass on the goal line. Down by three, backed up on their own goal and with a hostile Bryant-Denny crowd screaming at them, maybe it would've been wise to play it safe. You know, three runs and a punt. But this wasn't the same old Gators anymore. There was a new "SEC Sheriff" in town, his name was Steve Spurrier and he was about to unleash a bomb that not only rocked the Tide and their home crowd, but was heard from Baton Rouge to Athens. On first down Spurrier called a pass play to Ernie Mills. Mills ran a long post pattern and Gator QB Shane Mathews hit him in stride with a perfectly thrown pass. By the time Mills was tackled, he had gone 70 yards and UF was inside the Alabama 30 (The pass route has become a staple in the UF arsenal and is now known as the "Mills play"). It set-up a UF field goal which knotted the score at 10. A little later UF blocked a Bama punt and recovered it for a touchdown. That was all the points Florida would need that day as the Gators won 17-13 in what would be Steve Spurrier's first SEC victory. The next day, the Gainesville Sun's Bill King wrote this about the game: "It looked, smelled and tasted a lot like the games that had left them alone and depressed in years past. ... It was another one of those familiar afternoons for the Gators ... only this time ... Florida reversed field on its own history and walked away with a victory." Call them monkeys of our backs, skeletons or ghosts. Whatever the hell they were, we left a lot of them at Bryant-Denny Stadium that day. When the Crimson Tide take the field this September 5th against BYU, there will be an additional 10,000 Bama fans in Bryant- Denny. Work is finishing up on the stadium's latest expansion, an addition to the east side stands. An upper deck similar to the west side's and luxury boxes have been added. In order to expand, some of the buildings around the stadium had to be knocked down, including three beautiful old sorority houses (I'm not an advocate of tearing down old buildings, but if the reason is to expand a football stadium, I might make an exception). By the time the construction is finished, capacity will be 83,817. All the stadiums in the SEC have a reputation of being home to great football action. But there is so much more to a stadium than just the games that are played there. It's coming to a game with your dad. It's buying a program on the way in. It's buying a piece of cardboard with the game's score printed on it, as you leave. It's watching the band march in. It's buying over-priced souvenirs. It's laughing with friends. It's the smell of bourbon. It's the smell of charcoal. It's the smell of more bourbon. In a word, it's great. One of the greatest moments in Bryant-Denny history had nothing to do with a last second score or a game saving tackle. It had to do with the love one man had towards the University of Alabama and of the love the Crimson Tide faithful had towards him. Former Alabama head coach and athletic director Frank Thomas was being honored at Alabama's 1953 homecoming game. In his book "The Crimson Tide", Clyde Bolton describes the scene: "Alabama men are sober when they recount homecoming 1953, when Thomas, dying, leaned on the arm of his son Frank, Jr., and walked onto the field at Denny Stadium and received a replica of his Football Hall of Fame Award and told the crowd, 'Friends, this is the happiest day of my life'." Tuscaloosa is such a wonderful town and Bryant-Denny is filled with such history, maybe I should make the game this year. "Honey, I'm going out for some ice cream." I'll be back Sunday night..