The departure of Bill Curry to Kentucky created a coaching void that was quickly filled by the hiring of Gene Stallings, a former Alabama assistant who served as head coach of the Texas A&M Aggies and St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals. Stallings learned his football philosophy as an assistant under two of the greatest coaches who ever lived, Paul "Bear" Bryant and Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys. There was no doubt he had the qualifications but could he help Bama return to the top?
Expectations of a repeat run at the Sugar Bowl soured early when the Tide lost its first three games. Season-ending injuries to Siran Stacy, Craig Sanderson and Prince Wimbley contributed to Bama's early downfall but the Tide would suddenly turn as they rolled to seven wins in its final eight games. The season was highlighted by a 9-6 stunner over Tennessee in Knoxville thanks to a dramatic blocked field goal by Stacy Harrison and a last second field goal by Huffman High School's Phillip Doyle. Especially gratifying to the Bama seniors and their fans was a 16-7 victory over Auburn in Birmingham, the first Tide win over its archrival since 1985. Doyle, the national field goal champion, was a unanimous All-American pick.
A series of close victories, including a 30-25 win over the Big 8 co-champion Colorado in the Blockbuster Bowl capped the 11-1 season of 1991. It marked the 22nd time a Bama team had won at least 10 games in one season. Nose tackle Robert Stewart earned first team UPI All-American honors while freshman sensation David Palmer (#2) was chosen as the MVP of the bowl win. "The Deuce", as Palmer became known, set a school record for three punt returns for a TD during the regular season and added one more in the bowl game against the Buffaloes. A 24-19 victory over Tennessee on ABC-TV coupled with a 13-6 win over Auburn highlighted a seaon of close, last minute heroics.
The 1992 football season started with much anticipation and pagentry as Alabama celebrated its centenial season of football at the Capstone. But no one could have forseen just how special this year was going to be. Everyone knew Bama's defense was going to be good. But how about their offense? Led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Jay Barker, many analysts agreed that Alabama was too "one-dimentional" with their run oriented offense to seriously contend for a National Championship.
Coach Stallings had different plans. Thoughout the season, Bama seemed to play at the level of their competition, never really blowing out the competition, but winning none the less. Already clinching a bid to the innaugural SEC Championship Game, the Tide came into the Iron Bowl as favorites. Once again, they did what they had all year, win. But their next test would be a much greater challenge.
The Gators of Florida, led by coach Steve Spurrier, came into the SEC Championship with their high-powered offense, ranked among the nation's best. Bama hung in with the Gator attack and in the end, it was defense that once again pulled them through. In an exciting, late fourth quarter play, cornerback Antonio Langham intercepted a pass from Florida QB Shane Matthews for a touchdown. Florida couldn't answer. Alabama was SEC Champions, ranked 2nd in the nation and on its way to the Sugar Bowl againt No. 1 Miami and Heisman QB Gino Toretta.
It was billed as the game of the year in college football as unbeaten No. 1-ranked Miami faced unbeaten No. 2-ranked Alabama for the National Championship. All week long Alabama coach Gene Stallings said he did not consider his Crimson Tide an underdog. In front of 76,789 in the Superdome and a national TV audience, Alabama proved the skeptics wrong as the Tide handily defeated the No. 1 ranked Miami Hurricanes 34-13, winning the Crimson Tide its 12th National Championship, their first since 1979. In the end, Alabama showed why its defense was considered the best in the nation by completely shutting down the vaunted Hurricane passing attack. Alabama's defensive strategy stifled Miami's rushing game, only allowing the Hurricanes 48 yards on the ground.
With Alabama leading 13-6 at the half, the defense took control of the game early in the third quarter. On the 'Canes first play from scrimmage in the second half, Torretta was intercepted by Tommy Johnson, who returned the ball to the Miami 20-yard line. Six plays later, Derrick Lassic scored from a yard out to increase Bama's lead to 20-6.
Alabama's defense had been giving Torretta problems all day but the one play that virtually spelled the end for Miami came on their next possession. The Tide pulled all 11 players up to line with Torretta operating from the shotgun. His errant pass was snared by George Teague who high-stepped 31 yards for a second Tide touchdown in 16 seconds.
This play by Teague would be a big one in the Tide's victory, however, it would not be the only one Teague would be remembered for in this game.
Trailing 27-6, the Hurricane offense took the field to mount a successful second-half drive. On Miami's second down and 10 play, Teague made one the biggest defensive plays of the season, although it was null and void because of a five-yard offside penalty called against Alabama.
Torretta hit his favorite receiver, Lamar Thomas, who was streaking down the sideline for an apparent six points. Teague streaked down the sideline, ran Thomas down, stripped the ball from him, and proceeded to advance the ball in the other direction for a short gain. The play may not be officially recorded in the records books but it will stand as one of the best defensive plays ever.
Derrick Lassic proved that Bama was not just a defensive show. The Tide relied on a ground attack to move the ball on offense. Out of the 285 total yards gained, 267 of them came on the ground. Lassic controlled Alabama's ground game cutting, slicing and weaving his way to 135 yards rushing on 28 carries and two touchdowns. His efforts gained him the Miller-Digby Sugar Bowl Most Valuable Player Award.
FINAL SCORE: Alabama 34, Miami 13
Unanimous National Champions
Bama seemed to be on a roll again in 1993. Although they lost some key talent on defense, most starters were returning and the season looked promising. The Tide won five in a row and was ranked #2 in the nation until a 17-17 tie with Tennessee and a 17-13 loss to LSU squashed hopes of a repeat.
Hopes then focused on another SEC title until a bomb was dropped on the football program. A story regarding All-American Antiono Langham's signing with an agent prior to the season had surfaced. While Stallings contends that he had no knowledge of the event and Langham claims he was duped into signing the contract, the NCAA made Langham sit out the remainder of the season while they reviewed if Alabama would have to forefit ten games he had participated in that year. Such news seemed to affect the team as Bama dropped its final regular season game to Auburn. Ironically, Bama still had a shot to win the SEC, but an uninspired 28-13 loss to Florida in the SEC Championship seemed almost appropriate with the events that had transpired.
Alabama was invited to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida againt highly regarded North Carolina on New Year's Eve 1993. For Alabama to win, they would have to rely on the play of back-up quarterback Brian Burgdorf, who was starting for the injured Jay Barker. Also, the Tide defensive backs would be without the services of Antonio Langham
Burgdorf answered the call as he ran for a 33-yard touchdown and threw for two more. In the end, Bama was too much as they ended the 1993 season defeating North Carolina 24-10. But black clouds loomed on the horizon.
In September of 1994, the NCAA issued a formal letter of inquiry regarding the Langham matter. The players and coached tried to ignore the enormous media surrounding the event and did what they what they did best, win games. Bama still had a great team with players like Jay Barker, Michael Proctor, Tommy Johnson, Tarrant Lynch, Toderick Malone, Sam Shade, and Sherman Williams as the stars. David Palmer, however, decided to forgo his senior season and entered the NFL draft. Bama won every regular season game with Jay Barker breaking the record as Alabama's all-time winningest quarterback while also becoming the all-time pass completions leader. Barker was named All-American and was nominated as a Heisman candidate.
The highlight of the season was beating an undefeated Auburn team in Legion Field. Trailing late in the game and needing a touchdown to win, Auburn was driving with less than a minute to go. On a fourth down pass, Sam Shade drilled Auburn's receiver right at the first down marker. The ball was spotted and measured and the first down was short...my a mere inch!Shade's gutsy hit insured the Bama victory. The Crimson Tide was now 11-0 and hopes of another National Championship was high, but a gut wrinching 24-23 loss to Florida in the SEC Championship in Atlanta ended that dream. The Tide played valiantly but came up just short on the scoreboard. Bama was heading to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
The Crimson Tide and the Ohio State Buckeyes met for only the third time in the two schools' storied histories at the 1995 CompUSA Florida Citrus Bowl. Alabama, winner of the previous two encounters with OSU, made its first Citrus Bowl appearance, the school's 13th different bowl.
It was a tight contest throughout, and as it had done all season long, Alabama came through with late-game heroics to pull out a win. With less than a minute to play, Jay Barker hit Sherman Williams over the middle, and 50 yards later, the talented tailback had given the Tide a 24-17 win. Alabama finished the season at 12-1, and with the victory, the senior class of 1994 (45-4-1) broke the record for most wins in a four-year period.
All attention was focused again on the Langham matter. The NCAA came down hard on the University of Alabama. Bama was put on probation, it could not play in a bowl game in 1995, and it had to forfeit all ten games Langham had played. Most damaging, however, was the thirteen scholarships that had been taken over a three year period. While it wasn't the "death penalty," the NCAA had done what it intended - to seriously hurt the team for years to come. Alabama, who once boasted of a clean record, had had it's spotless reputation badly tarnished.
With the NCAA matter behind them, Bama tried what they could to focus on the 1995 season. The Tide still had stars such as Brian Burgdorf, Freddie Kitchens, Dennis Riddle, Dwayne Rudd, Deshea Townsend, and All-American kicker, Michael Proctor. However, with losses to Arkansas, Tennessee, and a controversial game at Auburn, it was evident that Bama would not return to the SEC Championship game. In the Auburn game, Kitchens drove the Tide seventy-seven yards in the final minues until the offense stalled at the twenty-two by throwing four incomplete passes. One pass, which photographs later revealed, had been caught by Curtis Brown in the endzone for the game winner, but officials called him out-of-bounds. The NCAA penalty denied Alabama from playing in a post-season bowl as things just didn't go the Tide's way in 1995.
1996 looked promising with stars like Kitchens, Riddle, Rudd, Townsend, Curtis Alexander, Fernando Bryant, and Michael Vaughn leading the Tide to vicory in their first seven games. Another heart-breaking loss to Tennessee did little to ruin the season as Bama rebounded nicely whipping LSU 26-0, where glimpses of things-to-come were displayed by redshirt freshman, Shaun Alexander. Alexander set the all-time single game rushing mark by racking up 291 yards that night in Baton Rouge. A shocking loss to Mississippi State came the next week. However, memories of that night would be erased on November 23 at Legion Field against the arch-rival Auburn Tigers.
It was a game Bama had to win to get back to the SEC Championship game. It was a seesaw battle that saw Bama up seventeen points in the first half, only to see Auburn score the next twenty-three points. Auburn had visions of victory with the Tigers up 23-17 with only minutes left. Like a general, Freddie Kitchens marched the team down the field that ended with a pass to Dennis Riddle who went in for the tying score. The extra point was good and Bama pulled out a heart-stopping 24-23 win. It was sweet revenge for last year's missed call. After the game, Gene Stallings announced he was retiring from the game at the end of the season. Stallings was sixty-one years old and wanted to spend more time with his family, especially his son, John Mark, who had Down's Syndrome.
Bama headed into another showdown with Florida in Atlanta for the SEC Championship. It was billed as the Gator's number one passing offense verses the Tide's number one passing defense. Offense unfortunately won out as Bama lost 45-30. Bama could however celebrate a 9-3 season with a victory over Auburn. Alabama received an invitation to play Michigan in the 1997 Outback Bowl in Tampa Bay.
With two storied football traditions behind both teams the Crimson Tide and the Wolverines met for the second time under the sun of Florida's Gulf coast. Jon Brock kicked a field goal and Dwayne Rudd make a spectacular interception for a touchdown after Kelvin Sigler's blindside hit of Michigan quarterback Ryan Griese, that forced an errant throw. Rudd picked it off at the 12-yard line and ran it in eighty-eight yards. Two possessions later, tailback Shaun Alexander capped a 5-play, 77-yard scoring drive with a 46-yard touchdown scamper to boost the Alabama lead to 17-6. Michigan did not go away and on the next possession, the Wolverines mounted an 80-yard scoring drive and two point conversion and Bama's lead was cut to three. An onside kick followed, and Alabama's Chad Goss recovered to close the game for the Tide. Rudd earned the Outback Bowl Most Valuable Player trophy.
Gene Stallings' last game ended on a triumphant note as he was carried off the field by his players. Stallings had given the University of Alabama seven seasons during which his teams compiled an impressive 70-16-1 record, an SEC Championship and a National Championship.