Plays Of The Game Have Background

Kevin Norwood

The batter with the game-winning, two-run home run may be remembered for decades, but the batter in front of him who beat out a two-out infield single to make the homer possible is barely a footnote. Sometimes an Alabama football player is not in the Danny Moore painting, but the player executed the play that made possible the improbable.



Has it really been a third of a century since the 1978 Alabama football team had its famous goalline stand against Penn State in the Sugar Bowl? It was the first match-up of the nation's number one team (unbeaten Penn State coached by Joe Paterno) and number two (the 10-1 Crimson Tide of Coach Paul Bryant) in the Sugar Bowl.

With just under eight minutes to play and leading 14-7, Alabama fumbled away a pitchout and the Nittany Lions drove to a first down inside the 10-yard line. After a run gained nothing, Penn State quarterback Chuck Fusina passed to the Lions' outstanding receiver, Scott Fitzkee, who was running parallel to the goalline at about the one-yard line.

Safety Murray Legg was covering Fitzkee, but slipped down. Cornerback Don McNeal was covering another player, but saw the pass going to Fitzkee and broke for him.

"I didn't have time to think," McNeal said. "It was just instinct."

McNeal made a perfect hit on Fitzkee as the receiver began to lean into the end zone. Fitzkee went out on the one, setting it up for the Barry Krauss-Rich Wingo led interior to make back-to-back stops at the goalline and preserve the Bama victory and win the national championship for the Crimson Tide.

Everyone remembers Krauss, who would be named the most valuable player in the game, but without McNeal's extraordinary effort, there would have been no goalline stand.

Is there an Alabama follower alive who is not aware of "The Kick." In 1985, Alabama was an underdog against Auburn for the annual season-ending game at Legion Field in Birmingham. Alabama trailed 23-22 with time running out and the Tide out of timeouts.

Standing on the sidelines, Bama placekicker Van Tiffin thought Bama had to make it to at least the Auburn 37 for him to have a chance at a winning kick.

Time was almost gone when Tide quarterback Mike Shula completed a pass to Greg Richardson going across the middle of the field. Richardson, who was only 5-foot-9 and 166 pounds, knew he had to get out of bounds, and he had a defender on his back, trying to get him down, effectively ending the game. But Richardson dragged the receiver towards the Auburn sideline and the two of them collapsed out of bounds, almost at the feet of Auburn Coach Pat Dye.

Richardson had made it to the Auburn 35 and stopped the clock with six seconds to play.

It was rush, rush, rush for Tiffin and the rest of the kicking team, which dashed onto the field. Snapper Butch Lewis got the ball back right on the money, holder Larry Abney placed it down, and Tiffin kicked. The ball sailed through the middle of the uprights 52 yards away as the clock ticked to 00:00, and Alabama had a 25-23 victory.

Fast forward to Saturday night, Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. LSU had taken a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter. Alabama had been ineffective on offense in the second half. The Tide had the ball for one last gasp effort, the LSU goalline 72 yards away, Bama out of timeouts, and only 1:34 to play.

At that point, quarterback A.J. McCarron was 1-7 for zero yards in the second half and LSU had the lead and momentum.

But McCarron didn't blink. Just as he had in last year's 21-0 win over LSU in the BCS National Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome, McCarron went to wide receiver Kevin Norwood.

On first down, Norwood took a short pass and split three defenders to turn it into an 18-yard gain to near midfield. On second down he made an excellent catch near the sideline and added 15 yards to the Bama march. On third down, with LSU's cornerback inexplicably playing off Norwood, he took a low pass from McCarron just past the first down marker at the LSU 28. A play broke down, but McCarron took a shot for Norwood in the end zone. Norwood and the defender got tangled up and the pass sailed over the receiver's head.

One minute remained to play.

Alabama executed a perfect screen pass that beat an LSU blitz. McCarron passed to freshman tailback T.J. Yeldon, who took it into the end zone. McCarron to Yeldon is the play of the game, but give an assist (or three) to Norwood for the plays he made to get Bama into scoring position.

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