There are different sorts of catastrophic events in football. Hurricanes are the worst, and the best outcome in the storm-threatened Carolinas is not to play this weekend.
In the parts of the country when the weather is better, the term has a milder meaning. When Nick Saban was talking about the need for his players to concentrate on Saturday’s Ole Miss game, he used it to mean a loss.
The Crimson Tide, after all, fell to Ole Miss in 2014 and 2015. Those were potential catastrophes, averted only because Alabama used them as wake-up calls to focus for the rest of the season. After a round of NCAA transfers, Ole Miss may be short on depth but they do have the sort of big-play offense that could at least give them a chance, especially if coupled with a few ill-timed Alabama mistakes. And those two recent examples aren’t the only instances in which Ole Miss has been a pivotal game in the Alabama schedule.
In 1988 and 1989, a pair of Ole Miss games produced polar opposite results, one threatening a coach’s job and the other saving it, at least for a short time.
The game played 30 years ago was Alabama’s homecoming and while it is unwise to give guarantees, you can absolutely take it to the bank that one facet of that game will not be repeated. Alabama lost to a sub-.500 Ole Miss team that day. In doing so, Alabama did not complete a pass. Not a single one.
It wasn’t that the Crimson Tide wasn’t trying to complete a pass. Nor were they running a triple-option offense — there was at least one occasion, LSU in 1971, when Alabama won without a completion. Instead, this was an exercise in futility. The only Crimson Tide touchdown came on a 100-yard kickoff return by Pierre Goode. When it was over, a 22-12 Rebel win, the backlash was swift.
There is no need to leap down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories surrounding the brick that broke Bill Curry’s window. Curry insists it happened, and we will leave it there for the sake of brevity. It also ignited the large powder kegs of Curry discontent that had been stored, ominously, since his hiring. The Crimson Tide finished 9-3, the Homer Smith offense started clicking when David Smith — still a familiar Saturday face as one of the SEC’s prominent officiating crew chiefs — took over at quarterback.
The next year, things appeared to be worse. The game was in Jackson and Ole Miss, surprisingly, took a 7-0 lead. Then it was 14-0. Then it was 21-0, and I had two major Alabama power brokers in the press box tell me that this would probably be Curry’s last game if it continued to be a blowout.
That didn’t happen. Instead, Gary Hollingsworth took over at quarterback and things started clicking, and clicking, and finally churning like a Japanese bullet train headed straight for the Mississippi Delta. Alabama scored 62 unanswered points and kept rolling to win after win, until finally derailing at Auburn at the end of the season. That third consecutive loss to AU sealed Curry’s fate, although he chose his own exit, taking the job at Kentucky at season’s end.
This weekend’s game might not be quite as portentous. It might not feature 62 unanswered points, although some Alabama fans think it will. But it will mark another chapter in a series with a quietly fascinating history.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.