Southern Miss at No. 2 Alabama
When: 11 a.m., Saturday
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium
Records: Alabama 3-0, Southern Miss 2-1
Radio: 95.3 FM, 109.9 FM
Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary.
The Bluegrass Miracle.
Cal vs. Stanford’s The Play.
Some plays just transcend college football. Those plays are etched into the fabric of the game. They are iconic.
Alabama has a few of college football’s great moments on its resume: The Goal Line Stand, The Kick, Rocky Block, and The Strip to name a few.
There’s one play that stands out among the best, not just in Alabama’s storied history, but also in all of college football.
Alabama receiver Tyrone Prothro made one of the greatest catches of all time at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Sept. 10, 2005.
“The Catch” is still talked about in Tuscaloosa and will pop up on highlight reels of top college plays of all time.
Whenever some other big catch is made on Saturdays in the fall, Prothro always hears about it.
“When somebody makes a big catch similar to mine my phone will blow up and they will ask ‘hey did you see that catch?’” Prothro said. “I’ve even heard ESPN announcers say, ‘he got Prothroed’ or something like that.”
The lead up
Alabama needed less than a minute to score at the start of its game with Southern Miss to take a 7-0 lead. That’s what was supposed to happen when non-conference teams come to Bryant-Denny Stadium. A field goal a little later made it 10-0. Then everything turned on a dime.
“We started out fast and scored on like the first two or three plays on the drive and then we kind of sputtered a little bit and threw a pick-six and they got the momentum for a little bit,” Prothro said.
Southern Miss scored three straight touchdowns to take a 21-10 lead to suck the life out of the fans and the Crimson Tide.
“We found ourselves in a hole and had to dig ourselves out,” Prothro said. “They came out ready to play. They had some guys on their team that had a chip on their shoulder because they felt like they should have been playing for Alabama or something like that. They always play us tough.”
After a missed Alabama field goal and a few exchanged punts in the second quarter, the Crimson Tide got the ball back with just over three minutes before halftime.
Something had to change.
Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle moved the offense to the Golden Eagles 43-yard line and faced fourth-and-13 with 29 seconds to go before halftime.
“We were trying to figure out who was going to have the best matchup,” Prothro said. “They were playing one on one on the outside and the safety was kinda playing me one on one. We had a play that would isolate our guys on the outside and thinking that the safety was going to play over the top on one of them.”
The play is called in the huddle: Red Right Gun Bronco Right 989 Ricky.
“We’re playing on ESPN and playing on the big stage,” Croyle said. “We are supposed to be winning and we are getting beat 21-10. We call the play and we break the huddle and get out there and it’s not a great look for the play.”
The safety, Jasper Faulk, had Prothro covered pretty well on the go route, but Croyle let the ball fly anyway.
“Everybody runs go routes and there is actually a bend off on that play that he could have taken but he decided to take the other route,” Croyle said. “But he’s one of those guys that you give a chance to.”
Prothro didn’t let his quarterback down. With Faulk in front of him, Prothro reached underneath the Golden Eagles’ player with his left hand and reached over Faulk’s right shoulder with his right hand and caught the ball.
“I ttrew my hands up normally how I would throw my hands up when I’m running by myself,” Prothro said. “It just so happened that the guy was between my arms. I was totally focused on the ball. I knew his presence was there but I was looking at the ball the whole time just trying to concentrate on the ball. It was actually good coverage by him. Once the ball hit my hands I wasn’t going to let it go.”
Prothro caught the ball over and tumbled into the end zone with Faulk.
“They called it a touchdown at first so I walked to the sideline thinking they would keep it as a touchdown,” Prothro said. “When they called me down at the 1-yard line I actually got mad. But we scored on the next play but they still could have given me a touchdown.”
It was just the play Alabama needed to get back in the game.
“It was huge. We had to have that play,” Croyle said. “It might have even been a season momentum changer.”
At the time, though, neither Prothro nor Croyle realized just how big a play it was. The Crimson Tide scored on the next play and went on to win the game 30-21, but everyone was still buzzing about ‘The Catch.’
“I didn’t really realize the magnitude of it,” Prothro said. “People on the sideline were saying things like, ‘Daniel Moore is going to paint that catch,’ or ‘that’s going to be the catch of the year.’ I was just like, OK whatever.”
Social media wasn’t really a thing in 2005. There was YouTube and MySpace, but Twitter and Facebook were a year away and the word viral hadn’t been coined yet.
“We had social media but it wasn’t like it is in today’s world but I definitely think it would have gone viral if it happened with today’s social media,” Prothro said.
His catch did get some attention, though. It was shown over and over on ESPN, it was named the Pontiac Gamechanger Play of the Week (and later the Play of the Year), and everywhere Prothro went folks wanted to talk about one thing.
“After that (game) I go to class and get a standing ovation for the catch,” Prothro said. “A week after and people were still talking about the catch. Then I started to realize how big the play was. I started seeing some of the stuff Daniel Moore painted, all the big moments in Alabama history.
Moore, famous for his paintings of iconic moments in Alabama football history, announced he would paint the play the week after the Southern Miss game.
A few months later Prothro made a trip to Los Angeles for the ESPY Awards with his play nominated for play of the year. He walked away with the award.
“Just being able to go and experience something like that and being with the other celebrities that were there was amazing,” Prothro said. “With the season I had, getting injured, and then to get to go do something special like that, for me it picked me up a little bit.”
Like Croyle said earlier, Prothro’s catch was a momentum changer for the season. Alabama beat South Carolina the following week and Arkansas the week after. The Crimson Tide was ranked No. 15 heading into its next game with No. 5 Florida.
It wasn’t even close as Alabama breezed to a 31-3 victory. But there was a heavy cost. With nine minutes left in the fourth quarter of the blowout, Prothro suffered a devastating injury.
He went up to make a catch in the end zone with a defender on him and landed awkwardly, breaking his ankle.
“He’s one of the toughest guys I ever played with,” Croyle said. “He would never back down from anything and he would for sure not let anyone ever know that they hurt him or they dinged him. He was always the first one up and usually had something to say after he got up. When I could see him and he didn’t get up I hopped up and ran down there and saw what happened.”
Prothro sat in the end zone clutching his ankle. No one knew, not even Prothro, the severity of what happened until receiver Keith Brown frantically began waving for trainers to quickly attend to Prothro.
He had a compound double fracture, and just like that his football career was over.
“I’ve never been through a situation like that,” Prothro said. “I’ve never been injured like that. To have that magnitude of an injury was devastating with the level I was playing at that season. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and God has a plan for everybody. I just had to figure out what I was going to do for the rest of my life and make the best out of my situation.”
Prothro required numerous surgeries over the next several years due to his injury. The university paid for the surgeries, but, after his 10th procedure, Prothro was told by a trainer that his college benefits were about to expire, according to a 2014 LA Times story.
Prothro had also accumulated some student loan debt, around $10,000. The famous catch was generating money for the university and others like Moore, but Prothro wasn’t seeing a dime of it. Even when he asked the university for photos from ‘The Catch’ he was told it would cost him $10.
That’s what spurred him to testify in the Ed O’Bannon trial in 2014, which sought to give college athletes compensation in the form of a fund that would allow players to be paid at the end of their athletic tenure.
“It’s something I felt I could be a voice for,” Prothro said. “You had something special like my situation. I don’t know what a fair deal would be but I feel there should be something that’s better for the players.
“Maybe somewhere down the line it will change for the players.”
Prothro holds no ill will toward UA for his situation. In fact, he hopes to attend Saturday’s game against Southern Miss.
He spent several years at various jobs in Tuscaloosa and eventually got a job as an assistant coach at Spanish Fort a few years ago. For the last two years he’s been coaching wide receivers and kick returns at Jasper High School. He still lives in Tuscaloosa.
He constantly gets approached by folks who want to talk about his catch and he doesn’t mind talking about it.
He’s made hundreds of catches throughout his football career, but is “The Catch” the top of Prothro’s list?
“Other than marrying my wife, yeah, I probably feel like that is one of the best catches of my career,” he said. “I have some one-handed catches that I can put up there with it, but I think this catch tops them all.”
Reach Edwin Stanton at firstname.lastname@example.org, 205-722-0226 or via Twitter, @edwinstantonu2