CECIL HURT: Rain, rain not going away but Alabama football plays anyway
OXFORD, Miss. — The players on the Alabama football team Saturday night have no recollection of 1988 but might be jealous of that previous generation of Crimson Tide forebearers.
That team didn’t play through the remnants of a hurricane. In fact, it famously steered clear of Hurricane Gilbert, acting so cautiously that Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, sat empty on a sunny Saturday while Bill Curry’s team was back home in Tuscaloosa.
For most of its football history, Alabama has played by the old Postal Service mantra of “neither rain, sleet or snow,” sometimes in games that went down in history, others remembered mainly by those who splashed around for 60 minutes or sat, saturated, in the stands. Few of those “weather games” are remembered as vividly as the game that wasn’t.
There were more than a few backstories in that 1988 game. Hurricane Gilbert wasn’t imaginary. It was a powerful storm that wreaked havoc in the Yucatán Peninsula and was considered a threat to the Gulf Coast. It was monitored carefully, although, as everyone with a telephone realizes, 2020 technology is far ahead of what it was 32 years ago. So as Gilbert churned through the Gulf of Mexico, there were countless projections.
Texas A&M, which was coached by Alabama alumnus and former Paul “Bear” Bryant player Jackie Sherrill, wanted to play. UA, coached by Curry, a Georgia Tech graduate who was not warmly embraced in some Alabama circles, did not. Because Alabama was the team that had to travel, athletic director Steve Sloan, a Crimson Tide teammate of Sherrill’s, had the ultimate authority. (Texas A&M was not a member of the Southeastern Conference at the time, so there was no SEC involvement in the decision.)
Curry took the broadest view possible of safety and possible consequences. Even as projection models changed from a direct hit on College Station, he cited possible travel difficulties.
"What nobody could predict with any degree of safety was what would happen tomorrow," Curry said. "We might have been able to get out just fine. We might not have been able to get out for days."
”Stranded for days” rarely happens in storms of less-than-Katrina power, but Curry’s mind was made up and the game was rescheduled from Sept. 17 to Dec. 1, a more sterile emotional environment after the Alabama-Auburn and Texas-Texas A&M games. Sherrill did not like the decision. He was livid, ranting about Curry to several Alabama sports writers who had flown to Texas on Thursday.
"It's just inconceivable," Sherrill told the Bryan (Texas) Eagle. "Their quarterback (Jeff Dunn at the time, although David Smith took over as starter later in the year) was hurt, and that's why they didn't want to play this game."
If there was any doubt about Sherrill’s ire, he took the gloves off for a final shot.
”Coach Bryant would have been here,” he said.
Curry’s team ultimately had the final word, winning 30-10 in the rescheduled game, although the controversy never went away.
This season’s coaches, Nick Saban at Alabama and Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss, have some history but not one with those layers of acrimony. Neither was ultimately responsible for the decision to play in Oxford. They could only make sure there was plenty of rain gear.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt