Snapper, holder look back on Jamie Christensen's 'Cash Money' season for Alabama 15 years later
Matt Miller was adjacent to glory in the fall of 2005, almost completely by accident.
He was a reserve wide receiver on Alabama’s football team, catching four passes for 52 yards. It was also the season he took up holding, primarily for a selfish reason.
“The only reason I started holding that year is my dad’s a big fan of Daniel Moore paintings. I figured, ‘Maybe I’ll get lucky, we’ll win a game, game-winning kick, and I’ll be in a Daniel Moore for holding a kick,’ ” Miller said. “We had three game-winning kicks and I never got in a Daniel Moore for holding a kick, I ended up getting in a Daniel Moore for a catch I made in the Cotton Bowl.”
Kicker Jamie Christensen is the one who became famous that fall, earning the nickname "Cash Money." However it didn't pay off without Drew Lane, the long snapper, and Miller, holding.
For a season that featured three game-winning kicks — in a 13-10 win over Ole Miss, 6-3 win over Tennessee and 12-10 over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl — it had its ups and downs. Christensen missed the season opener for disciplinary reasons, then missed an extra point and a field goal in his return against Southern Miss. He missed a field goal in both of the regular-season games he ended with a game-winning kick and missed two before his game-winner in the Cotton Bowl.
“He was a laid back, happy guy. His world didn’t revolve around it, which was good for a kicker,” Miller said. “If he messed up or if something wasn’t perfect, he’d address it but he wouldn’t think about it for very long.”
To make matters more difficult, when things did go wrong, specialists in that time were more or less on their own.
As Lane put it, “For the most part, it was very self-directed. We were expected to be fully warmed up and prepared for punt at the beginning of the practice.”
Miller wasn’t around for most of the specialist practice, being a wide receiver.
“We used to joke about it, the first four to five periods were special teams. At the end of those four or five periods, the kickers and snappers would go in the indoor facility and we used to say they’re just going in there to play,” he said. “I guess they went in there and made some kicks. I still don’t know what they did.”
The specialists had to get ready quickly for that first game-winner against Ole Miss. A somewhat plodding drive quickly got into reasonable field-goal range when Kenneth Darby took a draw for 16 yards into the red zone on what proved to be the penultimate play of the game. That one was particularly meaningful for Lane, a Braxton, Mississippi, native who came to UA via Hinds Community College in Raymond, Mississippi.
Christensen would do it again the next week against Tennessee. The job became second nature to the first-time holder.
“You do so many of them, I never thought about any of the magnitude of it. It was just catch it and put it down,” Miller said. “By the end of spring I had done so many reps, I was good with it. I caught 100 balls after practice every day or every other day.”
The trio were not needed in the same way until the Cotton Bowl, when a game-winner was described by Eli Gold as, “One of the ugliest kicks that became beautiful in midair.”
Christensen had missed more field goals than he made in a game that was tied at 10 when he took the field for a fourth attempt, which looked worse than the first three.
“The first two, with Ole Miss and Tennessee, I could tell (he made it) by the sound of it,” Lane said. “When he kicked the Texas Tech kick, I heard it. I heard it whiz over my head and I knew he mishit it. After I snapped it and I heard it, I could see it going in a straight line, so I shed my block and ran out past everybody about five yards so I could watch it.”
The football looked more like a baseball on a screaming line drive as it approached the crossbar. Instead of the reliable path and trajectory of an end-over-end rotation, it was knuckling as it sped toward the crossbar.
“I just know that game, we were short at receiver so I played more snaps at receiver than I ever did in my life in that game, and I remember just praying that ball would go through because I don’t think I could’ve done any more snaps,” Miller said. “I was completely gassed.”
Miller was finally immortalized by Daniel Moore for a catch on the way to the game-winning kick against Texas Tech, moving the chains on a third down. He still remembers being hit hard by Big 12 defensive player of the year Dwayne Slay on the play.
“I did all that holding, three game-winning kicks, and it never made a Daniel Moore,” Miller said. “Me and my dad joke about it all the time.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson