Gene Stallings on 1992 Alabama football national championship vs Miami, history and humility | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

The first lesson he learned after coaching Alabama football to the 1992 national championship in New Orleans, Gene Stallings recalls, was an important one.

Humility.

In the wake of history, fashioned by a 34-13 victory over No. 1 Miami, Stallings, speaking in a telephone interview with The Tuscaloosa News, recalled the postgame celebration from the excitement of the locker room as the players excited in the upset of the brash Hurricanes.

He recalled the quiet moment, still possible in that earlier media time, when Alabama sports information director Larry White pulled him away from the excitement to speak briefly with the local beat reporters, Charles Hollis of the Birmingham News and another writer (me) from the Tuscaloosa News. It was an important moment of exclusivity, but in mid-interview, the door to the tiny side room opened and Stallings’ son John Mark came in with his review of the Crimson Tide performance: “Good job, Pop.”

University of Alabama head football coach Gene Stallings at the 1992 / 1993 Sugar Bowl vs. Miami.  Alabama won the National Championship by beating Miami

That moment is cherished in Stallings’ memory, more so since John Mark Stallings died in 2008. But in the frenzy of that January night, Gene Stallings was hearing the same message from everyone. “Good job,” or “great work, coach” came in endless variations. He had joined his mentor, Paul W. “Bear” Bryant, on Alabama’s coaching pantheon, breaking a drought, or at least a drought by Alabama standards, of 13 years between national  titles. His name would now be linked with Wallace Wade and Frank Thomas as well, and deservedly celebrated across the country. 

It wasn’t long before it was back to reality.

”There was a lady from Tennessee who was kin to my in-laws in some way,” Stallings said. “I wish I could recall her name but I can’t right now. But she was 89 years old, I remember that, and had been a girls basketball coach for many years and a big Alabama fan.

”Well, the day of the game she was going to have to go down to the Superdome, find a parking place, all of that. So I mentioned to Ruth Ann (Stallings, his wife) that she could just take a cab to our hotel and ride the bus with us and avoid all that, which she did.

”So after the game, all the celebration and interviews and all of that, it finally came time to leave for the hotel. So I headed out and got on the bus. And there she is,  sitting in my seat.

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”I didn’t say a word. I just sort of slid in next to her. So I was coach of a championship team, and I didn’t have a seat on my own bus.”

If that surprised Stallings, it was one of the few surprises in that matchup, the last meeting of Alabama and Miami for 29 years until the two play again in the 2021 season opener. In the wake of an overwhelming national consensus that No. 1 Miami would win another national championship, Stalling was quietly confident.

”If anybody asked me while we were in New Orleans what I thought, I told them we would win,” Stallings said. “First of all, we had the best team. We led the nation in about three different defensive categories, and on offense we could run the football.

"If you can stop the other team and they can’t stop you from running the ball, you should win. I told everybody that. I understood why people thought Miami would win. They had won it the year before (dominating Nebraska 22-0 in the Orange Bowl). They were undefeated. They had some great players, but I thought we were better.

”Second, our attitude was right. We were ready to play. We got down to New Orleans and we had a meeting when we got there. I reminded them of what we were there to do and that was that. We didn’t have a single player miss curfew, didn’t have anyone late to meetings. I think there was a little jawing between the two teams on Bourbon Street the first night we were there, but it didn’t amount to much because we were already ready to play.”

The rock-solid formula of running the ball and stopping the run worked to perfection, although Stallings admits that he broke character for one small gamble.

”I remember we had the ball on about the 40-yard line going in and had a fourth-and-1,” he said. “I knew what I should do in that situation, which was punt the ball. But I just had a feeling that if we could get a first down, we could run out the rest of the clock or almost all of it. So I called our fullback, Martin Houston, over and I told him, ‘Martin, we’re going for it, we’re giving it to you and you’re going to make the first down,’ which is exactly what he did. I’d just had a feeling and it worked out, but I still know the correct thing was to kick the ball. But sometimes, you’ve got to make a play.

”I don’t know if you’ll see many games like that one now. Today, the fans like the game to be 48-45, everybody scores and the team with the ball last has a chance to win. I understand that. It’s exciting. But if you ask me about the place of that game in history, I would say you aren’t going to see as many games won with defense and a sound running game, because the rules of the game have changed.”

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt 

Cecil Hurt