By Drew Taylor
The play is an iconic part of Alabama football history.
It started the career of a 24-year-old then-unknown artist as a chronicler of historic Crimson Tide moments. It was a life-changing few seconds for a linebacker who still believes it is the sole reason he was picked in the first round of the 1979 NFL draft.
For Alabama fans, it is simply “The Goal Line Stand,” a play when Alabama’s defense held its edge over Penn State in the 1979 Sugar Bowl, leading to a 14-7 victory and the program’s 11th national championship.
The moment was captured on the cover of Sports Illustrated by Walter Iooss, a photo featuring Alabama linebacker Barry Krauss and others pushing back Penn State running back Mike Guman, inches from the end zone. The stand thwarted a scoring opportunity that would have tied the game, possibly giving the Nittany Lions a chance to come back and win its first national championship.
Instead, the play distilled the hard-nosed, in-your-face style that had become synonymous with Crimson Tide coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant and his football philosophy.
The Sports Illustrated cover of the play, released in its Jan. 8, 1979, issue, was sent to more than 2 million subscribers. Krauss still gets copies of the magazine sent to him by fans to sign. Even Guman gets copies from eager Alabama fans.
Surprisingly, Iooss has little to say about the cover.
“To be honest, I have no memories from that game,” Iooss wrote in an email.
Forty years later, the players who were part of the play, as well as the fans who were there to see it, vividly remember the play that ESPN called one of the greatest moments in college football history.
“It’s hard to believe it was 40 years ago,” said Rich Wingo, now an Alabama legislator who was in on the play as a Crimson Tide linebacker.
Going into the Superdome Jan. 1, 1979, Penn State and Alabama were ranked first and second, respectively, in the country. Four years earlier, Alabama had beat Penn State 13-6 in the 1975 Sugar Bowl.
From the onset, it was destined to be a hard-fought game between the two programs. Penn State had finished the 1978 regular season undefeated, while Alabama’s only loss was to USC at Legion Field.
For Krauss, the momentum Alabama had against Penn State began to turn late in the fourth quarter as quarterback Jeff Rutledge hurried a pitch under pressure to running back Tony Nathan, who was not expecting it, and Penn State recovered the fumble on Alabama’s 19-yard line.
“Penn State was awesome on defense,” Krauss said. “They had Bruce Clark, they had Matt Millen, and these guys were really beating us pretty bad and caused the fumble.”
It didn’t take long for Penn State to take advantage of its possession as it moved closer to the end zone. Alabama defensive back Don McNeal stopped Penn State wide receiver Scott Fitzkee at the 1-yard line and the Nittany Lions subsequently moved the ball within inches of a touchdown before the epic play.
One part of “The Goal Line Stand’s” lore is how Alabama linebacker Marty Lyons and Penn State quarterback Chuck Fusina exchanged words before the fourth-down-and-goal play. Before the game, the two had gotten to know each other through “Bob Hope’s All-Star Christmas Show,” where the late comedian featured that year’s Associated Press All-American Football Team.
“We were both standing with the officials and he said, ‘What do you think?’ ” Lyons said. “I said, ‘I think you better throw the ball.’ I didn’t think anything about it.
“Thank God he didn’t take my advice.”
To Wingo, the defense was ready for whatever Penn State had to bring.
“It was something we had done a million times in practice,” Wingo said. “It was something (Bryant) prepared us for.”
With fourth and inches to go and less than seven minutes in the game, Fusina handed off the ball to Guman. The Penn State running back burst up the middle, but was thwarted by defensive back Mike Clements getting through the line and holding him down, followed by Krauss meeting him head-on with linebacker Murray Legg moving the two back.
“I remember more than anything the pressure that the defense had and that they were coming from a lot of different angles and sides,” Guman said. “I never really got a chance to get up and jump the way that I wanted to.”
Krauss pinched a nerve when he hit Guman, falling to the ground with a piece of his helmet missing. He was unable to move for more than a minute. He thinks he also may have suffered a concussion.
“I really don’t remember too much afterwards,” he said. “My mom goes, ‘We drove home together,’ and I would say, ‘I don’t remember driving home with you.’ ”
Krauss didn’t know Guman’s run had been stopped until he was helped up.
“I just remember Marty and Wingo picking me up and saying, ‘Hey, man, we stopped them. We did it.’ ”
Wingo knows the game could have gone much differently. A pass to an outside receiver easily could have tied the game, but he knew Penn State coach Joe Paterno would not do that.
“I honestly believe Paterno was just like Bryant: If we’re going to win this game, we’re going to whip the man in front of us,” Wingo said.
Penn State was never able to regain its footing. After getting the ball back, Alabama was eventually forced to punt. However, Penn State gave the Tide a first down after being penalized for having too many men on the field during the punt. Alabama would subsequently run out the clock.
“You have to take advantage of the moment when it’s there and sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t,” Guman said. “Unfortunately for us, it didn’t that day.”
Clements wanted his moment to shine.
Clements had had a hard season. Having married earlier that summer, it was difficult for Clements to find a lot of good playing time, and the strain of playing football and trying to provide for his family were not easy. At the time, his wife, Jane, had a job as a secretary at the UA law school and Clements wanted to get in on a special marriage scholarship that would have paid $150 per month.
“I had asked coach Bryant for one and he said, ‘We’ll see how you do,’ ” Clements said.
With Penn State’s offense set to run the ball one last time, the Alabama defense set into the “Gamble Man,” basically a formation for everyone to plug the middle, “creating havoc” along the way. As Clements came inside, he grabbed Guman.
The rest is Alabama history.
“From my standpoint, there was no point I could have stopped that guy from scoring,” Clements said. “All I can say is thank God Krauss was there.”
After the game, Clements made one of his first big purchases: $847 for a Betamax, a type of videotape recorder.
“I bought it just so I could watch the game,” he said. “My wife used it to watch soap operas.”
At the time, Clements did not feel his contribution was that notable. In pictures of the play, only a portion of his helmet is visible compared to the helmets of Krauss, Legg and others. That changed a few days later when he visited Bryant in his office to talk once more about trying to receive a marriage scholarship. Clements was shocked to hear how much Bryant enjoyed his performance during the Sugar Bowl.
“He told me, ‘I want to give it to you,’ ” he said. “‘You proved to me that you never give up on anyone.’ ”
Art imitating life
As Guman’s touchdown attempt was being stopped, Daniel Moore was watching from his father-in-law’s house in Birmingham. He was the only person in the family who had a color TV.
At the time, Moore, who would achieve fame through his series of paintings commemorating Alabama football, was working as a staff artist at Alabama Power, only a few years after he graduated from the University of Alabama.
“I remember going crazy when they stopped him,” Moore said. “It looked like we were going to win.”
Moore had never considered doing artwork of Alabama football. At the time, artist Rick Rush had made a name for himself painting different sports, especially one involving Alabama’s 1978 Sugar Bowl win ovre Ohio State. Concurrently, Moore had done one painting of a marathon runner that had been commissioned by a company.
All that changed when one of Moore’s friends stopped by his cubicle one afternoon.
“He had seen the (Rick Rush) print and said, ‘Why don’t you do a painting of the goal line stand and do prints of it?’ ” he said.
Initially citing his workload at Alabama Power as a reason to put off the project, Moore changed his mind after seeing several pictures of the stand, recognizing how the imagery was “quintessential Bryant.”
“I prayed about it and, soon thereafter, I was really busy on it,” he said.
Moore took his time with the painting, drawing inspiration from Iooss’ picture, as well one from longtime Birmingham News photographer Tom Self and others that had been printed in newspapers and magazines. By August, Moore had finished “The Goal Line Stand.” Within a year and a half, he had sold more than 5,000 with many more requests for copies. Initially starting at $35, prints of “The Goal Line Stand” can now go as high as $3,000 each.
The success of the painting, his first commemorating Alabama, led Moore to quit his job and start his studio, New Life Art. Since 1979, Moore has released nearly 50 paintings of Alabama football-inspired art.
“That was the ticket the Lord used to open some doors,” he said.
Moore admits that while it is not his most technically favorite piece, it is his most sentimental one.
“It’s just one of those pinnacles in Alabama football history, and I guess it always will be,” Moore said.
Turning pain into purpose
Guman was only 20 when he played in the Sugar Bowl, and in the final moments of the game, he felt the weight of defeat. However, with the time he subsequently put into training for the next year, there was little time to feel sorry for himself.
“You’re caught up in it, but then it’s time to move on,” he said.
If the loss to Alabama helped Penn State in any way, it was a catalyst for when the team returned to New Orleans in 1982 to face Georgia. Penn State ended up beating UGA 27-23 that year to win the national championship.
“I think there were things that Joe and his coaching staff certainly learned from their experience in the ’79 Sugar Bowl to make the team better prepared, maybe not as uptight in the game,” he said.
A reality in sports is how some fans can turn on the player they deem responsible for costing their team victory. For years, Bill Buckner was a pariah to Boston Red Sox fans after a missed grounder cost his team the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets. In January 2018, New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams took the brunt of criticism from fans after a missed tackle caused the Minnesota Vikings to win the NFC divisional playoffs 29-24.
But Guman never felt like the Penn State fan base had cast him aside for coming up short on “The Goal Line Stand.”
“I think that’s part of the whole way that Penn State has always approached things,” he said. “It’s always like, ‘You win as a team, you lose as a team.’ ”
Despite the short-lived disappointment, Guman’s football career flourished after 1979. From 1980 to 1988, he played for the Los Angeles Rams. Today, he works as a vice president at Oppenheimer Funds in Pennsylvania and has five children.
If anything, the Sugar Bowl loss served as one more stop along Guman’s journey.
“You’ll have to overcome some of those setbacks in life,” he said. “They happen at different times and different moments, but they make you stronger.”
Despite the loss, Guman said he still views the bowl game as one of the greatest college football games in history and is glad he was a part of it.
“It ended up being the matchup everyone expected it to be: two great teams, two great coaches, two great universities going at one another,” he said. “That doesn’t happen all that often.”
In many ways, “The Goal Line Stand” came to define many of the players involved. Krauss has often been recognized by football fans from the play. Over the years, he has even taken up painting and used the image as something he paints and sells.
When Wingo was elected to the Alabama Legislature in 2014, AL.com’s headline for the story was, “Rich Wingo helped famous Tide goal-line stand, now elected to Alabama legislature.”
Wingo said he is just honored that he was part of that team.
“We had such a great group of guys, and for me, it was such a great honor,” Wingo said.
Despite the play, there was a bittersweet feeling for Wingo, who thought the Sugar Bowl would be his last time to play football. A starter for a couple of years, Wingo got hurt during the homecoming game against Virginia Tech earlier that season, where he suffered a herniated disc after getting hit in the back during a play.
“I missed the Auburn game that year, but I was able to recoup,” he said.
Wingo vividly remembers sitting in the locker room after the win, wondering what his future would be.
“I never had any idea because I missed most of my senior year,” he said.
Wingo credits both the game and the play for NFL scouts taking interest in him. That year, he was picked up in the seventh round by the Green Bay Packers and he played for them until 1984.
For Krauss, the play changed his life.
“I truly believe that it got me into the NFL,” said Krauss, who was the sixth overall pick in the 1979 draft for the Baltimore Colts.
Years later, the play has followed Krauss. In 2007, as Nick Saban was beginning his first year as UA’s coach, Krauss traveled down to Tuscaloosa to meet him and his staff. As he was meeting the coaches, Krauss shook hands with Kevin Steele, then defensive coordinator for the Tide, who immediately recognized who he was.
“I went up to introduce myself and he said, ‘I know who you are,’ and he went, ‘Turn around and look,’ ” he said.
Looking behind him, Krauss saw a 6-foot-by-4-foot picture of the Iooss’ Sports Illustrated picture on the wall.
“He said, ‘I tell all my players this is how you tackle, this is what you have to do and this is how you make a play,’” Krauss said.
Despite the injuries Krauss sustained from the hit, some of which he carried with him during his time with the Baltimore Colts and Indianapolis Colts, he still calls the play the highlight of his career.
“When I look back on my whole career, 13 years in the NFL, that one hit is one of my best hits I ever had and it was something that I was honored to have the opportunity to prove to coach Bryant that I was good enough to play for him and good enough to play for Alabama,” he said.
Clements, now a history teacher at Homewood High School, plays a clip of the play for his students from time to time, a reminder that people can be part of extraordinary things if they work at it.
“I felt I was fortunate enough just to play on the football team,” he said. “After that play, it helped me definitely feel that I was worthy of that and it made me feel something special that I could be a part of.”
These days, Lyons, who works for the New York Jets, occasionally runs into Penn State fans, always coming away with some talk of the play.
“They will sometimes tell me, ‘We really did score on that play,’ ” Lyons said. “I have a ring that tells me otherwise.”
Reach Drew Taylor at email@example.com or 205-722-0204.