We all have that one, shining moment. For Terrence Cody, it came in Bryant Denny Stadium on October 24, 2009, in an event that is known in Alabama football lore as "The Rocky Block."
Everyone remembers the seminal moment in his two-year career in Tuscaloosa, but Cody was overcoming the odds long before he ever pulled on a crimson jersey. Today, in honor of the 62 days remaining before the kickoff of the 2016 season, we look back fondly at the man known endearingly as "Mount Cody."
The Early Years
Cody was a living, breathing, hulking example of the American Dream made real. One of eight children, Cody was never allowed to play Pop Warner ball…he exceeded the weight limits from the time he was old enough to play. The eight year old with the size 10 shoe loved the sport regardless, and though he couldn’t play as a child, as a 6-2, 275 pound freshman in Fort Myers, FL, he made the varsity squad.
Cody struggled, however, to keep his grades high enough to play ball, and as his coach at Riverdale High School, Scott Jones recalled, the large young man "fell in with the wrong crowd." He didn’t qualify as a sophomore or junior, partially due to his family obligations as one of eight children and partially because his circle of friends had a negative influence on him (according to Jones.)
Cody didn’t even play football again until his senior year (sparing opponents two additional years of death by bludgeoning), but when he did, the young man who bore the weight of his family on his shoulders made good. He was a physical freak, a wrecking machine, the kind of player who so dominates his competition that any one-on-one competition is immediately deemed no-contest. Legend has it that, in a high school game, Cody once hit former West Virginia tailback/ athlete Noel Devine so hard in a game that it left the scatback puking on the sideline for the remainder of the game.
The JuCo Years
Because of his late emergence, Cody was lightly-regarded as a high school prospect. He held scholarship offers from the University of Miami and the University of South Florida, but he just didn’t have the grades to take advantage of either. That’s how he ended up at a perennial junior college contender in Perkinston, MS known as Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
There, Cody began to make a name for himself as one of the best players on one of the best junior college defenses in the country. The gigantor defensive tackle played at 410 pounds, and despite his enormous girth, he was athletic and agile. (Rumor around south Florida had it that Cody could dunk a basketball, and by his own admission, that he could do a backflip. Video does not exist of either of those feats, but there is this…food for thought.) In his freshman campaign at MGCCC, he recorded 48 tackles and 2.5 sacks, followed by a 2007 campaign in which he recorded 31 tackles and 3.5 sacks as part of the number-one rated junior college rushing defense and total defense.
Because of his size, Cody was once again lightly regarded as only a three-star prospect coming out of junior college. He worked to get his weight under control, and after shedding down to 385, he received a call from Alabama coach Nick Saban. Cody was tailor-made for the Tide’s brutalizing 3-4 defense, and Saban didn’t beat around the bush in approaching the giant nose tackle.
Cody recalled: "He said ‘We need a body like yours in the middle, to stop the run, to change the rhythm of the game.’"
Enter, Mount Cody…
Roll Mount Cody
After arriving in Tuscaloosa, Cody made an immediate impact in a defense loaded with top-flight talent. While not the starter at nose (throughout his Alabama career, Cody alternated with fellow tackle Josh Chapman on passing downs), Cody was a force against opposing running games, an immovable object in the heart of the Alabama defense who was physically imposing and athletically dominant.
In his first game in 2008, a contest that represented Alabama’s sounding of the apocalyptic herald that would resonate across the college football landscape through the present day, Cody was part of an Alabama defense that absolutely shut down Clemson’s highly-touted running game, holding James Davis and C.J. Spiller to 0 net yards rushing. Cody was a big part of this effort, soaking updouble-teams like a Sham-wow, manhandling opponents like his Game of Thrones doppelganger Ser Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane, and accounting for four tackles total (one for a loss) in the opener.
His dominance didn’t stop there...the game against Clemson marked only the beginning. Despite a lack of flashy stats, by the middle of his junior season, there was already talk that Cody could be the number-one rated defensive tackle in the upcoming NFL Draft. He had the size, quickness, athleticism and aggressiveness that makes scouts drool, and though he only accounted for 24 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and half a sack in 2008, by season’s end he was named a consensus All-American.
Though surrounded by great defensive athletes at Alabama, his impact as the run-stuffing man-mountain in the heart of Saban’s patented 3-4 was easy to diagnose. Pre-Cody (2007), Alabama’s run defense allowed 128.4 yards per game to opponents: in 2008, opponents could only muster 78.8 yards on the ground. Cody was a block-eater whose dominance inside created one-on-one opportunities on the edges for Alabama defensive ends and jack linebackers. He didn’t just dominate: his dominance had a ripple effect that radiated out to his teammates in the Bama front 7.
After the disappointment of a loss to Florida in the 2008 SEC Championship Game, Cody elected to return to Alabama despite projections that he would have received a first-round grade in the NFL Draft. It was a good decision, as he helped propel the Tide to the Promised Land for the first time since 1992. He recorded 28 tackles and six tfls in that senior campaign, but it was his one shining moment against Tennessee that forever etched his name in the marble monument of Crimson Tide football lore.
The Rocky Block
The Tide has always had a ferocious rivalry with the Tennessee Volunteers, and the flames of that animosity had only been fanned by the Vols hiring of brash-talking braggart Coach Lane Kiffin. The young coach radiated swag before swag was cool. He let his mouth fire-off like a Thompson submachine gun whenever cameras were in the vicinity. He lobbed grenades at the game’s institutions, and he spared nothing when speaking of Tennessee’s most hated rival, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The October 24, 2009 game was an ugly one. The Tide, after enduring seven previous games without a bye, was worn down. Alabama’s physical style of play drained opponents, but it had the same effect on the men in crimson over the long view. Throughout the game, Alabama was out of synch, tired. Quarterback Greg McElroy played one of his most inept games in crimson, and even the running game wasn’t particularly potent. Heading in the fourth quarter, the Tide had been outgained offensively, though they had benefitted from four Leigh Tiffin field goals to hold a 12-3 lead. Already in the fourth quarter, the Tide had managed to dodge a scoring bullet when Cody blocked a 43 yard attempt by Vol kicker Daniel Lincoln.
The Tide led 12-3 in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter…that’s when the wheels came off the wagon. Desperate times befell the Tide. Steady-handed running back Mark Ingram experienced his first career fumble when Vol safety Eric Berry collided with him and stripped the ball at the Bama 43. A few seconds later, UT quarterback Jonathan Crompton hit Gerald Jones for an 11 yard touchdown pass to close the gap to 12-10 with only 1:19 left to play.
To make matters worse, Tennessee successfully converted an onside kick to claim the ball at their own 41 yard line with no time outs. A nightmare scenario was evolving in front of 100,000 screaming Tide fans at Bryant Denny (and countless millions watching the unthinkable unfold on the CBS broadcast.) Crompton again hit Jones for a 14 yard gain, and after a false start penalty, the quarterback hit Luke Stocker on a huge 23 yard gain with the seconds ticking away. The Vols lined up for a 44 yard field goal for the win. The dagger was pressed to the chest of the mighty Tide, and it appeared the death fo the undefeated season was little more than a formality.
The Tide was starting down the barrel of a gun. Alabama had entered the game ranked second in the BCS rankings, and appeared destined for a revenge showdown with the Florida Gators and Mr. Wonderful Tim Tebow in the SEC Championship Game. However, the situation was dire, as the Tide was only 44 yards from suffering what would have been an extremely painful defeat for a multitude of reasons to a hated rival and loud, upstart coach.
After Saban used his final timeouts to ice the kicker, the task was indeed at hand. The field goal defense had a simple mission: block the kick, preserve the season. Saban lined his team up in "max block," knowing that Tennessee had struggled to move his big men in the middle all day long.
The moment of truth arrived…the ball was snapped…the center of the Vol line collapsed…Cody bulled through, hand extended skyward…and the ball caromed off of his burly arm, falling harmlessly to the turf, impotent.
The mountain of a man had done the unthinkable: he had blocked the upset-sealing kick to defeat the hated Vols. His helmet came off, his teammates streamed across the field in a wave like their crimson namesake, Bryant Denny erupted in ecstasy, a gridiron Vesuvius.
In his own words…
"I didn't really get off the ground," Cody said. "I just reached my arm up. That's how I got it. I knocked [the blocker] back. He was on his back."
In that moment, Terrence Cody became a legend, the stuff of Daniel Moore renderings of Alabama football moments, great and moving. From that moment on in 2009, Cody and the Tide would not be denied. They powered through LSU. They beat Auburn. They exacted revenge in glorious fashion against the favored Gators to win the SEC Championship. In their final stanza of their championship epic, they utterly upended the favored Texas Longhorns to claim Alabama’s first National Championship in nearly two decades.
Terrence Cody was a huge component in the restoration of Alabama football as a national force, a cornerstone in the edifice the Tide has erected in the years since. For that, legions of Tide fans will always be thankful, and they will remember the giant nose tackle fondly.
Unfortunately, hard times have once again befallen the behemoth from Fort Myers, as he was convicted earlier this year on animal abuse charges and sentenced to nine months in prison as a result.
Cody proved on that fateful day in October 2009 that he was resilient, that he was a fighter, that he never saw the cause as a lost one. If, on his own behalf, he can muster a shred of that quality he mined in his signature gridiron moment in Tuscaloosa, he may not be done just yet.
For Cody’s sake, let’s hope for the best.
(Do yourself a favor, and relive the good times. For, to quote the late great Merle Haggard, they definitely ain’t over for good. Click here to see that glorious moment in Alabama football history. And, if you have a midsummer craving for delicious Vol tears, I present to you this timeless classic. Enjoy…)