Football is one of the ultimate team sports. One player very rarely can win a game. However, on Labor Day 2013, we saw that rare instance.
The Alabama-Virginia Tech opener in the CFA Kickoff Classic was, by the standards of that game, one of the more disappointing ‘Bama openers. Tech was coming off of a subpar season, going 7-6 in 2012, and was not even ranked entering this contest. Alabama could not be going further in the opposite direction. The Tide had posted a 25-2 record in the previous two years, having won back-to-back national titles and were heavily favored to win a third straight in 2013.
The Hokies were as game as they could be under the circumstances. Blacksburg legend Frank Beamer was entering his 27th season, and the program looked to be losing steam. The offense was retooling its running game; the defense had lost a ton of talent the past two years. And, unlike tier one powers, VT is not the kind of program that simply reloads. It is very much a program that has to build incrementally and develop yearly.
Alabama, on the other hand, had a senior quarterback that was a Heisman contender; it had just signed another No. 1 recruiting class; and the running game was expected to be as dominant as the year previously, when the Tide fielded yet another Heisman finalist in the backfield.
This one looked to be forgettable. And, largely it was — except for Christion Jones. Jones always had excellent talent. But, he also had a terrifying reputation as a boom-or-bust returner, deserved or not: You could get an unforced fumble or a bad decision just as easily you could see a monster return.
Good Christion showed up that night.
After forcing a quick three-and-out, the Tide was set to receive the punt at its own 20-yard for its first offensive touch of the year. Tech’s punter boomed one, Jones slid up to the Alabama 28 to take the kick...and then he was gone.
The first time Alabama touched the ball in 2013 was an explosive 72-yard return for a 7-0 score. Christion was absolutely flying too -- the acceleration he showed to get the corner and then streak up the sidelines put him in another timezone.
Jones was not done, however.
In a pedestrian day for a Tide offense that had been hemmed in by Bud Foster’s excellent scheming, Jones shined. Trailing just 21-10 in the 2nd, the Hokies had just scored and looked to have momentum going into the locker room for the half. What Jones did then, was even better. He took the kick at the 6 and then had ambled to the 26, where he looked to be sewn up by an entire room full of Hokies at the Tide 27. Somehow, Christion wiggled and spun his way out of the tackles, and turned up the sideline with an escort him all the way to the endzone and a 28-10 Alabama lead.
Jones wasn’t done either. Alabama still up 28-10 late in a slogging game, Jones beat his man off the line and then hit the gas on a beautiful 44-yard strike from A.J. McCarron for another Alabama touchdown.
21-10, Christion Jones.
Still, it would be the 94-yard KR touchdown and the 72-yard PR touchdown that were most memorable. With two return scores in one game, Jones would join the Alabama record books. That feat had not been accomplished at Alabama in the past 60 years before Jones record-night in Atlanta. As we know, Cyrus Jones would join Jones in the record book just two years later, but it remains a remarkable achievement.
Yes, blocking matters, but the athleticism, vision, decision-making, speed were all Jones. He single-handedly gave the Tide its lead, its back-breaking score, and the icing on the cake.
72 days ‘til Alabama football.