At a school that has produced two Heisman running backs and countless other future NFL talents over the eons, one tailback who played a pivotal role in Alabama’s early-1990’s ascension is Siran Stacy. When one thinks of the greatest backs in Alabama history, names like Johnny Musso, Bobby Humphrey, Derrick Lassic, Sherman Williams, Shaun Alexander, Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry, Eddie Lacy, and Trent Richardson may come to mind. But often overlooked is a scrappy, hard-working, homegrown kid from southeast Alabama who set his sights on a career at the Capstone and didn’t relent until he was the Tide’s number one tailback under former coaches Bill Curry and Gene Stallings.
Truth be told, Siran Stacy is what, for decades, Alabama football was all about. Furthermore, his on-field exploits deserve to be considered alongside the other aforementioned titans of the Alabama back field. In an Alabama career full of shining moments, at no time was Stacy’s explosiveness more on display than on October 21, 1989 at Legion Field, when Stacy accounted for an amazing 283 yards of offense and four touchdowns against the Tide’s most hated conference foe.
The scrappy tailback out of Geneva High School in one of Alabama’s poorest counties was always an Alabama fan, and had harbored dreams of wearing the crimson and white and streaking down fields of green in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. However, things weren’t that easy for the aspiring tailback. Despite the set-backs, however, he persevered, and through that shoulder-to-the-wheel persistence, he found himself on the brink of greatness in his firsts year at Alabama in a game that has created legends in the century it has been played.
The Third Saturday in October match-up with arch rival Tennessee is arguably Alabama’s single-most virulent rivalry. Relationships are shattered, business agreements fractured, and temperaments are pushed to the point of boiling over by the hatred that divides the two teams. And in 1989, the typical vitriol was further amplified by the records of the two combatants coming into the TSIO blood-feud: both #10 Alabama and #6 Tennessee were undefeated, nationally-ranked, and in the running for an SEC Championship.
As if the stakes were not high enough, after middlin’ progress under unpopular head coach Bill Curry (he was, after all, a Georgia Tech man), Curry needed a victory over Tennessee to further win the affections of the Alabama fan base. A win over the hated Big Orange would be a huge piece of that quest.
For the first-year tailback out of Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, the biggest stage of his young career would come in what would be a pivotal game in the career of his coach, the SEC Championship race, and his own burgeoning career.
Stacy, by his own admission, had been an Alabama fan all his life. Like many young men growing up in the Great State, his childhood ambitions centered upon one day making a name for himself on the football field, and earning the attention of the coaches at the University of Alabama.
In later recounting of his early history, Stacy remembered his first brush with Alabama greatness. As an 8-year-old, he had the opportunity to visit the legendary Legion Field, where he recreated Coach Paul bear Bryant’s iconic photo by leaning against the goal posts in the stadium.
As Stacy’s football career became to come into fruition at Geneva High School, it was evident he had the talent to earn the attention of college programs across the south. He was considered a blue-chip talent on the football field. However, his academics were a sticking point, and because of that, he didn’t qualify to attend a four-year school initially, despite his dogged pursuit of that goal. As he prepared to graduate high school, he received a call from Dave Rader, Alabama’s offensive coordinator under Ray Perkins. Rader encouraged Stacy to continue working towards his goal, and told him about Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, a competitive school that routinely helped players build up their academic profiles before moving on to four-year programs.
Stacy followed through, and the coaching staff at Coffeyville offered him a chance to make the team (if he could make it to the Kansas plains under his own power), even though camp was set to start soon. The aspiring tailback didn’t have a scholarship, nor the money to even get to Kansas. However, undeterred, he worked to save money for a bus ticket, washing cars and cutting grass until he could purchase a one-way Greyhound ticket to desolate Coffeyville, KS.
Though he arrived two days late to camp, Stacy’s ability was clear. He made the team, and rose through the roster ranks to grab the bulk of the playing time at tailback. After two years, he was ready to move on to a four-year school. The Coffeyville coaching staff had close ties to Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, and could guarantee Stacy a look if he wanted to don the Husker red. But Stacy had his mind set on a different shade, as he only had eyes for crimson. After a few phone calls, the new coaching staff at Alabama under Curry agreed to give Stacy a loo, and with offensive coordinator Homer Smith’s enthusiastic approval, Stacy was granted a scholarship at Alabama.
Stacy at the gates
Stacy had risen to become Alabama’s lead tailback by the time the Third Saturday game rolled around. The Tide had talent on the roster (such as future star Derrick Lassic), but Stacy had what the others didn’t possess: experience. He also had a skill set tailor-made for Smith’s dynamic offense: he could run with speed or power, he was agile enough to play receiver, and he was a stealth weapon in the passing game that defenses often overlooked.
There’s no doubt UT, and their coach Johnny Majors, knew what was in store for them as they prepared to match up with Alabama’s prolific offense. Quarterback Gary Hollingsworth, who started the season a second stringer behind Jeff Dunn, had seen his star rise meteorically since taking the starting position. While early opponents were caught off guard by his prowess, Tennessee’s defense knew the QB was pinpoint accurate and football-smart. They also knew that the Tide loved to pound the ball, and they had an offensive line, fullbacks, and tailbacks to get the job done against almost any defense in the conference.
While Stacy’s considerable ability was obvious in the early stages of the 1989 season, it was against Tennessee that he entered Alabama legend. Always known for stellar defense (and this unit was no different, with the likes of Keith McCants, Charles Gardner, John Mangum, Lee Ozmint, and George Teague), Alabama’s success in 1989 was powered by Smith’s high-powered, multiple offense. Hollingsworth, a cerebral quarterback, was a key cog in the wheel of that success. But it was Siran Stacy’s dependability, athleticism, and versatility that really allowed Alabama’s offense under to Smith to be unstoppable.
The Vols were short-handed offensive to begin the game, as star tailback Reggie Cobb had been dismissed from the team following violation of team rules (read: alleged failed drug test). But even with Cobb, the Vol defense was not prepared for what the Tide would throw at them. The tip of that spear was none other than Stacy, who was used in both the running game and the passing game to flay the Tennessee defense.
A Star is Born
Alabama jumped to an early lead in the game, drawing first blood after a solid drive when Hollingsworth found Alabama legend Kevin Turner, the fullback, for a touchdown pass. On the ensuing kickoff, UT fumbled the ball on the return, and the Tide recovered. The turnover resulted in a Phillip Doyle field goal to put Alabama up 10-0 in the first quarter.
Tennessee finally struck early in the second quarter, thanks to a long drive pieced together by quarterback Andy Kelly, and back Greg Amsler put the Vols on the board with a 1-yard TD run to put the score at 10-7.
Stacy’s, who was the workhorse tailback for a Tide offense that enjoyed the run, made his first scoring mark on the contest from the 25-yard line when Hollingsworth flipped the ball forward his way on a shovel pass. The genius call from Smith would have been a positive gainer for any tailback, as it took advantage of an aggressive Vol rush. But Stacy turned it into more than just a first-down gain as he slashed through the open holes to the left side, picked a crease near the hash, and turned on the speed while Vol defenders fell at his feet. The 75-yard scoring play was officially recorded as a pass, but it was Stacy’s pure running ability that victimized the team in orange to give Bama an early 16-0 lead (the Doyle PAT was blocked).
Tennessee scored again when Kelly hit Anthony Morgan for a 33-yard touchdown pass in a drive that lasted just a little over a minute, and just like that, the game became a dog fight with the score at 16-14.
Alabama would add to their lead prior to the half, however, thanks in large part to Stacy’s performance in the passing game, and Hollingsworth’s arm. Facing a third down and seven outside of Doyle’s range, the Tide needed a conversion to keep the drive alive. Hollingsworth went to the dependable Stacy, who had worked himself open on the right hash downfield. Despite great coverage by the Vols, Stacy reeled in the pass for a 22-yard gain, giving Doyle a chip shot opportunity deep in UT territory. The Tide converted the kick to take a tenuous 19-14 lead into the half.
In the third, the Tide extended their lead on the legs of Stacy and the arm of Hollingsworth. After a masterful drive built on the running game, the quarterback hit tight end Lamonde Russell in the end zone for a 26-14 lead.
Alabama grew that lead thanks to a big play on special teams, as on the ensuing kickoff, the UT return man fumbled the ball, and Bama recovered. With the gift turnover deep in Tennessee territory, the Tide converted with Stacy’s eighth TD of the season. Behind excellent blocking, Stacy showed his quick feet and a punch of power, as he navigated traffic to bang into the end zone from five yards out for the score. Alabama led 33-14, and seemed to be pulling away.
But the Vols would not go gentle into that good Alabama night, and rather raged against the dying of their flickering orange light. The next two scores would enflame those in orange, as the Vols scored 10 unanswered points to keep the score close at 33-24.
But just as the Volunteers refused to accept defeat, Smith and his offense simple refused to release the throttle of their high-powered attack. Hollingsworth again orchestrated a drive, utilizing his receiving weapons and the running of Stacy, converting a pivotal third down and seven with a pass to his trusty tight end Russell. Deep in Tennessee territory, Smith once again called Stacy’s number to cap the drive, and the powerful back showed his versatility by banging the ball in from seven yards out to give the Tide a commanding lead once again.
Tennessee wasn’t done, as the Vols put together another drive to keep their fading hopes alive as the fourth quarter diminished. Kelly found Carl Pickens on a beautifully executed 33-yard fade pass for a touchdown. Majors elected to go for a two-point conversion, but Garner made a fantastic defensive play to bat the ball down and leave the score at 40-30. Curry and the Tide put their collective foot on the throat of the Volunteers late, as they drove downfield in the final moments of the game.
With only 30 seconds remaining on the clock, Alabama executed a play that told the story of the game. Alabama’s blockers (Charlie Abrams, Ben Strickland, and Martin Houston among them) decimated the left side of the Vol front. Stacy soaked up a pitch from Hollingsworth, found a crease behind his blocking, and powered through an attempted tackle by the middle linebacker like a power back. Stacy quickly found the edge and accelerated, pulling away from the fingertips of diving orange-clad players as he reached for the corner of the end zone for the game’s final score.
Any Alabama win over the hated Volunteers is a source of pride for the Tide faithful, make no mistake about it. But this particularly throttling of Tennessee was a statistical highpoint for an Alabama team traditionally celebrated for its defense.
Both the Alabama and Tennessee defenses were indeed highly rated coming into the contest, but both units took a hammering at the hands of the opposing offenses on that afternoon. There was almost 1,000 yards of total offense accumulated between the two teams, with 935 yards of offense and 54 first downs recorded from the two units.
Alabama’s Hollingsworth had a great day, to be sure, with his 32-of-46 passing performance for 379 yards and three TDs. His total completions on that day broke Scott Hunter’s record.
But it was Stacy who broke the back of the Tennessee defense, as he was used as a weapon in the backfield and as a receiving option for which the Vol defense could not account. The tailback, who was used in the running, passing, and special teams facets of the game, was responsible for a record 318 all-purpose yards. The back had 125 yards rushing, 158 yards receiving (on nine grabs), and 34 yards in the return game. Few Alabama backs, Heisman winners or not, can boast that type of performance, especially in a game as important as the Third Saturday in October was in 1989.
Stacy went on to have a banner year in 1989 and cement his role as the Tide’s chief offensive weapon. He ended the ’89 campaign with 1,079 yards on 216 carries, 17 TDs, and a 5.0 yard per carry average. He also contributed 371 yards through the air on 36 catches, and was the Tide’s leading scorer that year with 108 points, edging out the reliable kicker Doyle by eight points.
The Tide remained undefeated until the final game of the regular season against Auburn, when Alabama fell to the Tigers 30-20. The good will Curry won from the stellar season and the huge victory over Tennessee immediately evaporated. The Tide ended the season in a 3-way tie for the SEC crown (with Auburn and Tennessee, no less), though Alabama earned the Sugar Bowl berth. Curry’s Alabama career, already fragile after the Auburn loss, came to an abrupt halt after Alabama’s second loss of the season to Miami in the Sugar Bowl, as he resigned to take the Kentucky job at season’s end.
Stacy, however, remained. With only two years of eligibility when he arrived at Alabama, Stacy found himself injured for the second year in 1990. Because of that, he garnered an extra year on a medical redshirt, and played a big role in the ascension of the Tide under Gene Stallings. In his final season at Alabama in 1991, the Tide went 11-1, and Stacy accounted for 967 yards and 10 TDs on the ground in Stallings’ run-heavy attack. He finished his Bama career with 2,113 yards and 27 touchdowns on the ground, and 574 yards through the air. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of the 1992 NFL Draft, and played only a year before being released from the team. He later joined the Saskatchewan Rough Riders of the CFL, and became the team’s leading rusher with 2,350 yards in his career.
While Stacy didn’t win a Heisman, nor was he a part of a Tide National Championship team, his on-field performance in three years in Tuscaloosa ranks alongside those of Tide greats at the position. He was a constant thorn in the side of the Tide’s most hated rivals, and he was captain on the 1991 that laid the groundwork for Alabama’s historic undefeated title run in 1992. He is one of the greatest Tide backs of the last quarter century, and he played his best game on a Third Saturday in October against the hated Volunteers.
(To see highlights of the Tide’s pivotal win over Tennessee in 1989, visit here. If you have time on your hands and are into grainy footage and old-school announcing, here’s a link to the entire game. For you Eli Gold aficionados, here’s the legendary Tide announcer’s call of the 75-yard Stacy TD. And finally, if you want to see more of this explosive Tide back in action, here’s a full rundown of his career in highlights. Carry on, and Roll Tide.)