Poor Santonio Beard.
It could not have been an easy job for him in the fall of 2001.
Alabama was a train wreck in-waiting: The Tide had just changed coaches after a disastrous 3-8 campaign that saw the Flop from Opp fired and the university in disgrace from Dubose’s sexual harassment lawsuit. Worse, there was a war fomenting in the fanbase between supporters of incumbent Andrew Zow and those that wanted hyped Pelham product Tyler Watts to be the starting quarterback. It would be a distraction that eventually took on nasty racial tones in some of the darker corners of fandom. (To Zow’s eternal credit, he has always tried to downplay the negativity, focusing instead on the competition that Watts provided, while still admitting that it did creep into his thoughts.)
And, in the backdrop, Alabama would begin to be embroiled in one of the nastier NCAA cases in the SEC’s checkered past.
The show, as they say, must go on.
Splitting time with Ahmad Galloway, the Sophomore from Nashville had a solid season, rushing 77 times for 633 yards (8.22 YPC, 79.1 YPG) and 4 touchdowns with two 100+ yard games. A restoration of bowl eligibility, a return of power football, and winning season did go a long way towards soothing a reeling fanbase. Still, it was very hard to make Alabama fans forget Shaun Alexander.
Rejuvenated by the steady if aloof leadership of Coach Dennis Franchione and his read-option offense, and the graduation of Andrew Zow, 2002 looked to be a season where Alabama pounded the ball even more than usual. The Tide defensive line was nasty; Alabama had a veteran secondary; Franchione had recruited speed at the skills positions; and the schedule was manageable: 2002 was definitely shaping up. If any year was going to ease the pain of sanctions and return Alabama to its ground supremacy it would be this one.
As it happened, led by Santonio Beard and the ground game, 2002 would be a great season by the standards of those early Aughts teams. The Tide, recently placed on two-year probation, finished the year at 10-3, with two of those losses being to the SEC Champion (No. 7 Georgia) and the Big 12 Champion (No. 2 Oklahoma.)
Beard had his best year that season, as well. Splitting carries with Watts, Ray Hudson, and Shaud Williams, Santonio Beard ran for 811 yards and twelve touchdowns. It would be the home game versus Ole Miss where a good player on a troubled team stepped into the record book.
That night, Beard, who had rushed for just two scores in the first six games, went for 138 yards. More importantly, he tied Shaun Alexander’s school record with five rushing touchdowns in a 42-7 beatdown of Eli Manning’s No. 21 Ole Miss Rebels.
"Coach challenged me for the last two weeks,'' Beard said. "I wanted to do something to help the team win, but I never dreamed it would be five touchdowns.''
Neither did we.
It was one of the most satisfying performances in one of the most satifying wins of the Franchione era.
To this day, only two Alabama players have notched 30 points in a game on the ground, and only five have scored thirty in a game, period: Santonio Beard is one of those men.
30 days ‘til Alabama football.