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3 Days ‘Til Alabama Football: Jamie Christensen was money in the clutch

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It wasn’t always pretty, but Money got it done

AT&T Cotton Bowl: Texas Tech v Alabama Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Alabama has had a surfeit of All-American and all-conference kicking specialists down the years. This has been particularly true in the post-Bryant era, where the Tide has doled out hardware to the likes of Van Tiffin, Jeremy Shelley, Leigh Tiffin, Phillip Doyle, Michael Proctor, and the much-maligned Adam Griffith.

These young men have had game-winning kicks so iconic that their portrayals form the basis for artwork gracing homes and businesses throughout the state.

Still, none of them -- not Proctor, Doyle, the Tiffins -- no one was so automatic in the clutch as to earn the nickname “Money”. That honor belongs to Jamie Christensen alone.

To say he was lightly regarded would be an understatement. Christensen was known in recruiting circles, if anything, as a soccer player and deep-ball kickoff specialist. He only had two years of true prep kicking under his belt before signing with Shula and company out of Norcross, Georgia.

However, he earned playing time in 2004 as a redshirt freshman at the Capstone. The strong-legged Christensen was trotted out as the Tide’s kickoff specialist, where he put 24 of his 66 kicks into the back of the end zone, only whiffing two attempts out of bounds.

In 2005, as a redshirt sophomore starter, Christensen would make his mark as an all-conference performer and step into the Alabama record books. To put his achievement in perspective, it is necessary to reset that season.

The Crimson Tide started off strong that year: The defense led by Demeco Ryans was incredibly nasty. ‘Bama had a good running back tandem, a nice receiving corps, the strong arm of Brodie Croyle, the remnants of a powerful offensive line, and one of the nation’s premiere playmakers in wideout Tyrone Prothro.

The kicking game was a question mark: Could Christensen get it done. Far from being a liability, he would prove to be the Tide’s savior.

NCAA Football - AT&T Cotton Bowl - Texas Tech vs Alabama - January 2, 2006 Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images

We know what happened to the team after the first third of the season. As the undefeated Tide was knocking off the No. 5 Florida Gators in Bryant Denny, the true high water mark of the Shula era would also be its downfall -- Tyrone Protho’s career was ruined on an unnecessary deep pass late in the game, up by four scores. That injury would require multiple surgeries and become infected several times. He never played another down.

After that devastating injury that there was a profound change in the team; probably far more than the impact that one wide receiver should have on an offense. Through the Florida contest, Alabama had averaged nearly 31 points per game against BCS conference teams, while giving up 10 ppg. The offense was absolutely crippled thereafter, as the Tide did not score 20 points against a BCS-level opponent the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, the defense and kicking had to turn it up several notches to remain competitive. And, to their credit, they did. The ‘Bama defense gave up just 70 points the rest of the season, holding three-of-four ranked teams below 17 points per games, and held five of its remaining opponents to 10 points or less.

prothro

Money would get his first chance to bail out a moribund offense the week after Prothro went down. In a listless 10-10 tie in Oxford, Christensen was brought on to attempt the 31-yard game winner.

It wasn’t pretty, but...

The offensive funk was not a one-off either.

The very next week, in a game where the No. 8 Vols had done their best to give away a win, Roman Harper forced a huge turnover late in a 3-3 slog. Alabama had lost 9 of its previous 10 against Tennessee. It was not a sure thing that the Tide could move the ball, much less get it in the range of Christensen’s knuckleballs. Yet, they did, aided by the legs of Kenneth Darby and a great connection from Brodie Croyle to DJ Hall. And, again, Money was brought on.

This time, he left no doubt:

Alabama, aided by its all-star defense had become a top-10 team, and in position to win double digit games for just the 3rd time in a decade. Alabama just needed a win over Mike Leach’s high-powered, physical Texas Tech squad.

In a season of personal bests for him, that 2006 AT&T Cotton Bowl was a microcosm of the post-Prothro season: Excellent defense, big passing play, and a game-winner for the lightly-regarded Christensen.

A moment of appreciation for Money, if you will; yet another bright spot on those probation-ravaged Tide teams of the Shula era.

Jamie Christensen finished 9th in FGs made for a career (29,) and his 2005 season is the 8th most accurate one for an Alabama kicker (75.9%.) He also has nothing that no other Alabama kicker has had in its 125 year history: three game-winning field goals in a season and three clinchers for a career. Both of those marks are school records.

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3 days ‘til Alabama football

Roll Tide