Not that you can call it a downside, but one effect of the Nick Saban era is the lack of many competitive games. Life-and-death struggles are for mortal teams. I think that’s why we appreciated the first two Clemson games so much — Alabama simply isn’t tested very often. But, when the Crimson Tide are on their game and they face a talented opponent who’s also playing lights out, and can match Alabama punch-for-punch, it has tended to be epic.
But, there was a different era, under different men, where there was parity between Alabama and the field. Gene Stallings and Mike Shula in particular had a love of playing razor-thin, cardiac games during the Bryant-Saban interregnum.
And, that takes us to today’s question.
Being a broke college student in 1999, I didn’t get to many very away games. But, that year, I had unexpectedly come into a little inheritance money. So, I decided that I would finally visit Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to see what this was all about.
The SEC’s long-slumbering giant had finally awoken in Gainesville. And, outside of Tennessee, there was no greater threat to the SEC’s historical order than the visor-tossing, dad-gumming-it, Banquet-beer-swilling, gold-loving Steven Orr Spurrier and his cocky death machine in the Swamp. It was a national power. It was a legendary coach with an NFL roster full of talent. It was an offense that was as beautifully efficient as it was balanced.
It was Rome during its best Republic years.
I’m glad I made the trip. What happened that day remains the greatest game of football I’ve witnessed in-person: 1999 No. 21 Alabama 40 - No. 3 Florida 39.
If you’re too young to have seen this one live, it’s worth watching the condensed game below. If you’ve not seen it in a while, prepare for 15 minutes of chills.
This story has a coda.
Ironically enough, I was able to make it to two away games that year. My in-laws bought me tickets and a trip to Miami for the Orange Bowl. There would be a karmic debt to be paid for that missed Florida kick back in October, it seems. In another instant classic, against a Wolverines team led by a guy named Tom Brady, we saw one of college football’s best recent duels. Brady vs. Shaun Alexander was magic. Both of those men are now destined for the college and pro Halls of Fame, and one is perhaps the best to ever play his position.
That was a helluva’ ride for a really fun team.
So, your RBR Question of the Day: