It was the start of the 2009 season. Alabama fans were excited about their team after an unexpected perfect record in 2008 before falling to Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators. After a thrashing of #7 Virginia Tech in the season opener, the Tide rattled off 5 straight wins as sophomore phenom running back Mark Ingram racked up over 450 yards in the three biggest games against VT, #20 Ole Miss, and Kentucky.
Then, against the #22 South Carolina Gamecocks, the Alabama offense faltered. The game opened well enough with safety Mark Barron picking off a passing and taking approximately 3 years to juke every single member of the USC offense twice each on his way to scoring a touchdown, but after that, the Tide struggled to do anything but kick a couple of measly field goals.
The Alabama defense did it’s part in keeping USC from doing much on offense, but it was still a 7 point ballgame with only 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter while the Gamecocks were gaining confidence by the second.
That’s when Mark Ingram won Alabama’s first Heisman trophy. Ingram ran the ball on six consecutive plays—half being out of the wildcat formation— for 68 yards and a touchdown. It was a night where absolutely nothing worked in the passing game (McElroy had 92 yards and 2 interceptions.... can you imagine the meltdown had Tua or Jalen had those kind of numbers in the past two seasons?), and the Gamecocks keyed off on the run to keep Ingram contained. Except Ingram didn’t care that he was running headfirst into a loaded box. He even took the snaps directly, daring the opposing hapless mites to stop him.
They didn’t, and he wound up with 246 yards on 24 carries. Ingram went on to win Alabama’s very first Heisman trophy that season, with his performance against South Carolina being heralded as his “Heisman Moment.” Oh, and Nick Saban won his first championship with Alabama that season as well.
Fast forward 6 years and two more national championships, and Alabama was obliterating its foes in the 2015 season after an early loss to Ole Miss. Junior running back, resident freak-of-nature, and lawless man in the land of physics Derrick Henry was making Ingram’s 2009 season look mediocre. By game 12, he had over 1,500 yards with three different 200 yard games against #17 Miss State, #9 Texas A&M, and #2 LSU. His only games under 125 yards all season were against cupcakes when he subbed out early on (and a 95-yarder in the rain against an overmatched-yet-plucky Arkansas).
That final game, though, was against Auburn. As usual, the Barn was doing their absolute best to ruin Alabama’s season and were fired up to bring down the Heisman favorite on every single play. After a slow start, Alabama held a very tenuous one-score lead over Auburn for most of the game. A 75-yarder from the usually-wet-noodle-arm at QB Jeremy Johnson put the Tigers back into striking distance deep into the third quarter, and obviously Jordan-Hare stadium was going absolutely bananas.
Derrick Henry then turned in one of the most impressive performances by a running back in football history. In the final two drives, Henry carried the ball 14 straight plays converting countless 3rd downs. His final carry was a 4th-and-one, which he proceeded to take for a 25-yard touchdown against an exhausted Tiger defense.
He finished up with an inhuman 46 carries for 271 yards and a touchdown. And despite all those yards, he never broke off any run longer than 30 yards. Every single one of those 271 yards were yards that he fought for.
That impressive of a performance (along with over 2000 yards and 28 touchdowns on the season), won Derrick Henry a Heisman trophy, Alabama’s second in school history.
Oh, and they went on to win a National Championship that season too. How’s that for beating the Heisman curse?