TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When the University of Alabama football team pulled off the amazing 41-yard touchdown in overtime to win the national title last week, Nick Saban said on the broadcast, “This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”
It was really saying something not only due to his winning a sixth national championship and all the adversity the Crimson Tide went through during the 2017 season, but also because of some of the games he had experienced.
Saban doesn’t lose often, so when he does it often leads to fans storming the field. Alabama hasn’t lost by more than 14 points since he arrived in 2007, and there have been a whole lot of big wins.
In terms of drama, though, it has been surrounding him since 1990. Consider:
• Saban’s first loss as a college coach was at Toledo in 1990, when kicker Rusty Hanna’s 51-yard field goal attempt fell short and wide as time expired, giving Central Michigan a 13-12 victory.
• At Michigan State, there was the double-overtime win against Indiana, followed by a last-minute collapse at Minnesota in 1998, but those weren’t quite on the same level as some epic games against Michigan, Penn State and Purdue.
Saban’s first game in the Michigan rivalry was unforgettable as a 25-yard touchdown pass from Tony Banks to Nigea Carter with 1 minute, 14 seconds to go was the difference in 1995. The fourth quarter saw four lead changes with the Spartans pulling out a 28-25 victory against the No. 7 Wolverines.
Both schools were undefeated when they played in 1999, and ranked. No. 11 Michigan State’s Bill Burke threw for a school-record 400 yards and 2 touchdowns and wide receiver Plaxico Burress set a school record with 255 receiving yards, but No. 3 Michigan made a furious comeback before losing 34-31. The quarterback who led it was Tom Brady.
The 1995 game against Penn State was decided by a Bobby Engram touchdown off a screen pass with 8 seconds remaining, for a 24-20 victory for the No. 14 Nittany Lions. A year later, No. 7 Penn State won 32-29 on a last-minute drive capped by Brett Conway’s 30-yard field goal with 12 seconds to go.
The No.15 Spartans turned the tables in 1999. Although No. 13 Penn State came back from a 21-point halftime deficit, safety Richard Newsome recovered a fumble at the Nittany Lions’ 39-yard line to set up T.J. Duckett’s game-winning touchdown, his fourth rushing score of the game.
“I think that was probably as fine an effort as we had all year, in terms of dogged determination to score a touchdown,” Saban was quoted as saying after the 38-35 victory.
In 1997, Michigan State was ahead 21-10 with 2:13 remaining when No. 23 Purdue blocked a 39-yard field goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown, recovered an onside kick and drove 55 yards in seven plays for the 22-21 victory.
Saban said at the time “This is about as disappointed as I’ve ever been as a football coach,” only to go through something similar a year later. Aided by a blocked punt, Drew Brees threw 2 touchdown passes in the final 5:07 for a 25-24 comeback victory.
• One of the more dramatic games when he was at LSU was at No. 12 Florida in 2004. Marcus Randall came off the bench and threw 2 touchdown passes, including a 10-yard score with 27 seconds to play to complete a 24-21 comeback by the No. 24 Tigers.
Moreover, in 2000 there were overtime wins against No. 11 Tennessee and No. 13 Mississippi State.
• At Alabama, there’s been the Johnny Manziel game, the drive at Auburn, Cam’s Comeback and even this year’s last-minute win at Mississippi State.
None of those made this top-10 list of most dramatic games in Saban’s college coaching history:
1. 2017 season National Championship Game: No. 4 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia
Led by its freshmen, the Crimson Tide came back from a 13-0 deficit to win the title 26-23 on a 41-yard touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa to DeVonta Smith on second-and-26 in overtime.
WHAT. A. GAME.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 9, 2018
2. 2016 season National Championship Game: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Clemson:
After Jalen Hurts ran in a 30-yard touchdown with 2:07 to go, Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson connected with wide receiver Hunter Renfrow on a 2-yard touchdown pass with 1 second remaining for a 35-31 victory.
3. 2012 SEC Championship Game: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia
After AJ McCarron threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with 3:15 remaining, Alabama had to hold for a 32-28 victory when the clock ran out on Georgia at the Crimson Tide 5. “I’m ready to have a heart attack here,” Saban quipped.
4. Kick Six: 2013 No. 1 Alabama at No. 4 Auburn
Alabama’s attempt at the first three-peat in modern college football history came to a stunning end in 2013, when Auburn’s Chris Davis returned a missed 57-yard field-goal attempt more than 100 yards for a touchdown as time expired.
5. The Bluegrass Miracle: 2002 No. 16 LSU at Kentucky
After Kentucky kicker Taylor Begley hit a 29-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining to cap a 16-point fourth quarter as the Wildcats took the lead, the players gave coach Guy Morris the Gatorade treatment and fans prepared to storm the field at Commonwealth Stadium. With the ball at the LSU 25 with 2 seconds remaining, Saban told Marcus Randall to throw the ball as far as he could. The Hail Mary was tipped by two Kentucky players with Devery Henderson making a one-handed reception and running in the stunning touchdown as time expired. LSU won 33-30.
6. The Death Valley trifecta (tie)
Take your choice between the following three trips to LSU:
- 2008 No. 1 Alabama at No. 5 LSU
After having a 29-yard field goal blocked on the final play of regulation, Alabama won Saban’s return game to LSU in overtime on quarterback John Parker Wilson’s 1-yard sneak, 27-21. The play was set up by a 24-yard reception by wide receiver Julio Jones and safety Rashad Johnson’s interception in the end zone, his third pickoff of the game.
- 2012 No. 1 Alabama at No. 5 LSU
Quarterback AJ McCarron shook off a horrible second half by the Alabama offense to lead the game-winning drive, as his screen pass to running back T.J. Yeldon resulting in a 29-yard touchdown with 51 seconds remaining for a 21-17 victory.
- 2014 No. 4 Alabama at No. 14 LSU
After a goal-line stand limited LSU to a field goal, quarterback Blake Sims drove Alabama 55 yards in the final 50 seconds for a tying field goal, and subsequently threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DeAndrew White in overtime for a stunning 20-13 victory. During the stand, the stadium announcer was asking fans to please not rush the field.
7. Rocky Block: 2009 Tennessee at No. 1 Alabama
Alabama’s perfect season remained intact when massive defensive tackle Terrence Cody blocked a 44-yard field-goal attempt on the final play, as the Crimson Tide escaped with a 12-10 victory over rival Tennessee. It was his second blocked field goal of the fourth quarter. Alabama went on to win the national title during Saban’s only undefeated season. In 2014, Saban hired former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin as his offensive coordinator.
8. 2004 Capital One Bowl: No. 11 Iowa vs. No. 12 LSU
Saban’s sendoff from LSU wasn’t a happy one as Drew Tate threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Warren Holloway as time expired for a 30-25 victory. Previously, freshman JaMarcus Russell came off the bench to spark LSU’s comeback rally, throwing 2 touchdown passes to Skyler Green over the final 8 minutes to give his team a 25-24 lead with 46 seconds remaining.
9. 2008 Michigan State at No. 1 Ohio State
The Buckeyes were driving in the final minutes and had first down at the Michigan State 15, when Saban called for a blitz on each play to try and rattle quarterback Joe Germaine. After 3 incompletions, Renaldo Hill picked off a throw into the end zone to secure the win. It was Saban’s first win against a No. 1-ranked team. He now has seven, the most in college football history.
10. Game of the Century: 2011 No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama
Drew Alleman kicked a 25-yard field goal in overtime to give LSU a 9-6 victory in the defensive slugfest. Alabama missed 4 field goals and had a goal-line interception, but won the rematch in the BCS Championship Game, 21-0.