On Sept. 10, 1990, the front page of The Tuscaloosa News read, “DEBUT RUINED.”
The previous day marked Gene Stallings’ first game as the football coach at No. 13-ranked Alabama. He would win a national title two seasons later, but his tenure opened with a 27-24 upset loss to Southern Mississippi at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Fans and pundits immediately wondered if Stallings was the right man for the job.
“If the last decade has been one long wandering through the wilderness, the path dived straight into the brambles Saturday,” wrote News columnist Cecil Hurt.
The Crimson Tide outgained the Eagles by nearly 300 yards on the day, but several basic miscues — including three interceptions and five fumbles — helped hand the visiting team a surprising win.
Mostly missing from the postgame coverage was Southern Mississippi’s senior quarterback, Brett Favre.
He threw only 17 passes on the day, and barely aided the Eagles’ first four scoring drives, which were mostly the result of the aforementioned Alabama turnovers. But, in a fashion that would come to be known as “classic Favre,” the passer came through when his team most needed him.
With the score tied, 24-24, and the clock ticking down in the fourth quarter, Favre’s Eagles possessed the ball on their own 20-yard line.
On cue, Favre completed a 12-yard pass on third-and-6, and then completed a 34-yard pass to move the Eagles within scoring range. Kicker Jim Taylor drained a 52-yard field goal with 3:35 left to give Southern Miss the winning points.
The Eagles ruined Stallings’ debut, but it also marked the season debut for Favre, who had missed the previous week’s win over Delta State.
He had been involved in a serious automobile accident in July, one that made doctors wonder if the NFL prospect would need to miss the entire season.
Here was the wire report following the wreck:
“Brett has a hematoma (a swelling caused by a collection of blood) on his liver,” [Dr. Jare] Barkley said. “He has a lot of soreness in his abdominal wall. We hope his body can absorb it. He is in a lot of pain and under medication, but he is alert and in full possession of his faculties.”
The physician said Favre had “a concussion briefly. He was like a prize fighter being knocked out. He doesn’t remember the accident.”
Alabama did not know if Favre would be available for the game on Sept. 9, but Favre knew, telling the News he’d been cleared to practice with the first-team offense all week.
“We were kind of keeping it a secret,” he said. “We wanted it to help us win the ball game.”
It was no secret that Southern Miss was capable of pulling off the upset in Tuscaloosa. Favre had led the Eagles to a win vs. No. 6 Florida State the previous season, and had defeated Louisville the following month with a last-second Hail Mary toss.
The Saturday following Southern Miss’ win at Alabama, the Eagles fell just shy of a win at Georgia, losing 18-17. There were also close calls at Mississippi State (a 13-10 loss) and at Virginia Tech (a 20-16 loss).
When Favre and his team walked into Jordan-Hare Stadium on Nov. 10, 1990, they were 7-3 with those three losses coming by a combined eight points.
Auburn had been undefeated and ranked No. 2 the week before, when it suffered a blowout road loss to Florida that dropped the Tigers to No. 15. Still, Pat Dye’s team had not lost at home in three seasons, and Southern Mississippi was supposed to be the opponent that allowed them to pick up steam again before rounding out the SEC schedule with Georgia and Alabama.
Both offenses were lousy throughout the game, and Auburn held a 12-6 advantage with less than a minute remaining.
Then, Favre happened.
The quarterback threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Harris with 46 seconds on the clock. Taylor tacked on the extra point, and Southern Miss had a 13-12 win to sweep its season series against Alabama schools.
“This was a big win,” coach Curley Hallman told the Associated Press. “It’s the biggest win for our coaches, players in the three years I have been here.”
Southern Miss earned the nation’s No. 23 ranking with that victory, though the Eagles would later fall, 31-27, to North Carolina State in the All-American Bowl at Legion Field in Birmingham.
Favre was selected No. 33 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in the 1991 NFL Draft, and effectively resurrected the Green Bay Packers franchise upon being traded in 1992, becoming the first player to win three consecutive NFL MVP awards (1995-1997) and helping the Packers win their first Super Bowl in 29 years.
He retired in 2011 as the NFL’s all-time leading passer, and is set for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.
Do you have a favorite Favre moment? Let us know in the comments below, and follow Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff) on Twitter for more SEC news and analysis.