Alabama got off to a horrible start against Ole Miss 22 years ago.
Coach Gene Stallings led the No. 4-ranked defending national champions into Oxford for the first time to do battle with the unranked Rebels in 1993. Mississippi was riding high after a 19-0 win over Arkansas, while ‘Bama was still sore from a 17-17 tie against Tennessee in Birmingham.
That momentum carried over to the opening kickoff, when Tide returner David Palmer lost the ball in the sun, allowing it to land on the 2-yard-line and shoot sideways.
The pigskin bounced twice before winding up in the arms of Kevin Lee, whom Ole Miss smothered near the goal line.
Later in the quarter, Ole Miss struck first with a beautiful touchdown pass from quarterback Lawrence Adams to receiver Eddie Small, who beat ‘Bama on a corner route and then got a perfect ball from his QB.
Down 7-0 in the second, Palmer ignited Alabama with a winding 27-yard punt return that would have gone for six if he had not run into his own blocker.
“Without David Palmer, Alabama ain’t nothing,” Rebels defensive end Tim Bowens told The Tuscaloosa News after the game.
Added Ole Miss nose tackle Gary Abide: “If there’s a better player in America than Palmer, I’d like to see him.”
A brainless personal foul penalty by Ole Miss — a defender tossed Lee into a large piece of equipment near the Alabama bench — advanced the Tide after Palmer’s punt return, and allowed Michael Proctor to convert a 46-yard field goal to put ‘Bama on the board.
From there, Alabama slowly drained the life out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Willy Gaston picked off a deep throw from Adams, and Palmer later made a helicopter catch down the middle of the field to get ‘Bama out of a third-down situation.
The Rebels’ defensive line promptly gave the Tide’s starting QB, Jay Barker, a sprained left shoulder, but the injury actually appeared to strengthen the offensive attack. Replacement Brian Burgdorf put Proctor in position to kick a 22-yard field goal that brought Alabama within one point.
The score remained 7-6 until the middle of the third quarter, when Palmer moved the chains with a catch on third-and-6, and Proctor put the Tide ahead with a career-long 53-yard field goal.
[NOTE: Today’s Alabama fans probably wish Proctor, a three-time All-SEC selection, still had some eligibility left.]
Palmer provided more fireworks in the third quarter, stepping under center for two dazzling runs totaling more than 40 yards.
“When we came in at halftime, coach told me they needed me at quarterback to run the whole package,” Palmer told The News. “I get more excited when I know I’m going to get the ball more. I get extra excited when I know I’m going to play quarterback.”
The first drive with Palmer at QB stalled when Burgdorf re-entered the game and threw a pick in the end zone.
“It was tough on me, going in and out,” Burgdorf told The News. “I couldn’t get the feel of how to handle the team. But David is a great runner. He showed that on the sweeps.”
Alabama coaches learned their lesson the next time the Crimson Tide had the ball. Palmer stayed in at QB and facilitated a nice reverse pitch to Lee.
Then came the play of the game: Palmer rolled out right before launching a perfect spiral 50 yards down the field to Lee, who hauled in the bomb through double coverage. Tailback Sherman Williams followed that with a nice spin move to punch in the Tide’s lone touchdown.
“Today, No. 2 won the game for Alabama,” Ole Miss coach Billy Brewer told The News. “We couldn’t stop him. Without him, we’d still be out there tearing down the goal posts.”
The stadium went quiet after Proctor nailed a 49-yard kick to make it 19-7, but Ole Miss was not done.
Adams capped off a lengthy drive with another excellent TD pass, this time to Ta’Boris Fisher near the end zone’s right sideline. With time winding down, Alabama faced a third-and-14, and only gained 10.
However, an Ole Miss defender grabbed Williams’ facemask on the tackle, so Palmer bled the clock with kneel-downs and the Tide were able to extend their unbeaten streak to 30 games.
Palmer finished the day with 243 all-purpose yards, including 38 rushing, 54 passing, 76 receiving, 34 on kick returns, and 41 on punt returns.
“What can you say about David Palmer?” Stallings asked The News. “Everything he did, he did extremely well … He’s the most talented player I’ve ever had — he’s just a rare player.”
- ‘Bama would blow out Southern Mississippi, 40-0, during the next week’s Homecoming game. But the Tide fell to LSU, 17-13, the following week, ending the nation’s longest unbeaten streak at 31. Alabama had not lost since September 1991 against Florida, and had not lost at home since October 1990 against Penn State. Stallings led the 1993 Tide to a 9-3-1 record and a win in the Gator Bowl.
- David Palmer was named a consensus All-American following the season, and also won the Paul Warfield Award, given to the nation’s best receiver. He was selected No. 40 overall by the Minnesota Vikings in the 1994 NFL Draft, and played seven seasons in Minneapolis before retiring.
- Most of the 1993 season was wiped out by the NCAA after it determined that a “distressing failure of institutional control” was afoot. Alabama was banned from postseason play between 1995-1997, and the school would not reach another prominent bowl game until the Orange Bowl in January 2000. Michigan topped ‘Bama that day, 35-34. The Wolverines’ quarterback? Future NFL Hall of Famer Tom Brady.
- Alabama is 18-3 against Ole Miss since that ‘93 game in Oxford. The Rebels picked up wins at home in 2001, 2003 and 2014. Mississippi has not win in Tuscaloosa (the site of Saturday night’s game) since 1988.