Throwback Thursday: Barry Lunney leads Arkansas to first-ever win over Alabama
Barry Lunney, Jr., gets to “sleep in” on Thursdays.
That means getting into his truck by 7:30 am and driving to the Arkansas football offices, where he serves as tight ends coach. Most mornings, Lunney gets there before the sun comes up.
Today, he’s driving to work while talking on the phone. The topic is 1995.
That’s the year Arkansas beat Alabama for the first time, and the parallels to this season are undeniable: A year after falling just short against the Crimson Tide in Fayetteville, a senior quarterback will lead his unranked Razorbacks into Tuscaloosa to face a highly-rated Alabama team that, as far as Vegas is concerned, already has this one locked up.
This year, that quarterback is Brandon Allen. Twenty years ago, it was Lunney.
“I still get asked about it all the time when I meet people,” he says.
The date was Sept. 16, 1995. Lunney was in his fourth year as Arkansas’ starter, but the Razorbacks had not recorded a winning season since joining the SEC three years prior.
Alabama was No. 13 in the country and coming off its third straight SEC West championship.
“We had played ‘em really tough the year before at our place,” Lunney says. “And had some opportunities to win that game and didn’t get it done. So I think we had some confidence that we could go down and win.”
That confidence showed itself early, as Arkansas immediately drove down the field for a 3-0 lead. But Alabama edged its way to a 17-10 lead in the second half, and then sacked Lunney for a safety to make it 19-10. Arkansas later added a field goal to pull back within one score.
Down to their final chance late in the fourth quarter, the Razorbacks began marching.
Two iconic plays that emerged from that drive.
The first was a 4th-and-8 from the Arkansas 44. Lunney dropped back, spun out of a sack, and then lofted a pass to freshman Anthony Lucas on the right sideline.
The future NFL draftee turned upfield for a gain of 32 yards and a new set of downs.
“It was good fortune,” Lunney says. “Bottom line: That’s football. We had played well enough during the course of the game to put ourselves in a situation in the fourth quarter where, you know, if you get a break or two, you could win the game.”
Lunney proceeded to hit J.J. Meadors on a slant for 17 yards and a 1st-and-goal situation at the 3-yard-line.
Then came the catch.
“He was pretty open,” Lunney says of the game-winning play. “It wasn’t really one of my better throws, but I’ll take it. It wasn’t one of my better plays, but I’m sure glad the result ended the way it did.”
The senior quarterback rolled to his left and beat Alabama’s zone coverage with a throw to Meadors in the end zone.
To this day, Alabama fans swear the ball hit the ground, but the referees saw Meadors get both hands underneath it with 0:06 left on the stadium clock. Back in 1995, there were no coach’s challenges or video reviews — the play stood as called.
“I know the play wouldn’t have been able to be overturned,” Lunney says. “There’s no way. If they would’ve called it a completion on the field, I don’t think there’s any way they’d be able to overturn it, because there wasn’t any evidence that says that J.J. didn’t get his hands underneath the ball. I think it would’ve stood just like it did 20 years ago.”
The Razorbacks kicked an extra point to win, 20-19, and silence the folks at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“I think they were a little bit shocked,” Lunney says. “I don’t think anybody expects to lose at home, especially during that time and era of Alabama. They were really good.”
The victory marked Arkansas’ first “W” in six all-time matchups with Alabama. Lunney and the Razorbacks went on to win six of their next seven, finish 6-2 in the conference and represent the West in the 1995 SEC Championship Game.
“It probably ranks as No. 1 for me,” Lunney says of the Alabama game. “Just because we had not really done anything. We had won some games in the league, and even some road games in the league against some good people, but we had never strung anything together consecutively.”
Lunney was a freshman when Arkansas took down No. 4 Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in 1992. The Razorbacks were not able to win in Knoxville again until this past weekend.
Likewise, Arkansas is just 2-7 against Alabama in Tuscaloosa since that day in September 1995, and has not beaten the Tide in any venue since 2006. Could they shake two huge monkeys in a span of seven days?
“It wouldn’t hurt my feelings to stroll down memory lane again,” Lunney says.