Friday, December 13, 2002
1979 - Alabama 14, Penn State 7
By Jordan Burchette
In the decades prior to the Bowl Championship Series, there was no guarantee that No. 1 would face No. 2 at season's end to determine the national champion. Rarely were fans granted the matchup they so passionately craved, and rightfully deserved.
However, on January 1, 1979 the planets aligned to pit No. 2 Alabama against No. 1 Penn State in a dogfight to decide the nation's pre-eminent power. The confrontation could not have been sweeter for a Superdome crowd of 76,824 that was not only treated to the top two teams in college football, but also two of its most exalted coaches. Alabama legend Paul "Bear" Bryant was determined to finish the season just as his Crimson Tide had entered it: ranked No. 1. Penn State's legend-to-be, Joe Paterno, hoped to bring Happy Valley its first national championship.
|"The Stand," as it has come to be known, defined this classic contest.|
"It was, by far, the hardest-hitting game I ever participated in. There's not even a close second," Alabama running back Major Oglivie reflected. "I don't remember a lot about that game. In the first play of the game I got knocked kinda funny."
The game was a defensive stalemate for the majority of the first half, leaving the contest scoreless until the final eight seconds of the second quarter. Alabama had the ball with just over one minute remaining in the half, and had originally planned to run out the clock. However, the Nittany Lions called two timeouts during the drive in the hopes of taking over possession with enough time to kick a field goal.
"They had been calling timeouts, and we were running standard vanilla plays," said Ogilvie. "All of a sudden, we had a big, long run that Tony Nathan broke, and the plan changed."
Nathan scampered 37 yards on two plays to take the Crimson Tide down to the Penn State 30-yard line. From there, 'Bama quarterback Jeff Rutledge hit an open Bruce Bolton for a 30-yard touchdown, sending the Tide into the half with a 7-0 lead.
In a game where scoring didn't come easy, there was, unavoidably, some controversy surrounding Bolton's reception.
"He caught it, and kinda rolled on the ground (with it)." Chuckled Ogilvie, "Seeing as how it was a touchdown for us, I didn't see any controversy in it."
Scoring didn't come much easier in the second half, but the Nittany Lions finally tied the score at seven with around four-and-a-half minutes remaining in the third quarter. Penn State's Pete Harris intercepted Rutledge on the Alabama 48-yard line setting up the scoring drive that culminated with a 17-yard Chuck Fusina pass to Scott Fitzkee in the end zone.
Shortly thereafter, Alabama answered with a 62-yard Lou Ikner punt return to the Lions' 11-yard line.
Perhaps still reeling from that first quarter bell-ringing, Ogilvie has a loose recollection of what transpired next.
"Lou had a huge punt return, and I think we scored a touchdown after his punt return."
Indeed, they did. Three plays later, it was Major Ogilvie himself, who jaunted eight yards to the goal line to put the Tide back on top 14-7.
As time erased invaluable minutes from the clock in the fourth quarter, the Lions were in need of a break. They got one. On a misdirected option play, Penn State linebacker, and future NFL standout, Matt Millen forced a fumble, which was recovered by the Lions at 'Bama's 19-yard line. JoePa's troop managed a first down at the Alabama 8-yard line, giving them four shots at the end zone. The following series would later come to define the contest.
"This game, in Alabama, is known as 'the Goal Line Stand game,'" said the former All-SEC running back.
First down brought a two-yard gain.
From the Crimson Tide's six-yard line on second-and-goal, Fusina found Fitzkee once again just before the goal line, but as he turned toward the end zone, Alabama's Don McNeal materialized, hammering Fitzkee backward and preventing the touchdown.
On third-and-goal, fullback Matt Suhey readily accepted the hand-off, and lumbered up the middle for what would have been the tying score. But 'Bama's defense enfolded the line, halting him just inches short of the stripe.
That left the Nittany Lions one final play to break the standoff. On fourth-and-inches, Joe Paterno called upon tailback Matt Guman to plod up the gut into the heart of the Crimson Tide's defense. But All-America linebacker Barry Krause emerged from the trenches to stunt Guman's progress, making a stop that has gone down as one of the biggest tackles in college football history.
ABC's legendary announcer, Keith Jackson always reminds fans about the events that took place in the final four minutes of this game.
"After Alabama made that legendary stop, the Crimson Tide had to punt the ball with a little over four minutes to go in the game," said Jackson. "Their punter shanked it out to around the 25-yard line which seemingly put Penn State right back in the catbird seat. As this was going on, Joe Paterno and a few of his assistant coaches were waving their arms frantically to get their extra man off the field before the kick. But they got caught.
"So instead, Alabama got a second chance and the punter killed it down the field. Penn State never got close to the end zone, and the national title went to Alabama."
It was the first of two consecutive national championships for the Crimson Tide.
Major Ogilvie was just happy to escape the Superdome with the win.
"It was a very hard-fought game. I think we felt very fortunate to have more points than them at the end of it."