- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Mark Barron’s best guess is that he’s seen the play maybe twice.
And as far as he’s concerned, that’s two times too many.
Even now, he doesn’t like talking about Terrell Zachery's 70-yard touchdown catch on the second play of the third quarter in last season's Iron Bowl, a play that sent Auburn on its way to a stirring 28-27 comeback victory over Alabama.
Barron, one of the best safeties in college football, had a bead on the pass the whole way. He was racing over to knock the ball away. But when he tried to lift his right arm, his body wouldn’t cooperate.
He didn’t know it at the time, but he’d torn his right pectoral muscle in the first half and couldn’t lift his arm.
“I don’t watch that tape,” Barron said sternly.
Asked if it was simply too hard to watch it, Barron responded, “I just don’t want to see it.”
After a brief pause, he continued.
“It eats at me knowing that people think I was just out there playing like that and didn’t know I was hurt,” Barron said. “ I don’t like that, and I don’t like that I couldn’t make the play. But it is what it is.”
That play (and that game) have been front and center in Barron’s mind all week as No. 2 Alabama prepares for Saturday’s trip to Auburn.
With a win, the Crimson Tide will go a long way toward securing a spot in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.
Forgive Barron, though, if he can’t see that far down the road.
“I’ve never been up on a team by that much and had them come back. That was a first for me,” Barron said. “Everything we did this offseason and summer was about finishing strong. That’s something we take a lot of pride in around here, and we didn’t do it in that game.”
Barron finished the game, but had to have season-ending surgery the next week and missed the Capital One Bowl.
Fellow Alabama safety Robert Lester said Barron could barely move his arm after the game, but there was no way Barron was coming out of the game.
Again, nobody knew he’d ripped his pectoral muscle the way he had. Barron simply thought he’d hurt his shoulder.
“The bad thing is that I didn’t know I couldn’t raise my arm up until that play,” Barron recalled. “I knew I’d hurt it in the first half on their first touchdown. I didn’t know how bad. I knew I was in pain, and I also knew I wasn’t coming out of the game. But that play is when I found out I wasn’t able to lift my arm.”
Had it not been for that injury, Barron would probably be playing in the NFL right now. He concedes that he was leaning toward turning pro before undergoing the surgery.
“I felt like at the time that everything happens for a reason,” Barron said. “I’m happy with my decision and glad I did come back. Things are looking good for us. I always felt like I made the right decision, but even more now.”
He’s been a staple in Alabama’s secondary, which has gone from a liability at times last season because of inexperience to one of the strengths of the team.
The 6-foot-2, 218-pound senior is a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which goes to the top defensive player in college football, and is also a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the top defensive back in college football.
Barron is second on Alabama’s team with 65 total tackles and also has two interceptions. Alabama coach Nick Saban said there's no way to measure what Barron has meant to the Crimson Tide, who are ranked first nationally in total defense, scoring defense, passing defense and rushing defense.
"He’s played through injuries and pain and you name it,” Saban said. “He’s the leader in the secondary. He prepares hard every week. He makes all the calls. I don't know of a guy that could handle his circumstances and situation any better than he has.
"He's had a fantastic year for us."
3dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
4dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney