Work in Sports
DuBose guides Tide to West title despite adversity
Posted: Sunday November 21, 1999 01:02 AM
By Stewart Mandel, CNN/SI
AUBURN, Ala. -- Tornado sirens, airplane takeoffs, live versions of "Crazy Train" be damned. The loudest five minutes in the world are the ones right before kickoff of the "Iron Bowl."
For those not familiar with the 64-year old tradition, 85,000 red- or orange-and-blue clad Alabamans pack into a stadium -- Auburn's Jordan-Hare this year -- to cheer on their Tigers (or is it War Eagle?) or Crimson Tide (or is it an elephant?). It's a game where every completion, every tackle, every 3-yard gain is celebrated with a "We're going to Disney World!"-like reverence.
Though the 'Bama faithful took up only a small portion of the stadium's lower bowl Saturday, its screams could be heard all the way back to Tuscaloosa when, on fourth and 3 early in the fourth quarter, receiver Freddie Milons lined up behind center, took the snap and darted to the first down. Minutes later, Shaun Alexander would scatter into the end zone to help put 'Bama up for good, 15-14, in an eventual 28-17 win.
Going for it on fourth and 3, when not eight plays earlier you had been stuffed trying the same thing. Going for it on fourth and 3, in the biggest game of your season, and with your shot at an SEC title game against Florida on the line. Going for it on fourth and 3 when Auburn fans already had "Not this Century" T-shirts printed up for when you left with yet another loss in the Tigers' stadium.
Going for it on fourth and 3 when, as Alabama coach Mike DuBose, many of your fans -- and possibly your administration -- don't want you around despite a 9-2 record and a huge upset of Florida.
DuBose came through on that call, like he has all season, and 'Bama went on to win a game that for three quarters had belonged to its underdog rival. His decision to replace starting QB Andrew Zow with Tyler Watts in the third quarter also sparked the rally. In doing so, his program, which has persevered through NCAA sanctions, a rare losing season, the sting of DuBose's own sexual harassment situation and the resignation of its athletic director, earned a spot back in the SEC championship game for the first time since 1996. "This has been a very difficult year in a lot of ways," said DuBose, "but it's also been the most exhilarating year of my life in a lot of ways. It's been very gratifying for me."
The Tide's dramatic rise to the top of the SEC West has thrilled far more than just it's coach. That's why that small but vocal pocket of Alabama fans screamed "SEC! SEC!" at the top of their lungs after Alexander's third touchdown put the game out of reach with a little over a minute left, and why they lingered long after the final gun to soak it all in.
As the Tide players hugged anyone they could find on the field afterward, senior tackle Chris Samuel took a lap around the field carrying the Alabama flag. The soon-to-be NFL millionaire spent much of the second half creating huge holes for not-yet-out-of-the-Heisman race Alexander, who finished with 182 yards (101 in the fourth quarter) and became Alabama's all-time leading rusher.
"This win was special for me because it was my last game against Auburn and beating them on the Plains is just awesome," said Samuel. "I am so proud of this team. Everyone came together as one in the second half."
The significance of the win was not lost on an emotional DuBose, who had been on staff to endure all five of 'Bama's losses at Jordan-Hare (the series was played on a neutral field until 1989). He said repeatedly afterward he could not put his feelings into words, until someone finally asked about Alexander, Samuel and the rest of the senior class.
"I think they'll go down in history as one of the great classes at the University of Alabama," he said, a bold statement for a school that's won 12 national championships. "They've brought us back into national prominence, back in a position to compete for the national championship within the next year or two."
So here is the third-year DuBose, moments after the all-important defeat of Auburn, taking the Tide back to Atlanta to face a suddenly slumping Gators squad and talking national championships. What more could the Tide community want? Apparently something, as the administration has yet to make a statement concerning his future, insisting on waiting until after the season.
DuBose insists he does not need one.
"No, no, no," he said. "There's a time and a place, there's a pecking order. You've got a chancellor and a board of trustees and an athletic director and a president. At the opportune time -- when an athletic director [to replace the departed Bob Bockrath] is named -- then it's time."
Right now, it's time for Alabama to appreciate what it has, Clinton-esque sex scandals aside. Florida and Tennessee are out of the national title hunt. Auburn is staying home for Christmas.
The Tide, it seems, are the toast of the SEC. At least for the next couple weeks.