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IT'S A STEAMY SPRING AFTERNOON IN TUSCALOOSA, AND BARRY KRAUSS, a linebacker at Alabama from 1976 through '78, is walking around an empty Bryant-Denny Stadium with three former teammates: Murray Legg, Marty Lyons and Rich Wingo. As the four stroll across the freshly cut stadium grass, Krauss recalls his tackle of Penn State tailback Mike Guman six inches from the goal line on fourth down, with less than seven minutes left in the 1979 Sugar Bowl—a stop that preserved Alabama's 14-7 win and propelled the Crimson Tide to the national championship. Suddenly he's back in the New Orleans Superdome for the matchup between top-ranked Penn State and No. 2 Alabama, and the memories unspool.
Penn State has a first-and-goal at the eight-yard line, trailing 14-7. First down: Guman gains two yards. Second down: quarterback Chuck Fusina completes a pass to tight end Scott Fitzkee, who goes out-of-bounds at the one. Before third down Krauss, the defense's captain, calls the play: Double-X Pinch. This will send every defender crashing into the middle to stop a run up the gut. The risky call pays off: From his linebacker spot, Wingo stops fullback Matt Suhey just short of the goal line.
Penn State timeout. On the 'Bama sideline, defensive coordinator Ken Donahue again calls Pinch. Across the field, Penn State coach Joe Paterno wants Fusina to fake a run and pass to his tight end, but his assistants persuade him to send Guman up the middle again. The ball is snapped, and Fusina hands to Guman. Lyons penetrates into the backfield, collapsing the line, and Wingo smashes into Suhey, the lead blocker. When Guman attempts to leap over the pile, Krauss meets him face mask to face mask, driving him backward with a hit so violent, it leaves Krauss momentarily paralyzed. Legg, streaking in from his safety spot, then pushes Guman backward and onto the ground. The Tide holds.
At the moment that Krauss and Guman collided, SI photographer Walter Iooss Jr. snapped an iconic shot that would make the cover of that week's issue. So powerful was the image that Daniel Moore, then a 25-year-old graphic designer in Birmingham, made a painting of the scene. It's no stretch to say that Goal Line Stand is the most popular piece of artwork in Alabama.
The play, which lasted less than three seconds from snap to whistle, has had a lasting influence on the lives of the key participants. For Krauss, who played 11 years in the NFL and is now a broadcaster for the Colts and the Crimson Tide, it earned him a reputation for performing in the clutch. "That play got my life going in the right direction," he says. "I've got that painting in my den, and when I look at it, I'm reminded that when our moment arrived, we made the most of it."
For Wingo and Legg, both of whom are in real estate in Birmingham, the play has become a parable. "I ask my kids, 'Will you be ready when your opportunity comes?' " says Legg, 52. Wingo, 53, who played five seasons in the NFL with the Packers says, "I use that play as a teaching tool all the time."
For Lyons, who played 11 seasons with the Jets and is now a vice president for a Long Island stadium-design firm, the play represents trust and friendship. "Football is a team game," says Lyons, who also runs a foundation that fulfills wishes for sick children. "Penn State would have scored if every guy on our defense didn't do his job. And 30 years later I'm still in frequent touch with guys from that team. That play made us as close as brothers."