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1979 Sugar Bowl - and now you know the rest of the story

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#1
Noah

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If this doesn't bring a tear to your eye then check your pulse.

   The other tackler: Barry Krauss' Sugar Bowl stop in Alabama's Goal-Line Stand will live forever, but time has obscured another defender

  Published: Wednesday, September 08, 2010, 6:30 AM

  Posted Image

  Former University of Alabama football player Mike Clements, now a high school teacher, was a little-known part of the fourth-down play of the famous Goal-Line Stand against Penn  State in 1979. (The Birmingham News / Mark Almond)
  
Posted Image

  This is a photo taken from  the upper deck by an Alabama fan who gave it to Mike Clements years  later. (Special)

M
ike Clements' claim to University of Alabama football immortality is half a helmet.
  
You can see the "43" on his partially obstructed headgear in the Jan. 8, 1979 Sports Illustrated cover photo by Walter Iooss Jr. And you can see it in Daniel Moore's adored 1979 painting, "The Goal Line Stand." But that's all you can see of Clements. What is the Crimson Tide cornerback doing hidden behind the tangled pileup of Alabama and Penn State players?

  
His helmet and shoulder are planted into the side of Penn State running back Mike Guman's waist. His arms are wrapped just above Guman's knees. "I didn't get a chance to jump," Guman recalls.

  
What Clements is doing is making part of the most famous tackle in Alabama football history.

  
The game is undefeated and No. 1 Penn State vs. one-loss and No. 2 Alabama in the Jan. 1, 1979, Sugar Bowl, the national championship on the line. The play is the Nittany Lions trying to leap into the end zone from less than one yard out on fourth down to tie the game in the fourth quarter. The image is linebacker Barry Krauss earning his place in Crimson Tide history with a face-to-face, chest-to-chest hit on Guman so jarring that it busted one of Krauss' helmet rivets and rendered Krauss momentarily paralyzed.

  
It is the climax of The Goal-Line Stand that produced the Tide's 1978 Associated Press national championship, national magazine cover shots, timeless paintings and the Alabama football program's most iconic moment.


  And aside from the people on the field that day, almost no one in the world of Alabama fandom realizes that Clements had anything to do with it.
  
"I don't think they know," said Murray Legg, the safety who smacked both Krauss and Guman backward after the linebacker's hit.

  
It is a surprise to even diehard fans that Clements, a 170-pound, rookie backup, made the play he did. But the bigger surprise is that he was even on the field at that moment. Because just a few weeks earlier, Clements was ready to walk out on Bear Bryant and the Alabama football team.

  
'Clueless'

  
Bill Oliver remembers he was leaving an Erwin  High School football game in 1975 when the player he was recruiting broke a kickoff return for a touchdown. The Alabama defensive assistant coach knew then that Clements had speed, but Oliver had no idea where the tall but scrawny kid would play.

  
Getting the recruit to sign with Alabama wasn't hard. Clements did so without even visiting campus or meeting Bryant. He was already an Alabama fan because his father, James, was one.

  
He didn't play his freshman year, got redshirted the next year, and finally got a chance to show himself in his redshirt sophomore season of 1978.

  He didn't show much.
  
In practices and sporadic playing time at cornerback, he couldn't grasp the defensive schemes and his techniques were flawed. He gave up long passes and took wrong angles to the ball. "I made my share of mistakes -- over and over again," Clements said.

  
Oliver went further: "He was absolutely just clueless."

  
His confidence vanished.

  
Against Nebraska in the first game of the season, Clements fell and surrendered a long pass. "From then on," he recalled, "I'm afraid to get on the football field."

  
In the fourth game of the season, league weakling Vanderbilt, which managed to score 28 points in an Alabama victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium, burned him for a touchdown on the last play of the game. "I can't think of a lower situation to be in -- trying to run off the field and people booing," Clements said.

  
The self-doubting went beyond whether he could play to whether he wanted to.

  
"I feel like I don't want to play football," he recalled. "The coaches think I'm not good enough. I'm thinking negative: 'I'm not good enough. I shouldn't be here. How can I be part of a football team that has all these great athletes?'"

  
Oliver remembers Clements' desire to quit. "I could see it in his eyes. It was all downhill. I'm sure he was depressed."

  
That summer, Clements had married Jane Dixon, a girl he dated at Erwin before breaking up and then dating again as Alabama students. Oliver believes that compounded Clements' stress during the '78 season.

  
"It's hard to be married and playing college football," Oliver said.

  
It certainly was for Clements. "I'm thinking, 'I love my wife, but how did I ever get myself in a situation of wanting to get married and dealing with football pressures and going to school? And we don't have any money.'"

  
But he did not quit. Jane says her husband realized that a football scholarship was the only way he'd be able to get a college education. Nor could he bear to let down his father, the Alabama fan.

  
"That was probably the biggest thing in his life -- me playing at Alabama," Clements said. "... If I had quit, it would have been a big disappointment for my dad."

  
Not only did Clements stay with the team, he began a rapid, late-season transformation from frightened and depressed to a player Oliver called "our most consistent back."

  
For that, Clements credits Oliver and pair of hunting boots.

  
Wakeup call

  
Clements and Legg, the senior leader of Oliver's secondary, agree that the veteran assistant coach was an effective blend of intimidator and motivator. The struggling Clements experienced it first hand, including a watershed moment at a midseason practice.

  
"He was a guy who could make you wake up," Clements recalled. "Coaches don't usually touch players, (but) I'm daydreaming or not paying attention and he comes over and grabs my facemask and says, 'Would you get your (rear) in gear and go?' And it's like a shock. It was like, 'You have been the biggest disappointment.'"

  
Clements, still buried on the depth chart, thought to himself: "I'm gonna prove you wrong," not understanding that Oliver still believed Clements could contribute.

  
He found new incentive, and he found new speed that allowed him to make plays on the practice field he had never made before. Every day around campus, he had worn heavy hunting boots that he purchased from team trainer Jim Goostree.

  
"It looked cool when you were walking around. Everybody had them," Clements said.

  
When he took them off for football practice, "My feet were light. I was floating like a butterfly and making plays."

  
The coaches saw a difference beginning in the offweek before the last game of the regular season against Auburn. Oliver remembers: "Coach Bryant said, 'I've never seen anything like what has happened in the last two weeks.' I said, 'I haven't, either.'"

  
Clements made the first three special teams tackles of the Auburn game. In the second half, Bryant used him as he never had before, giving him substantial, all-situations playing time at cornerback.

  
"I'm having fun ... I got my confidence back," Clements said.

  In the practice weeks leading up to the bowl game, Clements took advantage of injuries to at least four defensive backs. At one bowl practice, he intercepted Jeff Rutledge three times.
  
"He was just evolving as a player," Legg said. "Coach Oliver was giving him reps in practice and he was getting better."

  
At another bowl practice, Clements recalled, "I laid (a running back) out in front of Coach Bryant. It was a perfect tackle. ... Coach Bryant said, 'Get
Clements off the field.' That's all he needed to see."

  
Bryant had decided that the once-clueless Clements was going to be his No. 1 right cornerback in the 1979 Sugar Bowl to decide the national championship.

  
The gamble

  
The Tide defense's stop of Guman, preserving 14-7 as the final score, didn't win The Associated Press national title by itself. Six-and-a-half minutes remained in the game. And without perfect efforts on second and third downs, fourth down never happens.

  
On second down, Legg, the safety, fell and his receiver, an uncovered Scott Fitzkee, grabbed a Chuck Fusina pass at the Alabama 1. To all the world, this was going to be a touchdown. But cornerback Don McNeal, one of seven future NFL players on the field for Alabama, flashed forward from several yards deep in the end zone and rode Fitzkee out of bounds.

  
Legg considers McNeal's tackle the greatest individual play of the entire Goal-Line Stand. Moore, the artist, so admired McNeal's play that as a tribute, he moved McNeal into his painting of the fourth-down play even though the defender wasn't actually that close.

  
On third down from inside Alabama's 1, Penn State sent running back Matt Suhey leaping over the top. Defensive tackle David Hannah, whose only four plays of the game came on The Goal-Line Stand, penetrated and hit Suhey's legs. As Krauss knocked lead blocker Guman out of the way, linebacker Rich Wingo hit Suhey high. Guman believes Suhey "may have crossed the goal line."

  
Fourth down will outlive the others.

  
As he awaited the fourth-and-12-inches play, Krauss didn't believe the Nittany Lions, having just failed, would try to run up the middle again. But Oliver and defensive coordinator Ken Donahue, having spent endless hours watching Penn State game film, were certain the same play was coming. "We knew they'd jump," Oliver said.

  
Penn
State coach Joe Paterno, according to Guman, wanted to call a play-action pass, but his assistants talked him out of it. Had Penn State passed, Alabama would have been virtually defenseless. "We didn't have anyone playing pass defense," Oliver recalled.
  
The Tide, playing with six defensive linemen, called its "Gamble Man" defense, committing everyone to stop the run, including Clements' assignment to pinch up to the end of the line and angle as directly as he could toward the runner's anticipated path.

  
Clements, the player who had had so much trouble with technique, executed the "knife" maneuver perfectly, according to Legg and Oliver, and grabbed Guman's legs with his arms as Guman was beginning to launch. Guman's attempt to leap, combined with defensive lineman Wayne Hamilton falling on top of Clements, caused Clements' hold to slide down the runner's legs, but he never lost it.

  
Legg reflected: "Think about this: You're going to take two steps and jump up in the air and all of a sudden you got 40 or 50 pounds on your hip."

  Guman felt it. "One of the guys caught my legs," he said. "I plowed into the line. I couldn't get in the air. ... I got up a little bit, but not much."
  Krauss still had to make his epic stop. He and Clements both said they reached Guman "almost at the same time." Clements called it "a perfect tackle" by Krauss.
  
Both men point out the obvious: Every defender contributed by doing his role. Wingo, for instance, returned the favor that Krauss did for him on third down by clearing out Suhey, the lead blocker. The interior linemen -- Hannah, Marty Lyons, Curtis McGriff and Byron Braggs -- submarined and, as Oliver put it, "blew up" the offensive line.

  
"If those offensive linemen are into my legs, I can't do anything," said Krauss, who cites especially Hannah, the substitute lineman directly in front of him, among the contributors whose names aren't as well known.

  Legg finished the tackle. Guman believes all his momentum was gone after Krauss' hit, but Krauss said he was in "total paralysis" and couldn't keep pushing Guman backward. Artist Moore concluded that Legg's play was vital and showed Legg in the painting as hitting Guman at the same time as Krauss even though he didn't.
  
The fourth-down play, and all its depictions, claimed a permanent place in Crimson Tide lore.

  
"I bet I've had 20,000 people tell me 'I know he didn't make it because I was sitting right on the goal line,'" said Ken Gaddy, director of the Paul W. Bryant Museum in Tuscaloosa. "Everybody was there. It became so personal to them."

  
"It is more than just a depiction of a play," Moore said of his first football painting, the sale of which allowed him to leave his job as an Alabama Power staff artist and become an independent artist. "It's a portrait of a philosophy."

  
It's a Bryant philosophy that preached defense, teamwork, physical strength and success in the clutch.

  
The play, Moore believes, "is No. 1 in terms of significant moments in the great tradition of Alabama."

  
Keeping their faith

  
It's not as if Clements' assist on fourth down of The Goal-Line Stand has never gotten a public tribute. Oliver brings it up in the 1992 video "Century of Champions" produced by The Alabama Sports Network and Collegiate Sports Partners. Legg does the same in the 2008 video series "Defining Moments" produced by Flashlight Films.

  
But it is absent from conventional recollections.

  
Queries of more than a dozen longtime, avid Alabama fans and journalists who covered the game produced none who knew Clements was part of the tackle. The Bryant  Museum displays a photo of the moment, but Clements' name is missing from the placard identifying the tacklers. When Sports Illustrated magazine revisited The Goal-Line Stand in July 2009, it invited four key players -- Krauss, Legg, Lyons and Wingo -- to get together to reminisce, but not Clements. Even Moore and Gaddy were initially uncertain of the identity of No. 43. Guman, the ball carrier, thinks the tackler around his legs was McNeal.

  
There are reasons for the obscurity. ABC broadcasters Keith Jackson and Frank Broyles didn't pick up on Clements' play, nor did accounts in The Birmingham News, The Tuscaloosa News or the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Almost all the published photos, along with Moore's famed painting, showed the view from behind the Alabama defense.

  
Thirty-one years later, Krauss is a sideline reporter for Alabama football radio broadcasts and a traveling motivational speaker who uses The Goal-Line Stand to help preach his messages. The 12-year NFL standout wrote an autobiography in 2006, with Iooss' SI photo of the fourth-down play on the cover, and also that year released his own painting of the moment, with a large part of the proceeds going to charity, he said.

  
As Clements reflects today, his foremost thought about the play isn't the relative lack of recognition.

  
"I just move on," said Clements, now an American history and government teacher at Homewood High School. "It doesn't knock me down. It's just how things are."

  
Rather, he thinks about how Bear Bryant and Bill Oliver kept their faith in him when there was little reason to do so. "If either of those two men had given up on me," Clements said, "I'd have never had the opportunity. I could have easily been forgotten."

  
Oliver deflects Clements' credit. But the coach does see a bigger message.

  "I remember Coach Bryant saying, 'You never give up on a player.' That's what this story is about."

Posted Image

Edited by Noah.Dreams, 08 September 2010 - 09:28 AM.

After everything is said and done, more is said than done. - Noah

#2
SheLuvsBama

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"Never give up." That's still what success is all about at Alabama and in life. ;)
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#3
Tider27

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Great stuff to re-live during the game week, leading up to another classic match up.

.

.

.

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#4
Bamamoss

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I had to watch the video clip again and he is clearly in there making contact by the time Kraus hits Guman.  A grreat story!
"May the Tide Be with You"

#5
CrimsoNation713

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I went with my dad (God rest his soul) It was one of those momets that you smile everytime you think about it. The smile and hugs we had at that exact moment were priceless.

Good times.
"Whenever I see those crimson jerseys and crimson helmets, I feel humbled to have played football for Alabama. Other players in the NFL talk to me about their schools and their traditions. I just smile knowing the immense love Alabama fans have for our school and its football program. I'm proud to be a part of that Crimson Tide heritage."

-- Derrick Thomas

#6
Noah

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Yeah, Bill... I had a similar experience with my Dad during this game.  At the time, I was 18 years old and the Bear was labeled as the guy that couldn't win the big one.  Alabama had played almost flawless football for the past EIGHT YEARS, but back to back losses to Notre Dame were still burning.

Penn State clearly had the momentum on that final drive when Don McNeal came out of nowhere to tackle the receiver inches from the goal.  I had braced myself for the inevitable, but then lightening struck.  To stop Penn State twice with inches to go was nothing short of a miracle.  

The Situation said:

I went with my dad (God rest his soul) It was one of those momets that you smile everytime you think about it. The smile and hugs we had at that exact moment were priceless.

Good times.

After everything is said and done, more is said than done. - Noah