This is the fourth installment in my chronicles of the worst Alabama football games I have personally attended. The goal is to gain a little perspective about where we (as a fan base) have been and contrast the bad games with the good games in the past (and future).
You can find the previous entries here: No. 10 was the losses to Mississippi State in ‘06, UCF in 2000, and ULM in ‘07. No. 9 was the loss to State in ‘98 and No. 8 was the defeat against Georgia in ‘07 and No. 7 was the loss to Auburn in 2000.
No. 6: Alabama(23) at Arkansas(24) (2OT), Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas, September 23, 2006
Many years ago I set for myself the goal of attending an Alabama football game at every stadium in the conference. Up until 2006 I had never been to Fayetteville and it was the only stadium of a SEC Western Division school that I had not been to. When my new neighbor, who has business interests in the Fayetteville area invited me to attend the game with him I jumped at the chance.
In my lifetime, Alabama is 297-127-2, and I have been to approximately 120-125 of those games. More specifically, since 1995, when I started attending the University of Alabama, I have been to 111 games -that is every game in Bryant-Denny except one during that time span and all but two at Legion Field plus several away games – and Alabama’s record in those contests is 66-45. That means I have witnessed Alabama lose 45 times in person. What makes me pick ten and place them above the rest as exceptional losses? It’s a finely tuned and not easily explained combination of opponent, situation leading up to the game, what was at stake, and how Alabama performed. There is also another factor that makes a truly horrible experience; situation surrounding the game that have nothing to do with it and still affect your experience. This loss in particular was horrendous because of the simle fact that Alabama litterlly took defeat from the jaws of victory, but there were some other factors at play.
First off- I’m pretty sure that it’s easier to get to Tibet than it is Fayetteville. It’s definitely somewhere you go to and not through. It’s about 550 miles from Tuscaloosa. That’s farther than it is to Gainesville, or Lexington, or Columbia. But to its credit is a very picturesque place. The drive up from I-40 is quite scenic and when you get to the campus, the way the stadium sits on the hill is really pretty.
Because my friend and ride was coming home from vacation that day, we didn’t actually get to leave town until about 10:30 on Friday night. That’s about 16 hours prior to kickoff and we had to drive what seemed like 30 hours just to get there. Oh and there’s the sickness. I almost forgot the sickness. On Tuesday of the previous week I came down with strep throat for the first time since probably high school. On Wednesday I begged the doctor for shots of anything that would help me feel better. By Friday I was just starting to feel like myself again but I was still exhausted. Needless to say, when we arrived in at the tailgate, after about three hours of sleep at a hotel somewhere between Memphis and Little Rock, I was spent.
We passed through a huge rain storm between Little Rock and the interstate connector that takes you into Fayetteville and as we pulled into our parking spot the sky was still cloudy. The clouds surrendered to the sun as we made the steep walk up the sill to the stadium a few hours later.
Coming into this game Alabama was 3-0 on the season and going back to the start of the ’05 campaign was a combined 13-2. The season had opened as expected with a win over Hawaii in which the team tried to give it a way in the end. They followed that up with a close win over Vanderbilt and an easy victory over La-Monroe (boy those were the days). This was to be the first road test for the Tide and a game they could win. After all the hogs had been dismantled by USC and then rebounded to beat a hapless out-of-conference opponent.
John Parker Wilson Ross’ Brother did a good job as a sophmore signal caller. Actually from what I remember he played very well, maybe even a little over his head. DJ Hall had great catch for a touchdown that put him over 1,000 yards for his career and the defense did admirably in stopping the Arkansas deadly duo of McFadden and Jones. In fact, I’m quite certain that had Alabama not lost a turnover that was returned for a touchdown that we never would have been able to argue about how Shula got all conservative and made the long march for an ill fated field goal attempt instead of going for the touchdown. Tiffin was horrible that day. He missed three field goals and an extra point. The last field goal would have won it in the first overtime and the missed PAT gave the game to the Razorbacks. It was the second time Alabama had lost to Nutt’s hogs in a four year period and the loss gave Shula a 1-2 record against Nutt.
It was heartbreaking to walk away from the stadium with the feeling that the game had been given away. Alabama beat themselves. That is one of the most frustrating types of losses. Losing to better teams isn’t necessarily good but it’s somewhat understandable. Losing to someone you had beat just makes you sit there and scratch your head and way “What just happened”?
In hind sight that became the game that started the wheels coming off of the Shula bus. A win there and the season probably turn out differently. A win there and he gets a little more leeway with the rest of the year. But it wasn’t to be.
After you sit there for a while and let the sting of defeat sink in there comes a point where you realize that you still have to drive home.
Did I mention that it was a long way?