Keeping Score

Seven Plays Forever Bathed in Controversy

For as long as football is played in Tuscaloosa, these history-making snaps will be remembered and debated
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Photo courtesy of Keith Dunnavant.
In a 1983 game against Penn State, Preston Gothard’s name became a household word in Alabama and beyond.

Some plays live forever because they give you a warm glow of satisfaction.

Some plays live forever because they stir frustration, anger, persistent debate.

Today we offer a list commemorating the latter in Alabama football history, so prepare to spit bile and argue among yourself as we examine Seven Plays Forever Bathed in Controversy…


The Tackle
Jan. 1, 1954
Contrary to some news reports at the time, Tommy Lewis was not sitting on the bench. He was standing on the sideline next to his buddy Harry Lee, dripping sweat, having left the game when Rice got the ball back after an Alabama turnover. The Owls, champions of the Southwest Conference, led Alabama, 7-6. What happened next is the stuff of legend. When Rice halfback Dicky Maegle found a seam and began racing into the distance, with a big lead and only two men to beat, something in Lewis snapped. Without saying a word, he dropped his helmet, which landed forcefully on Lee’s sore foot, and darted onto the field. As a stunned crowd of 75,504 and millions of television viewers watched, the Alabama halfback caught up to Maegle and slammed him to the ground. The giant bowl erupted in boos. After conferring for a few moments, the officials awarded Maegle a 95-yard touchdown, which became the defining moment of Rice’s decisive 28-6 victory. Lewis emerged an unwitting celebrity, but his remorse was forever evident. It was an instinctive, unconscious act he wanted to take back, if only he could. “I was too full of Alabama,“ he explained.
The Sneak
Jan. 1, 1965
Did he or didn’t he? This is the question that has been debated for nearly a half century by all who saw it, in person and on national television. Limping on an injured knee, Alabama quarterback Joe Namath led a furious Tide comeback in the 1965 Orange Bowl. Trailing Texas 23-17 in the closing minutes, Namath faced a fourth and goal from the Longhorns’ 1 yard line, called his own number and lunged forward behind the blocking of center Gaylon McCollough. Texas linebacker Tommy Nobis met him like a brick wall. Thus began the debate: Did he score or was he stopped just short of the goal line? One official signaled touchdown, but he was quickly overruled and Texas ran out the clock, spoiling national champion Alabama’s perfect season. The outcry from Bama people was intense, but Bryant’s reaction made an impression on his players and all who wanted to take a more sober view. “We didn’t deserve to win after failing in four cracks from the six,“ he said. “When something means that much to you, you should push people out of there far enough to remove all doubt.“
The Lateral
Sept. 18, 1965
With about two minutes to play in a nationally televised season opener at Sanford Stadium, defending national champion Alabama led Georgia, 17-10. On second-and-eight from his own 27 yard line, Bulldogs quarterback Kirby Moore passed to the outstretched arms of tumbling Pat Hodgson, who lateraled to Bob Taylor, who outran the Bama defense for a 73-yard touchdown. The subsequent two-point conversion gave Georgia a draw-dropping 18-17 victory. Vince Dooley’s flea flicker was a brilliant call, but it became drenched in controversy because many who watched it live believed that Hodgson’s knees were on the ground before he lateraled the ball. Stop-action photography, and the official game film, gave Bama fans reason to howl, but the play stood, putting Alabama in a big hole to start the 1965 season.

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