Exactly what Steve Sloan said when he walked to the huddle, facing the most desperate situation of his career, has been lost to history.
“I just remember I was trying to keep Coach Bryant from choking me to death,” Sloan said with a hearty laugh.
Now the former Alabama quarterback can laugh, secure in the knowledge of how it all unfolded, how an entire season ultimately turned on one memorable drive.
Two weeks after losing the 1965 season opener to Georgia, 18-17, and in the shadow of a hellish series of practice field gut checks which caused several players to pack their bags for home, Alabama fell into a hole against Johnny Vaught’s Ole Miss Rebels. The Crimson Tide trailed 9-0 in the second quarter, 16-7 early in the fourth quarter, and, after David Ray’s 37-yard field goal, 16-10 with 9:16 remaining.
After an onsides kick backfired the Alabama defense held, forcing Ole Miss to punt. With the Legion Field clock showing 6:12 left, Sloan, a soft-spoken senior from Cleveland, Tenn., convened his huddle, 88 yards from a game-winning touchdown and extra point.
“We were in a pretty tough spot,” said Sloan, who later became the head coach at Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Duke and the athletic director at his alma mater. “Ole Miss was a very good football team and we were still trying to figure out how good we were. But we knew what we had to do. There were a bunch of determined players on that field.”
Ole Miss was equally resolute, and had stymied the Alabama offense all night, proving especially stingy in the red zone, including on the previous drive. Ray’s field goal narrowed the gap, but the choice now left Bama with no margin for error.
After two short runs and one failed pass, Alabama faced a fourth-down near its own 20 yard line. The smart call was to punt, but Bryant, who had already gambled and lost with the onsides kick, worried that he might not get another chance. One Ole Miss first down, maybe two, and the game was over. So he told Sloan to go for it.
The handoff to Les Kelly was a clean stuff, and the big, strong halfback from Cullman slammed right between the tackle and the guard, pushing, wiggling, struggling to stay vertical long enough to move the chains. It was close—so close that the officials felt obliged to measure. Rarely has so much Alabama history ridden on one delicate spot, with every eye in the place, and every distant ear tuned to the Alabama radio broadcast, focused on the officials’ careful deliberation.
First down, Alabama.
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