Series Rewind

The Kick

A masterful drive directed by Mike Shula set the stage for Van Tiffin’s signature moment in the 1985 Iron Bowl
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Photo courtesy of Keith Dunnavant.
Gene Jelks’ big play proved crucial in Alabama’s dramatic winning drive.

In the chaotic afterglow, with the Legion Field scoreboard pronouncing the 25-23 verdict and the ancient bowl reverberating in thunderous cheers, Ray Perkins ran onto the field searching for the day’s biggest hero, who was being mobbed near midfield.

“Van Tiffin! Van Tiffin!” the Alabama head coach yelled when he finally located his 5-foot-10, 160-pound kicker, surrounded by his towering teammates. “I love you Van Tiffin!”

All across the Alabama nation, delirious Crimson Tide fans were seconding Perkins’ emotion.

Twenty-five years ago this week, when Ronald Reagan occupied the White House, Miami Vice dominated Friday night television, and Starship topped the pop music charts, Van Tiffin’s 52-yard field goal with no time remaining lifted Alabama to a dramatic victory over Auburn—earning the one-time walkon from Red Bay a slice of Iron Bowl immortality.

In the short-hand of Alabama football, the climactic finish became known simply as The Kick, soon to be captured in a classic painting by artist Daniel A. Moore, transforming the historic moment into something almost tangible, almost ethereal, for a generation of Bama fans deprived of a championship all their own.

In many ways, it became the defining Alabama play of the age, meaningful for the unlikely comeback it culminated, symbolic of the Iron Bowl’s evolution from presumed Bama dominance—and the smugness produced by such sustained success—to a competitive rivalry worthy of celebration and commemoration.

The Kick.

Larry Abney remembers it by another name.

“I’ll always think of it as The Hold,” Abney said with a hearty laugh, the man who caught Butch Lewis’ snap and placed the ball firmly on the tee, his name largely unknown to 21st century Bama fans.

Beyond Abney’s good-natured joking about his old friend’s fame, the thought reflects a fundamental truth about the 1985 Iron Bowl.

Before The Kick came The Pass.

And The Catch.

The Block.

And The Reverse.

“There were so many big plays in that football game,” recalled Paul Kennedy, then the voice of the Alabama radio network. “So many things had to go right to get to Van Tiffin’s kick, especially on that final drive.”

With 57 seconds remaining in the 50th Iron Bowl, contested before a neutral crowd in the self-proclaimed Football Capital of the South and a national television audience, sixth-ranked Auburn seized a 23-22 lead on Reggie Ware’s one-yard touchdown run.

Fifty-seven seconds.

 

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