Nov. 28, 2008
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – It was the first day of December, 1979, and 77,918 fans filled Legion Field for the 44th renewal of this old rivalry.
Alabama’s main concern was stopping Auburn’s running back tandem of James Brooks (1,153 yards) and Joe Cribbs (1,022 yards). Auburn’s main concern was Alabama itself.
The No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide’s offense averaged 33.4 points per game on offense, while the defense had allowed only five touchdowns all season long and a paltry 4.0 points per game.
The opening kickoff was high and short, one that Brooks fumbled and Alabama’s Randy Scott recovered at the 23-yard line. Despite the good field position, Alabama was forced to punt.
The Tide got the ball back on its next possession at the UA 43-yard line and drove to the Auburn 10. Three plays later the ball was back at the AU 15 and Alan McElroy missed a field goal.
Following the missed field goal, Auburn mounted it first real scoring threat. Five runs by Brooks and Cribbs and a pass by Charlie Trotman moved the ball 21 yards up field before Cribbs ripped off a 35-yard run to the Alabama 24-yard line. A personal foul penalty against the Alabama defense moved the ball to the 12-yard line.
The Crimson Tide defense stiffened and pushed the Tigers defense back to the 30-yard line, but Jorge Portela salvaged three points with a 47-yard field to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead with 44 seconds left in the first quarter.
Alabama took the ensuing kickoff and “wish-boned” their way from the UA 20 to the AU 28. On first down, Steadman Shealy fired a 28-yard touchdown pass to Keith Pugh to put the Tide on the board. McElroy’s extra point made it 7-3.
Auburn came right back with a 49-ayrd drive to the Tide 35, but Portela misfired on a 52-yard field goal attempt. The Crimson Tide then went 65 yards in 10 snaps for its second straight touchdown, with Shealy getting the final yard on a quarterback sneak. With just under three minutes before intermission, Alabama owned a 14-3 cushion.
Like Auburn in the first half, Alabama fumbled on its first possession of the second half to give the Tigers the ball at the UA 21-yard line. The Tigers missed out on a chance to score with a personal foul penalty and wound up punting into the end zone.
Two plays later, Auburn was back in business when Freddie Smith recovered a Major Ogilvie fumble at the Tide 28. Still, AU managed only a 33-yard field goal and cut the lead to 14-6 with 11:33 left in the third quarter.
After an exchange of punts, a relentless Alabama offense marched 60 yards to the Tigers 12-yard line only to fumble again, this one by Shealy and recovered by Harris Rabren. It did not seem to matter though as Brooks fumbled the ball right back to Alabama’s E.J. Junior at the 21 yard line. The Tide moved to the Auburn 6-yard line and settled for a short field goal and a 17-6 lead with 2:07 left in the third quarter.
After another three-and-out, Auburn seemed doomed, but a Tommy Wilcox fumble on the punt gave the Tigers new life at the UA 37. After two incomplete passes, Trotman hit Cribbs at the 25 yard and Cribbs zipped in for the touchdown. After four Alabama turnovers in the third quarter alone, Auburn had finally scored a touchdown. Trotman’s two-point pass attempt was intercepted and the score remained 17-12.
After an Alabama punt, Auburn took the ball at its own 33. On second-and-12, Trotman hit Byron Franklin on a 55-yard bomb to the Tide 14. Two plays later, Trotman rifled the go-ahead TD pass to Mark Robbins. The Tide defense smothered Trotman on the two-point conversion attempt, but Auburn finally had the lead at 18-17 with almost 12 minutes left.
The nation’s top-ranked team showed why it was No. 1. Beginning from its own 18 yard line, Alabama drove for the winning score. Ogilvie got five yards to the 23 and then Shealy ran for nine and 16 yards to the 43. Shealy and Pugh teamed up on a 9-yard pass and a personal foul penalty moved the ball to the Tigers 28. Steve Whitman burst through for a 20-yard run to the 8 and Shealy covered the final eight yards to give the Tide a 23-18 lead with 8:17 left in the game. Shealy also powered into the end zone with a two-point conversion to put the Tide up 25-18.
Brooks took the kickoff and raced 64 yards before being caught by Don McNeal and Jeremiah Castille at the UA 31. On fourth down from the 24, Trotman’s pass was deflected and nearly landed in the arms of Mike Locklear at the goal line.
Alabama punted and Auburn drove to the UA 38 before giving the ball back on downs. Alabama punted again but with only nine seconds left in the game and two long pass attempts by Trotman fell harmlessly incomplete.
The Crimson Tide had the better statistical day, with almost 400 yards of offense. Whitman was the leading rusher with 107 yards on 14 attempts. Shealy added 99 yards. Cribbs was Auburn’s top ground-gainer with 98 yards.
Alabama fell to No. 2 in the polls despite the win, but a sound 24-9 win over Southwest Conference champion Arkansas in the Jan. 1, 1980 Sugar Bowl coupled with No. 1 Ohio State’s 17-16 loss to USC in the Rose Bowl, the Tide finished with a 12-0 record and the undisputed national championship.