Poll Controversies Revisited: 1989 - Tragedy Struck

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  1. TedSlimmJr

    TedSlimmJr Hartselle Tigers (15-0) 5-A State Champ

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    Tragedy dominated college football to a degree perhaps unprecedented since the Vietnam War saw players graduate and quickly go die in Southeast Asia. Multiple tragedies of varying degrees took up too much space in news print and television commentary, and the end of the season was as unsatisfying as quenching one's thirst with salt. Indeed, the only happy people at the end of the season lived in close proximity to Coral Gables, Florida. It was a year of "what might have been," the year a fairy tale season for Colorado ended in ignominious defeat, a great year by Alabama was left in ruins on the field not yet named for Pat Dye in Jordan-Hare Stadium, and the first-ever black quarterback winning the Heisman nobody cared about because nobody actually saw the poor kid play.

    The longest lasting legacy of 1989 was one nobody could have seen at the time, the hiring of Bill Snyder as head coach by the unchallenged worst college football team of the game's first century, Kansas State. Traditional powers dominated the preseason top ten in what appeared to be just one more ho-hum season:

    1) Michigan
    2) Notre Dame
    3) Nebraska
    4) Miami
    5) USC
    6) Florida St
    7) LSU
    8) Auburn

    Notre Dame returned from an undefeated season as the defending national champion with what seemed to be a full roster of returning starters and future stars and the pressure off of Lou Holtz, who not only won the Irish their first national title since 1977 but also his first-ever, a personal goal he had held for over 30 years.

    A soap opera unfolded in the center of the nation at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, where Bill McCartney was methodically constructing a team he was specifically building to beat Nebraska. He thought he had all the pieces in place for a very good team in 1989. His home life was in shambles with a developing scandal that saw his only daughter pregnant with the child of his star quarterback, Sal Aunese. McCartney had successfully hidden the story from prying eyes in Boulder when he was confronted with a new problem - Aunese, only twenty years old at the time, went to the doctor and was diagnosed with an inoperable stomach tumor and given six months to live at most; indeed, McCartney was told that Aunese might not live so much as a week. Aunese had been part of a "California pipeline" that McCartney had built to Boulder in an effort to overtake Nebraska as Big Eight champion, his stated goal (and one for which he received much mockery in the Cornhusker state). In fact, Colorado's 1990 national championship team had 32 players from southern California on the roster, including Darian Hagan (Los Angeles), Oakland Salavea (Aunese's best friend), Deon Figures, and many other stars, while the 1989 version featured Pomona's J J Flanigan. Both Nebraska and Colorado were hot on Aunese's trail, and the job of successfully recruiting him to Boulder was left in the hands of Buffaloes assistant Les Miles, who would later put Aunese's son on his LSU team as a walk-on. While this pipeline would reap major dividends for CU shortly, the bigger issues were personal: McCartney had a white daughter pregnant by a black (Samoan) football star, who just happened to be dying of cancer. The story blew up in a particularly vicious hit piece by the Boulder Daily Camera in August of 1989, a piece that trashed McCartney's daughter as a play toy for the football team and mocked his Christian faith. Days after the article, McCartney was told by a religious friend that he had had a vision that Colorado would have "a golden season." By fate, prophecy, or just plain old coincidence, McCartney's troops blasted Texas on Labor Day night behind their new quarterback, Darian Hagan, 27-6, and one newspaper declared, "Buffs Begin Golden Season." Voters moved Colorado quickly up from 14 to 8 in the second poll of 1989.

    Notre Dame's early win over what turned out to be a rather decent Virginia team by the rout score of 36-13 in the opener impressed voters enough to move the Irish above Michigan to number one. The ranking didn't really matter as Michigan was primed to open the season against the Irish in South Bend on September 16. The opening weekend, however, claimed three prime victims: Florida State, LSU and USC. The Trojans were in the beginning stage of a long decline, but at least the foe, eventual 10-2 Illinois led by Jeff George, was respectable. The same could not be said - at the time anyway - of the shocking upset of Florida State by upstart little Southern Mississippi in Jacksonville. USM was an unknown quantity coming off a decent 10-2 season, but the Golden Eagles did have one nuclear bomb in the arsenal, a then unknown quarterback named Brett Favre. When FSU was given a second field goal chance to take the lead on USM, Favre responded by driving downfield and tossing a two-yard TD pass with only 23 seconds left that shocked both the Seminoles and the nation. People would be hearing a whole lot more about this Favre guy in the future. LSU, meanwhile, was on the long road to mediocrity that was just now beginning and would span 11 years until Nick Saban breathed new life into their program. The Tigers flopped against Texas A/M in new coach RC Slocum's first game in College Station, and the top ten was clearing quickly.

    Nothing significant happened in week two save the debut of the Ericksons at Miami, coach Dennis and quarterback Craig, who opened with a 51-3 pasting of Wisconsin. One week later, however, the college football world was introduced to a Pennsylvania-raised flanker of great reputation known simply as "the Rocket." With a number one ranking on the line, Notre Dame and Michigan came out slugging. Typical Midwest rain set the stage and the two teams both traded punts for a dozen straight possessions, each playing conservatively and close to the vest. A Michigan fumble at their own 23 set up Notre Dame for a touchdown on Tony Rice's only pass completion of the entire game that gave the Irish a 7-0 lead. Just before halftime, Michigan countered with a touchdown, but the PAT hit the upright and the halftime score saw the Irish ahead, 7-6.

    Entering the game, Michigan had not surrendered a kickoff return for a touchdown since the Soviets launched Sputnik (1957). Having won the toss and deferred to the second half, Raghib "the Rocket" Ismail made up for lost time by returning the kickoff for 88 yards and a quick 14-6 lead for Notre Dame. A field goal gave the Irish a 17-6 lead and the defense was playing well. An injury to Michigan starting quarterback Michael Taylor almost was the Irish undoing as redshirt freshman Elvis Grbac came on the scene having never played a single down of college ball. Coming on like a seasoned pro, Grbac put together a 17 for 24 day that netted 134 yards and two touchdown passes. The first made it 17-12 as Michigan missed the attempted two-point conversion. Unfortunately, Michigan had to kick off the Ismail again.

    And once again, Rocket made them pay with brutal force, a 92-yard scamper that gave the Irish a 24-12 lead that virtually sealed the game. Although Grbac got the Wolverines to within five with four minutes left, Michigan opted for an onside kick that they botched, and the Irish ran the clock out, including a fourth down conversion with 1:58 left. Notre Dame had beaten Michigan and further solidified their attempt at a repeat. All 60 votes in the following poll went to either #1 Notre Dame or #2 Miami. The tension was already building for the possible match up, but much football remained to be played. Pollsters did not punish Michigan overly harshly, dropping them only from 2 to 5, keeping them ahead of Colorado.

    On the day Notre Dame was beating Michigan, the Buffaloes were blasting number 10 Illinois, 38-7. Aunese, weakened by chemotherapy, attended the first the games of CU's season, which were all in Boulder. His teammates would celebrate touchdowns by pointing to the press box where Sal sat as if to say, "This one's for Sal." Colorado realized that Aunese didn't have long, and in a touching tribute, the television broadcasters named Aunese "the player of the game" in what turned out to be his final football game as a fan. Several players and assistant coach Gary Barnett speculated that Sal was going to die during the off week - and that's exactly what happened on September 23. The state of Colorado was plunged into mourning and at the funeral McCartney publicly acknowledged for the first time that Aunese was the father of his grandchild.

    On the same day Aunese died, Michigan kept it exciting with a shocking win over UCLA - shocking because they trailed the Bruins on the road by eight points with only 95 seconds remaining and won via touchdown, successful onside kick, and 25-yard field goal to stun the Bruins in Los Angeles. Nothing, though, was quite as shocking as what unfolded the following week at Husky Stadium in Seattle.

    Still grieving and traveling halfway across the country, the University of Washington organized a moment of silence for Aunese just prior to the game. One writer would later observe that it may have been the loudest moment of silence in the history of silent moments. Aunese was memorialized while the Buffaloes players pointed a finger skyward towards Aunese's presumed eternity in heaven - but the picture also suggested a declaration of their hoped for destination of number one. After the moment of silence, how did the Buffaloes respond? By absolutely demolishing Washington, 45-28, in a game they led entering the fourth quarter, 38-6 (the Huskies points were against the backups). It was a moment comparable to the later salute to the Aggies by the University of Texas after the bonfire tragedy in 1999.

    In lesser known news but of just as much importance, Tennessee knocked Auburn from the ranks of the unbeaten with the dazzling rushing of Reggie Cobb, 21-14. The defeat knocked Auburn from its perch at number four and saw Colorado jump Nebraska to slide into the number three spot. (Remember - poll rankings earlier in the season meant a lot more in 1989 than today because of the obligatory bowl tie-ins).

    And it was right about this time that Gary Hollingsworth signaled the entry of Alabama into the national picture for only the second time since the passing of Coach Paul Bryant. In week two against Kentucky, Tide quarterback Jeff Dunn went down with strained knee ligaments, a loss of four to six weeks for the third-year starter who had been both a blessing and a problem during his time at the Capstone. Hollingsworth took over and steadily guided Alabama to a "business as usual" 15-3 win over Kentucky and repeated the task the following week against Vanderbilt, 20-14. Hollingsworth's story would be known soon - a Hamilton, Alabama product who had actually grown up a fan of hated Auburn, Hollingsworth would provide Alabama with something it had not had at quarterback since Mike Shula departed after the 1986 season - a steady quarterback who could actually throw more than two decent consecutive passes.

    The outlook was ominous for Alabama, though. A road trip to Ole Miss brought up memories of Bill Curry's darkest hours as a Tide head coach, when Ole Miss stunned the Tide at the dedication of the Bryant Museum and left Curry and the Tide offense embarrassed. Ole Miss picked up right where they left off in 1988. The game was played not at the then small campus stadium in Oxford but at Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson, MS.

    After a quick three and out led by two Hollingsworth incompletions, Ole Miss blocked Bill Smith's first punt of the game and recovered at the Bama two. Two players later, Ole Miss led 7-0. On the first play from scrimmage after the ensuing kickoff, Hollingsworth's bad pass was tipped by Craig Sanderson and intercepted by the Ole Miss defender, who took it to the Alabama six. Two runs, another TD, and with the game less than 2 1/2 minutes old, Ole Miss is up, 14-0. Three Murry Hill runs later, and Alabama punted again. Six plays and 53 yards later, Ole Miss was pounding Alabama, 21-0, and the first quarter was less than six minutes old. What followed was nothing short of bizarre - Gary Hollingsworth ensured that as long as he was healthy there would be no quarterback controversy once Jeff Dunn healed.

    Over the course of the next 24 minutes of game time, Hollingsworth unleashed an Aaron Rodgers-style comeback, pumping in 48 points and seven touchdowns to blow the Rebels right off the field. Amazingly enough, Hollingsworth's first play after the kickoff was an intentional grounding penalty. On third and 13, Hollingsworth his John Cassimus downfield across the middle for a 33-yard gain. Perhaps the play gave Gary a confidence boost as the Tide went right down the field and the late Kevin Turner scored a touchdown on a wide open pass over the middle to bring the Tide within 21-7.

    The floodgates opened and when it was over, Hollingsworth had led the Tide to a colossal 62-27 pounding of the Rebels with a stat line of 25 for 43, 363 yards, 5 TDs (through the air), and the SEC offensive player of the week award. Indeed, Hollingsworth would win that award for the entire season despite not hitting his stride until October.

    The polls held steady the following week with only probation riddled Houston (TV ban) falling out of the top ten. The votes were dispersed among the top three, with Notre Dame taking 52 votes, Miami 3, and Colorado gaining support by the week with three first-place votes themselves.
     
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  2. TedSlimmJr

    TedSlimmJr Hartselle Tigers (15-0) 5-A State Champ

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    PART 2:


    October 21, 1989 promised to be a day of great matchups. The top ten would have two head-to-head games as Tennessee and Alabama squared off while Notre Dame met USC in South Bend in their annual grudge match. Grudge match was right as once again (as in 1988 Michigan) there was a pregame scuffle between the Irish and a traditional power opponent, an incident so embarrassing to Notre Dame that not only did the school issue a public apology but Coach Lou Holtz announced he would resign if it ever happened again under his tutelage. In a classic, future NFL pro (and monumental head case) Todd Marinovich almost pulled off the upset. Trailing 28-24 late in the game, USC was at the Notre Dame 12. On fourth down from the seven, Marinovich threw into the end zone only to see Irish DB Juan Francisco break up the attempted game-winning TD pass. Notre Dame survived, not only USC but their own problems with holding onto the ball. Indeed, USC did not have a drive over 40 yards that resulted in a touchdown, and all three were due to Irish turnovers in their own end of the field. Meanwhile in Birmingham, Tennessee and Alabama met with both teams unbeaten for the first time since 1973. The Vols were coping with the loss of star running back Reggie Cobb, who had tested positive a second time for marijuana. Gary Hollingsworth, after a lackluster showing against ULL (then known as SW Louisiana) in a 24-17 win, showed that he would play best when the stakes were highest, unloading 379 yards during a 32 for 46 performance that gave the Tide three touchdowns, the most dazzling a 75-yard shovel pass to running back Siran Stacy, who really had his own coming out game this sunny day. Stacy scored four TDs while rushing for 125 yards and catching 158 yards in passes. The final score, 47-30, wasn't even really that close, and it was clear at this point that Alabama was in for the long haul for the SEC championship and Sugar Bowl. One week later, the Tide announced its entry into the national picture in Happy Valley.

    There was also a deeply embarrassing moment for the sport on October 21, when the University of Houston Cougars proceeded to thoroughly embarrass the recently reconstructed Southern Methodist football program with a "run up the score" 95-21 humiliation that would have been worse except it was not seen on television anywhere due to the UH television ban. Houston quarterback Andre Ware would use the game to pretty much win the Heisman, throwing for 571 yards and six touchdowns in a game - the game, hell, he had that in the first half - that earned Houston the wrath of much of the public. The Cougars totaled 1,021 yards in the game, but it was seen in large part as a shameless and needless exercise against some already not so talented student athletes who had nothing to do with the crimes that had earned SMU the death penalty in 1987. The only positive that could be said is that Houston had a chance to top 100 points with the ball at the SMU 17-yard line in the final minute and chose to not do so. Houston themselves had been the last team to top 100 points in an FBS game back in 1968. Besides, Houston was not exactly virgin pure themselves regarding sanctions, which is why nobody was watching Andre Ware run up huge stats.

    The win over Tennessee boosted Alabama all the way up from ten to six. Colorado signaled that their golden season was not going to be just a flash in the pan when they thumped Oklahoma, 20-3, for their first win over the Sooners since 1976. Miami, meanwhile, entered the Florida State game in Tallahassee without starting QB Craig Erickson, replacing him with sophomore Gino Torretta, who was making his first start. Typical of many 1980s and early 90s Miami games, the entire Hurricane team came out to midfield for the coin toss, where Florida State also responded in kind. Though no actual fight or incident occurred, the tension level was raised even before the kickoff. On the very first play from scrimmage, the virtually immobile Torretta was flushed out of the left side of the pocket and threw a desperate heave to a wide open Florida State defender, future NFL star Terrell Buckley. The Noles pretty much dominated the game from there, with Torretta throwing four interceptions and Miami failing to execute three different times from the Florida State one on three different drives that ended in a fumble, a pick, and a turnover on downs. The Noles won, 24-10, and most of the country figured Miami was out of the hunt now. Meanwhile in State College, Pennsylvania, Alabama provided a heart-stopping moment of its own.

    The game was an ode to the inept coaching of Tide head man Bill Curry. Alabama thoroughly botched an end of first half drive that saw them come away with no points from the two-yard line with a timeout still in the chamber. Alabama got to the Penn State 36 with 24 seconds left and two timeouts. Rather than use one of the timeouts - especially with perhaps the nation's best field goal kicker in Phillip Doyle - Alabama let a full ten seconds run off the clock and then Homer Smith called a daring off tackle run with Siran Stacy, who took the ball down inside the Penn State one to before being run out of bounds...with two seconds left. With only one play and one chance to get it right, Curry called for a touchdown try against the only FBS (then called Division I) school that had yet to allow a rushing TD on the season. Penn State penetrated and Martin Houston was tackled short of the goal line as the two teams headed inside tied at three. Hollingsworth struggled, throwing four interceptions on the big stage, but Stacy bailed out the Tide time and again, rushing for 108 yards on 19 carries and scoring the go ahead TD in the fourth. With a chance to put the game away, Hollingsworth missed seeing the defensive tackle pull back into pass coverage and threw an interception right to Rich Schoenwolf inside the Penn State thirty. And right at that point Penn State began to give Alabama the Bryant-era offensive show, giving the ball to talented running back Blair Thomas in a one-man downfield drive that brought the Lions within two feet of the game-winning touchdown. Even Alabama fans had to admire the performance of Thomas and the Penn State O-line. With thirteen seconds left, Joe Paterno called the last timeout on third down. Paterno opted for the safe and short field goal rather than a run by Thomas. (Perhaps he was having 1979 Sugar Bowl flashbacks). Paterno opted for the safe call, but it wasn't enough. A high snap from the center and a 6'7" defensive end named Thomas Rayam blocked Ray Tarasi's short field goal attempt and sent Penn State into agony and Alabama into ecstasy, with the Tide's first win at Happy Valley since 1981. In a bizarre sort of way, Curry's mis-managing of the end of the first half bailed out Alabama since Blair Thomas had cut up the Alabama defense on the final drive and would likely have scored if Paterno had opted for a touchdown run (as he no doubt would have if trailing by four). Alabama had re-entered the national scene as a legitimate national title contender and were now ranked fifth in the country.

    Tragedy struck the sport in the SEC at the Ole Miss-Vandy game when defensive back Chucky Mullins broke his neck in two places and was paralyzed from the neck down on what appeared to be a routine play. Mullins would play a major role in the 1990 revival of the Ole Miss program much as Sal Aunese hovered over Colorado's 1989. And thanks to Aunese, the season's most memorable and emotional scene took place one week later in Boulder, Colorado.

    Beneath the surface of Colorado's golden season was suspicion - could they really beat both Oklahoma and Nebraska in the same season, a feat they had not accomplished since 1961, the year before Bob Devaney walked into Lincoln, Nebraska and built a national power? Even their win over Oklahoma was considered somewhat tainted because Barry Switzer had left the OU program in shambles with a stunning resignation in June. The Buffs had only beaten Switzer once (1976) in sixteen tries. Nebraska, on the other hand, was the most stable coaching job in the country with Tom Osborne safely ensconced as the successor to Devaney, who was still on staff at Nebraska as the AD. Nebraska's continuity suggested that the bubble was about to burst for Colorado, who it was thought was getting by primarily on emotion rather than ability. It was #3 Nebraska at #2 Colorado, and by the standards of 1989 this was virtually a winner-take-all playoff game since nobody gave the future two opponents of each time any chance of winning. And both teams gave it their all on an unforgettable day.

    CBS touted the matchup as a game not of two quarterbacks but of three - the third being the late Colorado signal caller Aunese, whose final letter to the team had openly espoused his newfound Christian faith and challenged the team to "bring home the Orange Bowl." If Colorado held any delusions of getting by on emotion against Nebraska, the Cornhuskers shattered them on their first offensive play from scrimmage. Perhaps a bundle of nerves, Darian Hagan threw a horrible interception that Nebraska got at midfield. Starting at their own 49, quarterback Gerry Gdowski dropped back then suddenly tossed a screen to the left. Cutting back across the field quickly, Bryan Carpenter rumbled 51 yards for a lightning quick score that stunned the Colorado faithful and elicited cheers from the many Nebraska fans who had made the 600-mile drive hoping to see the balloon burst.

    After another non-scoring series for each team, Colorado took over at their own 29. Running the option, Darian Hagan raced around the left side. After going nearly 30 yards and with one man to beat, Hagan suddenly tossed the ball to J J Flanigan trailing him on the left, who tore down the sidelines and tied the game at seven. Upon reaching the end zone, Flanigan knelt in prayer and then raised up pointing a finger to the sky in remembrance of Aunese.

    And while the game would end with a 27-21 Colorado win, it was as good as over at that moment. Colorado rode the wave of emotion and ability to beat back Nebraska. The final play saw a Hail Mary heave into the Buffs end zone by Nebraska that was knocked to the ground and fans raced onto the field in a tidal wave of emotion and appreciation. Colorado had beaten down their own real roadblock left before potentially facing Notre Dame in a 1 vs 2 winner-take-all game. If only it were that easy.
     
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  3. TedSlimmJr

    TedSlimmJr Hartselle Tigers (15-0) 5-A State Champ

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    PART 3:



    Meanwhile in Tuscaloosa, fear began to creep into the minds of the Tide faithful. Looking ahead in the polls told a sober story Alabama fans knew all too well:

    1) Notre Dame
    2) Colorado
    3) Michigan
    4) Alabama
    5) Florida St
    6) Nebraska
    7) Miami

    If everyone won out, Alabama was going to be on the outside looking in. Colorado and Notre Dame were assured of a 1 vs 2 while Michigan would be obligated to the Rose Bowl. Alabama's only chance at the national title mandated they win out and hope that at least two of the teams above them lost. Amazingly enough, it nearly happened just the way Coach Bryant would have drawn it up.

    From the poll after the CU-Nebraska game until Thanksgiving (almost a full month), the top four teams in the polls never budged. The first roadblock was blown away - literally - by the Miami Hurricanes, who ended Notre Dame's 23-game winning streak with a 27-10 beating that was closer than the final score suggests. Two key plays determined the outcome of this one. With Miami leading 17-10 in the third quarter, quarterback Craig Erickson fumbled the ball backwards with three Notre Dame defenders in pursuit and the ball bouncing inside Miami's own five-yard line. Somehow, center Bobby Garcia leaped through the three defenders and recovered the fumble that at least temporarily would stave off disaster. The rules of 1989 did not permit fumbles to be advanced, so it was agreed that Irish DE Devon McDonald had blundered in attempting to snag the bouncing fumble in the air. Of course, what did it matter? Miami was at their own three with a 2nd and 48 against one of the nation's best defenses. A short handoff to Stephen McGuire left Miami in an unfathomable 3rd and 43 at their own seven. It was right at this point in time that Miami coach Dennis Erickson gave Notre Dame a dose of the Ara Parseghian medicine.

    For some strange reason, Notre Dame did not set their defense for a pass. Miami WR Randle Hill got behind the defenders and hauled in a Craig Erickson pass good for 44 yards and a devastating first down. It was even funnier when Hill admitted after the game he had no idea where the first-down marker was, he just knew he had to go long. Miami put away the Irish, Rocket Ismail was injured, and Miami was back in the national title hunt after a month below the radar.

    The new number one in stunning and Hollywood fashion were the inspired Colorado Buffaloes, whose season had ended on November 18 with a 59-11 demolition of Kansas State, an unbeaten regular season, a Big Eight title, and an Orange Bowl berth against Notre Dame. The outcome of Miami-Notre Dame really did not matter to Colorado - if they won, they were going to be national champions.

    Pollsters were also unimpressed with Michigan's five-point win over two-loss Ohio State, dropping them to number three in the polls behind Alabama, who rose to number two for the first time since 1986. The season was heading for the possibility of a split national champion, but even Alabama fans knew that their rise under Bill Curry and inspirational win over Penn State could not compare to Colorado's "This Is For Sal" Knute Rocke-style story. Colorado getting to play the Gipper's old school was not going to help Alabama, either, particularly since the general consensus was that Notre Dame was still the nation's best team.

    As it turned out, Alabama fans were worried about the wrong thing. For the first time in history, Alabama had to go to Jordan-Hare Stadium to face #11 Auburn, who were not exactly a bad team themselves. The Tide had already clinched a tie for the SEC title, the burning questions were whether or not the Tide would share the title and if they did, who would go to the Sugar Bowl.

    Two weeks before the Iron Bowl was played, bumper stickers were marketed in Alabama with the slogan, "We Beat Your *** On Your Grass." Rumors abounded of a run on red spray paint that suggested vandalism. Two Alabama players, Siran Stacy and Charley Dare, allegedly received death threats that Coach Bill Curry asked the FBI to investigate, much to the chagrin of Alabama fans. Curry then angered Auburn's brass by suggesting ticketless Alabama fans do as they had done in Baton Rouge during the LSU game - surround the stadium and listen to the game on radio. Now it was Auburn's turn to over-react as ticket manager Bill Beckwith suggested that Curry was trying to incite a riot. The game was so big that it was covered in The New York Times, LA Times, USA Today, and Washington Post, dominating the sports pages nationwide.

    Auburn saw the game get so big that they had to spend the night in Columbus, Georgia just to get away from all the hype. Pat Dye, in one of his many childish moments as Auburn coach, would later compare Auburn's pregame walk with the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany less than a month earlier, suggesting the look in Auburn fans' eyes of getting the game were along the lines of those helpless Eastern Europeans who had lied a generation under Communist rule. While hype is to be expected and the atmosphere was electric, this suggestion was as ridiculous as Nick Saban's 2007 invoking of the 9/11 attacks in the wake of the ULM loss. Dye, however, did not live in the social media age, so his remarks were primarily known only in the state of Alabama. Bill Curry, who played in two media event Super Bowls (I and III) said that this was the biggest game he'd ever been a part of. That feeling gripped Auburn RB James Joseph, too, as he hyperventilated before the game and had to be given oxygen to calm him down.

    It was a perfect day for a football game, and it ended perfectly for Auburn.

    Auburn came out wasting no time, with Reggie Slack throwing. After a quick first down and a run by Stacy Danley, Slack uncorked a 44-yard bomb to Alexander Wright that both devastated the Tide defense and brought the already pumped Tiger crowd into the game with more fervor. James Joseph would score from the two, but officials did not notice Auburn's scoring play had 12 men on the field. After a few quick possessions - one ending in a field goal that made it 7-3 - Alabama got the ball and began mixing runs by Stacy with passes by Hollingsworth. Driving down the field and starting with first and goal from the four, Alabama first tried a run and then two incomplete passes that set up fourth down. In a move suggesting desperation to say nothing of idiocy, Bill Curry decided to attempt a fake field goal that Auburn smothered, and the Tide's stellar drive against a good defense yielded no points. A field goal would have made it 7-6 Auburn while the botch not only kept the deficit at four points, it also gave Auburn both momentum and confidence. The defenses began to dominate, but Alabama drove down with 1:49 left in the half and Hollingsworth's pass to Marco Battle gave the Tide only the second passing TD that Auburn had surrendered all year as the Tide took a 10-7 lead.

    A play with huge historic import for the participants began the second half as Alabama returner Gene Jelks was taken down by Auburn defender Eric Ramsey. Less than three years later, Pat Dye would resign due to allegations of NCAA violations made by Ramsey and Alabama would be facing the spectre of an NCAA investigation begun by Jelks' allegations that also ended in probation. Of course, nobody knew this at the time.

    A missed Doyle field goal fro 48 yards kept it 10-7 when Reggie Slack was nearly picked off on a dangerous pass that Auburn receiver Shane Wasden caught at the 50. Racing towards a seeming touchdown, Wasden was caught from behind by Alabama's fleet of foot Keith McCants after a 59-yard gain that gave them first and ten at the 12. It took five plays, but Auburn scored to go up, 14-10. Responding to the Auburn TD, Alabama began a well-played drive that ended terribly when Kevin Turner hauled in a pass and kept racing downfield but was stripped of the ball by Quentin Riggins. Auburn recovered at their own 21 and Dye decided to go with the Slack to Wright bomb that had opened up the game. Sensing the same play coming, Efrum Thomas knocked Wright out of the bounds coming off the line of scrimmage. Wright adjusted and hauled in a 60-yard pass play that put Auburn at the Tide 19. The defense held, however, and Auburn settled for a field goal that made it 17-10.

    It was at this point that Auburn flexed its muscles and took over the game.

    Because Slack had been burning the Tide defense with the pass, they switched coverages and enabled Auburn's talented running backs to gain easy yardage. The fourth quarter began with Auburn driving while holding the 17-10 lead and the momentum. Auburn's quick TD made it 24-10 and after burning up crucial minutes with a running drive, Win Lyle's field goal made it 27-10 with only 9:36 left. Alabama needed an Ole Miss-type miracle to keep their national ranking. After nearly throwing what would have been a game-ending interception that Elton Billingslea dropped, Hollingsworth began running a no huddle passing offense that sliced right down the field using the passing game, culminating with a toss to Marco Battle that made it 27-17. After allowing a first down, the Tide defense forced a punt. Hollingsworth again went with the no huddle and again took the Tide up the field. Needing two scores to win, Curry again lost his mind since a field goal would have helped. The Tide ate up a bunch of clock and wound up barely converting a fourth and one inside the Auburn ten. When the Tide failed to score a touchdown, Doyle made the chip shot that made the score 27-20 Auburn with less than two minutes left. Still holding all three timeouts, Curry opted for the onside kick. Auburn recovered it and Alabama used all three timeouts.

    Curry was nearly outdone in the stupid department by Pat Dye. On third down at the Tide 17 and with Alabama out of timeouts and less than a minute remaining, Dye called a bootleg pass play. Slack raced right and tried to pass only to have it batted in the air and then fall to the ground by Spencer Hammond. With nobody between Hammond and the Auburn goal line 80 yards away, it is likely Alabama would have scored the potential game-tying TD on the dumbest play call since eschewing the field goal in the 1984 Iron Bowl. But once Lyle hit the field goal to make it a ten-point game, Alabama's national title hopes were gone.

    Shortly after the game, the Downtown Athletic Club announced that Andre Ware had won the Heisman Trophy. The final regular season rankings were a sight to behold:

    1) Colorado
    2) Miami
    3) Michigan
    4) Notre Dame
    5) Florida St
    6) Nebraska
    7) Alabama
    8) Tennessee
    9) Auburn
    10) Arkansas

    The first-ever three-way SEC title split saw the teams ranked 7-8-9. It was also too low for Alabama to have even a reasonable shot at winning the national championship.
     
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  4. TedSlimmJr

    TedSlimmJr Hartselle Tigers (15-0) 5-A State Champ

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    PART 4:




    In 1989, bowl game bids were sent out in mid-November. Notre Dame had actually accepted the Orange Bowl bid BEFORE playing Miami in the Orange Bowl stadium on November 25. The title picture now promised to be an utter mess unless Colorado beat the Irish. Miami accepted a Sugar Bowl berth against the SEC champion representative chosen by the conference, which turned out to be Alabama. Michigan went to the Rose Bowl while Florida State set up what would become a common matchup by playing Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl.

    And then came the clutter.

    Earlier in the day on January 1, 1990, USC beat Michigan (like always) in a 17-10 thriller that marked the final game for Bo Schembechler. This was important given that Bo had never won a title. However.....how could the AP possibly justify ranking Michigan ahead of a Notre Dame team that had beaten them? The two biggest games of the day were played at the same time on competing networks, with NBC trying to suggest the winner of their game was national champion (even if it was Notre Dame) and ABC actually suggesting that if Colorado lost and Alabama beat Miami - combined with Michigan already losing - then Alabama deserved consideration as national champion.

    Days before the Orange Bowl, Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz got into hot water with the press when he made some snide remarks about Colorado's season during a huddle. At a prayer breakfast on December 27, Holtz praised Colorado as "the best football team we will play this year." The following day, however, Holtz made some comments in a huddle that were recorded and distributed by a Denver TV affiliate, remarking:

    "Number one, they're used to scoring a lot of points. They ain't playing any Kansas State. We've got to be patient on defense. Just play our football game. On offense, we want to control the football. All we want's a first down, first down, first down. Frustration will set in on Colorado's offense. By the middle of the third quarter, they will leave the game plan completely and start grab-bagging. Remember me telling you that. They are not patient. The quarterback will want to make plays and we aren't gonna let him."

    The remark that elicited the most media manufactured outrage, however, was Holtz's comment that Colorado had "been living a lie all year." Holtz had to immediately apologize and clarify that he was not referring to the deceased Sal Aunese but rather to two instances where alleged remarks (never made) by Illinois and Nebraska were reported to have fired up Colorado's players. Colorado Coach McCartney, who would later state his long held belief that no coach should ever be held to account for things he says in a huddle to fire up his team, said that no apology was necessary, a sentiment backed by future NFL star Alfred Williams, who saw it for what it was. Holtz then held court by saying that he would never criticize a team in the aftermath of losing a player, and invoked the fact that Bob Satterfield, a member of the 1988 national title team, had died of a seizure in January right after Notre Dame's White House visit (it was expedited because outgoing President Ronald Reagan had played the Gipper in the move "Knute Rocke: All-American" and wanted the Irish in DC; it was one of Reagan's last acts as President). Another rumor had quarterback Tony Rice insulting the Buffs season, a charge he vehemently denied.

    One may well surmise that Holtz was praising Colorado as a great team in order to build support for a championship vote if he beat the Buffaloes.

    Pastor Ryle, the crackpot who had had the so-called vision prior to the season, saw the broken horn on Ralfie, the Buffaloes mascot (I wish I was making this stuff up, but I'm not). Ryle, a self-proclaimed prophet, heard from God that God's hedge of protection had been removed and Colorado would lose. It is probably best to explain it as on that particular night Notre Dame simply was the better football team. Three times in the first half, Colorado charged down the field into Notre Dame territory like a knife through butter. All three times, they came away with zero points. Eric Bienemy tried to change which hand was carrying the ball and he dropped it for a fumble that ended a drive. Another drive saw Colorado's kicker miss a chip shot 23-yard field goal attempt, his only clean miss from that distance all year (the other time was blocked). A goal line stand by Notre Dame while their offense was not exactly firing on all cylinders, and the teams went in at the half tied at zero.

    McCartney would later observe that his halftime concern was that his team had decided that they really couldn't beat Notre Dame. If so, they thought correctly as the Irish got two quick touchdowns. A response TD from Darian Hagan with a missed PAT made it 14-6 and gave the Buffs new life. Notre Dame snuffed it out with a nine minute drive that consumed 82 yards on 17 consecutive running plays that resulted in a clinching touchdown and the final margin of 21-6. Colorado had come so far, so fast, in honor of a fallen teammate only to lose in the biggest game in school history.

    And that ensured there would be some sort of controversy no matter who won the title.

    Alabama took the Superdome field against Miami before what appeared to be a Crimson home audience. Vegas oddsmakers did not give the Tide much of a chance, a fact that looked somewhat preposterous when the two teams went in at the half and Miami had only a 20-17 lead. The game was marred by officiating miscues, most notably missing actual fumbles that Miami made and Alabama recovered, two of them on drives that netted the Hurricanes two touchdowns. Alabama made it artificially close at the end and attempted to earn a tie with a late onside kick, but the Miami recovery ensured the Hurricanes would survive with a 33-25 win. Days after the game, Alabama coach Bill Curry fled his home of discontent and departed for the head coaching job at Kentucky, where he replaced former Bryant assistant Jerry Claiborne, who had retired.


    DID THE RIGHT TEAM WIN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP?

    1989 saw as much tragedy as inspiration on the field. The national championship controversy, however, had its roots in the antiquated system used prior to the BCS. The necessity of having bowl tie-ins deeply complicated what should have been a simple matter. The bigger controversy at the time came from the fact that prior to this particular day, if a team beat number one in a bowl game and the teams had the same number of losses then the team that beat number one was the champion.

    Notre Dame very likely left the field thinking they were champions. After all, they had taken this same route in 1977 when they beat Texas and leapfrogged Alabama. Furthermore, there was the instructive example of 1978, when Alabama beat #1 Penn State and won the AP title despite a head-to-head home loss to USC. Notre Dame probably felt that the head-to-head game didn't count for so much, and they most certainly had history on their side with that argument. A further pro-Irish argument was that Notre Dame had played a much tougher schedule (which was undoubtedly true) and played an extra game. Over and over - 1965 Alabama, 1977 Notre Dame, 1978 Alabama, 1982 Penn State, 1983 Miami - teams had vaulted to number one over teams with better records or even head to head wins based solely on the last game of the year.

    Miami's argument was the rather simple, "We beat Notre Dame head to head," which carried the day. The irony was that it was Notre Dame, who was felt to unfairly benefit in 1966 and 1977, who was on the receiving end of both this alleged injustice and the greater injustice of 1993, when Florida State was given the title. (Of course, it's impossible to use 1993 events to determine 1989 results).

    But the head to head argument does deserve a tad bit closer scrutiny. While the final score was indeed 27-10, the game was not nearly as one-sided as the final score suggests. Furthermore, Ismail - Notre Dame's best player - suffered a separated shoulder in the Miami game - while voters were giving Miami a pass because Craig Erickson had missed the Florida State game.

    Consider the arguments:

    Notre Dame played by far the nation's toughest schedule, beating the ACC champion (Virginia), Big Ten champion (Michigan), Holiday Bowl champion (Penn State), and Big Eight champion/number one ranked team in the country.

    Miami had beaten Notre Dame and Alabama (the SEC champion), lost to Florida State, and played a bunch of scrubs otherwise.

    COMMON OPPONENTS
    Miami 26 Michigan St. 20
    ND 21 Michigan St. 13

    Miami 24 Pitt 3
    ND 45 Pitt 7

    Figure that Miami was marking time ready for a home game while Notre Dame was slugging it out with Penn State in Happy Valley the week before the Miami game, and one could legitimately wonder whether Miami was truly better than Notre Dame.

    But that gets away from the point. Notre Dame probably did field the best team in college football in 1989, but the question is whether they deserved the national title over Miami. And the answer is - without a flinch - "no, they did not."

    And a BCS title game would NOT have solved the dilemma because in all probability, the matchup would have put Colorado vs Notre Dame and left Miami howling about how they had beaten the Irish head to head.

    A playoff would also not have solved this issue because........who makes the four-team playoff in this year?

    1) Colorado - only unbeaten team, so they get in but schedule not very tough
    2) Miami - independent, one loss to FSU, not a tough schedule
    3) Michigan - Big Ten champion, tough schedule, one loss.....to Notre Dame
    4) Notre Dame - Independent, toughest schedule, one loss on road, likely gets chosen
    5) Florida St - independent, two losses to Clemson and USM.......how do you really pick them?
    6) Nebraska - no titles, loss to Colorado, how do you pick them?
    7) Alabama - SEC co-champion, one loss to Auburn, possible selection with #7 rated schedule
    8) Tennessee - SEC co-champion, one loss to Alabama, so how can you possibly pick them over UA?
    9) Auburn - SEC co-champion, two losses, not getting picked
    10) Arkansas - SWC champion, one loss, not a tough schedule

    The only two FOR SURE picks I see there are Notre Dame and Colorado.

    Miami, Michigan, and Alabama are fighting it out for two spots I believe.


    Schedule Rankings:
    Notre Dame 1
    FSU 2
    Tennessee 5
    Auburn 5
    Alabama 7
    Miami 14
    Michigan 17

    1989 was one of those rare years when no formula whatsoever could have solved the problem. But I cannot say that Miami was a poor choice at national champion, either. Notre Dame may have been the best overall team, but Miami was a deserving champion.
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2018
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  5. BobDole

    BobDole Suck it Trebek Finheaven VIP

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    Those were all really good reads. I know you're trying to drum up some discussion - and you know I'd be game - but all these were before my time. I didn't even know the UF scandal in the 80s factored in so much.

    Who wrote these btw?
     
  6. TedSlimmJr

    TedSlimmJr Hartselle Tigers (15-0) 5-A State Champ

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    Good friend over on a Bama board used to write these. This is the kind of thing we talk about over the years - our minds/memories are like steel traps when it comes to college football....but no idea what we did with our keys....
     
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  7. Namor

    Namor Pro Bowler Finheaven VIP

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    1989...WOW...The year I graduated from Bama...I was at the Kentucky game when Jeff Dunn got injured and Hollingsworth came in,....best thing to happen.
    Ted,Remember all the rumors about how much the oline hated Dunn,..wouldn't hardly block for him,and the rumor about Jeff and Bobby Humphery and
    a certain girlfriend?
     
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  8. TedSlimmJr

    TedSlimmJr Hartselle Tigers (15-0) 5-A State Champ

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    I do. Remember when Bobby Humphrey lost a few teeth after getting hit in the face with a crow bar at a Tuscaloosa disco? Just kinda makes you wonder...
     
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