BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Alabama’s Nick Saban has a 24-hour rule for his players, which means they can enjoy a win or mope over a loss for 24 hours, then they must move on.
But with a game like Saturday’s 21-17 comeback win over LSU, maybe it’s a good thing it fell on the same weekend the clocks went back an hour for daylight savings time. If an Alabama team ever deserved an amended 25-hour rule, this one did.
With national title hopes hanging in the balance, Alabama got the ball 72 yards from the end zone with 1:34 to play and trailing by three. A field goal would have given the Tide a chance for overtime, but forget that, Alabama scored a touchdown, covering the distance in only five plays.
T.J. Yeldon, more than making up for a critical second-half fumble, caught a screen pass and went 28 yards for the winning points. AJ McCarron, more than making up for a lackluster second half, threw the pass.
Could this go down as Alabama’s best comeback ever?
You could make a case for it. It marked only the 66th time in Alabama history it played in a game in which both teams entered with top 10 rankings. A loss likely would have booted the Crimson Tide out of the national championship race.
This game already received an abnormal amount of attention because these two teams have built college football’s best new rivalry.
But we could make a case for other games, too. Just three years ago, Alabama saved a national championship season by rallying to beat Auburn late. Greg McElroy‘s 4-yard touchdown to Roy Upchurch with 1:24 to play.
In 2007, as Saban began his run at Alabama and was fighting for every win he could get, Alabama beat Arkansas with late touchdown. John Parker Wilson hit Matt Caddell with a 4-yard pass with eight seconds left.
Neither team battled for a national title that year, but who knows what it meant for Saban and his efforts to get his players to believe in his Fourth Quarter conditioning program?
Other last-minute touchdowns and field goals have lifted Alabama from defeat through the years.
Freddie Kitchens beat Auburn in 1996 with a last-minute touchdown pass. Jay Barker‘s quarterback sneak and David Palmer’s 2-point run tied Tennessee in 1993. Backup quarterback Vince Sutton‘s pass to quarterback-turned-tight end Gene Newberry beat Kentucky in 1988.
In 1985, Mike Shula‘s pass to Al Bell beat Georgia, and Van Tiffin‘s 52-yard field goal on the final play beat Auburn.
Bucky Berrey beat Florida State with a field goal in 1974, and Richard O’Dell did the same to Georgia Tech in 1960.
Fortunately for those of us who are curious about football history such as that, Alabama has a “notable comebacks” section in the record book it gives reporters.
Saturday night might not even mark the most improbably comeback by Alabama over LSU. According to that record book, the Crimson Tide beat LSU 6-4 in Mobile by scoring the winning points with 20 seconds left. Jack Reidy did it by returning a kickoff 75 yards.
But whether Saturday night goes down as anybody’s version of the greatest comeback likely depends on what happens the rest of the way.
If Alabama goes unbeaten and wins a national title, you could say this one means as much as those great defensive plays that saved title runs: Terrence Cody‘s blocked field goal against Tennessee in 2009, Antonio Langham’s interception return against Florida in 1992, and the 1978 Tide’s goal-line stand against Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.
Minutes after the win, Saban said his team could react in one of two ways: It either could sit back satisfied with its great accomplishment, or it could work to fix its mistakes and move forward.
Maybe the modern Crimson Tide could take a lesson from that 1907 team. Five days after rallying past LSU, Alabama traveled to Birmingham and beat hated rival Tennessee 5-0.