Picking my favorite moment from the 2009 season was really difficult. It tends to be that way when your favorite team goes undefeated and wins it all. Lots of options.
I could have very easily gone with Julio Jones’ long catch and run that gave Bama the lead on LSU, or Greg McElroy connecting with Roy Upchurch to beat Auburn, or Mark Ingram’s star-making Wildcat drive to finish off South Carolina, or Marcell Dareus taking it to the house at the Rose Bowl. If I wanted to be a jerk, I could have said it was when Bama made Tebow cry. But I like him, so I won’t (but it happened, right?). I even considered being a total loser and saying it was McElroy taking a knee to close out the BCS Championship game. And, really, there was no better feeling than that, for me personally, in all of 2009. But that’s not an answer befitting the title of Favorite Moment, either.
I came up with a laundry list of great moments from 2009 (right down to Mark Ingram flashing those awesome new houndstooth gloves with the script “A” on the palm after scoring his first TD against Texas), but ultimately, it all came back to the first thought that popped into my mind when I considered the subject to begin with: that moment when a current cult favorite cemented his place as an all-time legend of Alabama football. There isn’t much worse than listening to Verne Lundquist call a college football game. But I’ll give him credit; if just this once, his call was a match for the moment, and it will be in my head, forever and ever.
“Blocked again! Cody again! Alabama wins!”
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With 4 seconds left in the 4th quarter, Tennessee’s Daniel Lincoln lined up his kick from 44 yards out. Down by a score of 12-10 to Alabama, his kick would give the Volunteers the lead, and the win. From that far out, there would be no time left on the clock after the ball flew through the goalposts. Even the most friendly hometown scoreboard operator couldn’t have saved a second. The Crimson Tide wouldn’t even have a feeble chance at pulling off their own Music City Miracle.
It was a pretty dire situation. Despite Lincoln’s earlier struggles (he had been blocked by Terrence Cody’s armpit earlier and came up short on a kick from a similar distance), a sense of finality had set in amongst Bama fans, including myself. Over the last few minutes of the game, everything that could have gone wrong had gone wrong. The guy who never fumbles, fumbled. The exhausted defense finally caved in and surrendered a TD. Tennessee converted an improbable onside kick that bounced off of Julio’s hands, then caught Alabama in a rare, poor defensive call that put them in position to win it. It seemed inevitable that Lincoln would drill it through the uprights and redeem himself.
I’d say this was easily the lowest point of 2009. Even when Bama was struggling late in the game against LSU, you felt okay because Bama was moving the ball and you knew they’d have opportunities to cash in and win. Even when Auburn ran out to that 14-0 lead in the 1st quarter, you felt alright because there was 3 and a half quarters left to make that up. And so on and so on. As long as this team had time to work it out, you knew they would. But there wasn’t going to be any time here. It was Lincoln’s leg vs. the determination of the Tide for the win. But the Tide was tired, and Lincoln’s leg felt due.
On a play called “Max Block,” the almost unholy triumvirate of Brandon Deaderick, Marcell Dareus, and Terrence Cody overwhelmed the Tennessee line, and Julio Jones and Rolando McClain tested their vertical limit behind them. In truth, based on the trajectory of the ball, each of those five guys had a shot at getting the glory. It definitely wasn’t getting over Julio. But Big Cody wasn’t going to be denied his moment. For the second time that day, he dominated the man across from him, broke through the line, and slapped the ball out of the air, almost catching it on the way back down. He ripped off his helmet and tore off down the field, looking to deliver someone Their Most Dreaded Chest Bump of All Time. A season was saved.
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And so was my sanity. I’m a pretty even-keeled guy, and I have a really difficult time remembering the last time my emotions swung so wildly in a split second, from absolute despair to total elation the moment the ball disappeared into that blob of Crimson and didn’t come out the other side. I’m not sure I even believed it was really blocked until Verne made the call. As great as we Bama fans felt afterwards, I hate to imagine what kind of depression the state would have fallen into if Bama had just lost the perfect season, to Tennessee of all people.
Sure, it would have been just one loss. Bama still would have controlled their own destiny in the SEC West, and 3 straight SEC teams had already been selected to play for the national championship with at least one strike against their record. But once you get that first loss, your national title aspirations become subject to the whims of pollsters and computers, and the rest of the season becomes so much more tense and precarious. More to the point for this team, it was their GOAL to be perfect, to match Florida stride for stride and then unseat them as the premier team in the conference. Everything they did the whole year was for THAT. When Cody said after the game, “Our season would have been over,” it may have seemed over dramatic and out of line with the facts, but to this team, it was 100% truth. If that kick had cleared the uprights, it could have been catastrophic to the team’s mentality.
After the relief had worn off, many fans began taking the "Rocky Block" as a cosmic omen. In the weeks following the game, it wasn’t unusual to hear people making wild pronouncements like, “It’s a team of destiny!” or “We won that game for a reason!”
But perhaps the most prescient of all was non-fan Gary Danielson, who, as the CBS broadcast wrapped up, drew a direct connection from Rocky Block to the 2006 Florida team which rode a blocked kick to victory over South Carolina and onward to the national championship. That proved to be a pretty astute observation. Together, those two instances make a brilliant example of just how narrow the margin for error is between being just another really good team and being a champion and an all-time legend.
As it turned out, on that (Not Necessarily) Third Saturday in October, Terrence Cody made himself both.
So that's my moment. I'd post a clip, but I haven't quite got the hang of the Youtube embed, so you'll just have to imagine it. I bet your recollection of it isn't as good as mine.