Wiedmer: This was a game Tide, Vols fans will long recall

Wiedmer: This was a game Tide, Vols fans will long recall

October 25th, 2009 by Mark Wiedmer in Blogsutugautc

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The human mountain Terrence Cody stood atop Bryant-Denny Stadium's field early Saturday evening, salty tears streaming down his face, his 354-pound body shaking with both joy and relief.

"If (Tennessee) had made that field goal, our season would have been over," Cody said of the UT kick he blocked on the last play of top-ranked Alabama's 12-10 win. "We had to stop that kick."

This is the memory that will depress Big Orange fans and delight Crimson Tide loyalists for years, if not decades, to come.

Fifty years from now, Bama backers will talk of Cody leaping yards into the air, LeBron James in pads and cleats, his clinched left fist sending Daniel Lincoln's 44-yard boot back like a volleyball spike.

The truth was more like this, according to Cody: "I pushed the guy back and just stuck my arm up."

Volniacs no doubt will spin a different tale -- of lopsided officiating, of grim determination, of a steadfast Lincoln hobbling out on a sore leg to wrest a noble victory from the No. 1 Tide, his effort barely falling short.

"We should have won that game," a defiant UT coach Lane Kiffin said afterward. "I think all of you guys that were there would agree with that."

Time can't change that, of course. This will always count as a Crimson victory. And that should be enough in this case, since the real thing will always remain every bit as dramatic as the bending truths that may ultimately reshape this contest.

For Alabama this was the kind of dodged bullet that almost every national champion aspirant has to endure to ultimately wear the crown. Admittedly tired from eight straight weeks of play, including two of the last three on the road, the Tide stumbled and bumbled down the stretch but failed to tumble off its undefeated perch.

"I didn't want to say this," said winning coach Nick Saban, "but I felt like our team was really tired this week psychologically, probably more mentally than physically. We had a lot of guys beat up."

For his part, Kiffin added, "I thought (UT) guys were playing really hard. We had some momentum going but we didn't score when we got down there. If you're going to beat a team like this, the No. 1 team in the country, you've almost got to play perfect."

But here's the flip side that should encourage all Tennessee fans today. The Vols almost won. Came within one bad kick or one Herculean block -- maybe both -- of setting the college football world on its ears.

For anyone still wondering if Kiffin was the right man to replace Phillip Fulmer, this game should end it. Playing as they did Saturday on archenemy turf, the 3-4 Vols shouldn't lose again on their way to an 8-4 season and a respectable bowl bid.

Moreover, in typical Kiffin coachspeak, which always returns to recruiting, he deftly said of the Tide, "This is what happens when you sign back-to-back No. 1 recruiting classes."

In other words, when Kiffin's staff accomplishes that goal, a No. 1 rating won't be far behind.

But all that will come later, probably no sooner than two years down the road, since this Big Orange bunch should not be better than next year's squad if only because the Vols aren't likely to have Eric Berry next season.

So for now there's Cody's block to chill the losers and warm the winners.

"I was wondering where the ball went," Saban said of the bedlam at the finish as Bryant-Denny shook throughout. "I still haven't seen it, so I'm assuming somebody got on it and they still can't advance it."

Fifty years from now, some Volniac wearing out a rocking chair will no doubt say some UT player tried to advance it, dancing down the sideline until he was bumped out of bounds inches from the goal.

Or maybe this game will be quickly eclipsed by future games between these rivals.

Said Kiffin of next year's meeting, the 93rd in this grand rivalry: "We'll be excited when these guys come to our place next year."

They won't be alone.