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Hit that spawned upset still resonates

Written by Paul Gattis, The Huntsville Times - Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Lineman recalls forcing fumble that stopped Tide's 28-game streak

The story can send chills down your spine, listening to Tyrone Keys describe one of college football's greatest upsets.

He was a defensive lineman for Mississippi State, and he made the biggest play in the biggest game in his college career.

It was Nov. 1, 1980, in Jackson, Miss. The Bulldogs stunned top-ranked Alabama 6-3 to end the Crimson Tide's quest for an unprecedented third straight national championship.

A little reflection seems appropriate this week as Mississippi State again challenges No. 1 Alabama.

"As I was in my three-point stance and I can just feel like it was yesterday, I saw them fake to the fullback and I saw the quarterback still had the ball and they were coming my way," Keys remembered.

Cue the chills.

"I'm the senior on the defense," Keys said. "I said to myself, 'He's coming your way. I can't believe he's coming your way.' It was all like it was in slow motion. It was like a part of me was in disbelief because they had tried that play so many times and not gotten anywhere.

"He was coming my way and I just remember springing in the backfield and the helmet hit him on the ball and the hip. It was just the fact that I saw him coming my way, I couldn't believe it."

The details: Alabama had marched to the MSU 2-yard line in the final seconds. Tide quarterback Don Jacobs, now the coach at Elkmont High, headed toward right end running the familiar option play out of the Wishbone.

In the huddle before the play, Keys spoke to his teammates.

"I told them 'Somebody has to make a play,'" he said.

The marvel of shows the video of Keys bursting through the line and separating Jacobs from the ball. Teammate Billy Jackson recovered the fumble and the upset was complete.

"It was a team that was on the verge of winning a national championship," said Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom, who was an assistant coach on Bear Bryant's staff that day.

"Mississippi State eliminated that possibility. That's the thing I remember most was the quest that season to try to win a third title and make it three in a row."

In 2005, Sports Illustrated declared the game to be the fourth-biggest upset in college football history.

It had been more than two years since Alabama had lost and more than 20 years since Mississippi State had beaten the Tide - which brought a 28-game winning streak into the game.

But Dana Moore kicked two field goals for the Bulldogs and Keys made the last of a game-full of big plays by the defense.

"The preparation going into that game and the belief that we had in each other and the belief that coach (Emory) Bellard instilled in us was second to none," Keys said.

After the game, Bryant appeared in the Mississippi State locker room and removed his houndstooth hat.

"You played the game like the game is meant to be played," Keys remembered Bryant saying.

Cue the chills again.

"When somebody can do that after defeat," Keys said, "that has stayed with me longer than just the victory."

These days, Keys is working with youth in Tampa, Fla. -- helping them achieve their own goals.

At All Sports Community Service, which Keys founded after a seven-year career in the NFL, the organization has helped more than a thousand students receive $20 million in scholarships and financial aid.

Even this week, Keys got a helping hand from his NFL coach, Mike Ditka.

"I feel like it's definitely my calling to work with young people," Keys said.

This week, however, the conversation has been about ending a 28-game winning streak 28 years ago.

Said Keys, "I never in my wildest dreams think we'd be talking about it 28 years later."