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Will Saturday be a repeat of the 1980 ...

Written by Ian R. Rapoport, The Birmingham News - Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The celebration in the home team locker room of Jackson's Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium was a raucous one. Players were hugging, high-fiving, and yelling.

No. 1 Alabama suffered a shocking 6-3 loss to heavy underdog Mississippi State on Nov. 1, 1980, and the Bulldogs had no reason to be quiet. And then they did.

Legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant walked in.

"A hush came over us and everybody took a knee," recalled John Bond, then an MSU freshman quarterback. "He was dressed just like in the pictures."

Bryant took off his Houndstooth hat, and with help from a state trooper, stepped up on a folding chair. To the players who had ended his hope of winning a third consecutive national title, he spoke.

"He said simply, `You whipped us,'" said Emory Bellard, then State's coach. "There weren't any excuses. On that day, I had to agree."

Before last weekend, Alabama hadn't been No. 1 in the regular season since that day. Saturday, 28 years later, top-ranked Alabama (10-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) faces Mississippi State (3-6, 1-4) at 6:45 p.m.

Then, Alabama was a 20-point favorite with 28 consecutive wins. This time, it's a 20.5-point spread and 11 consecutive wins. Will history repeat itself?

To win, MSU out-gained Alabama 216 to 116 on the ground, as Bond ran for 94 yards.

Alabama had a last-gasp drive, but defensive end Tyrone Keys sacked UA quarterback Don Jacobs on the 4-yard line, causing a fumble that was recovered by MSU's Billy Jackson. Unbelievably, Bond fumbled the snap on State's final play, though State recovered it and the party began.

Of all the memories, it was Bryant's locker room visit that left a lasting impression on the MSU players.

Keys works for All Sports Community Service, a Tampa-based education organization that teaches character development, among other things He often tells students about Bryant's post-game act.

"I can see why (Bryant) is one of the all-time greats," Keys said. "That's what sportsmanship is all about. That is etched in my memory."

Kirk McNair, who covered the game for "Bama Magazine" and now works for, said it was the only time he remembered Bryant visiting an opponent's locker room.

Alabama coach Nick Saban and Bulldogs coach Sylvester Croom agree that a game from 1980 will not affect the outcome Saturday, particularly with MSU having series' last two wins. But if anyone understands the game's place in history, it's Croom, then a UA assistant.

"We wanted to be the first team to win three straight national championships," Croom said. "We had a chance, and Mississippi State eliminated that. That was our quest."

Bulldog fans rejoiced. Many later owned bumper stickers that read, "I was there when we beat the Bear."

"At 4 a.m. that night, the entire student body was in my yard," Bellard said. "It was like a pep rally."

In the Nov. 2, 1980 edition of The Birmingham News, Bellard called it, "My sweetest win. I would put a flat 10 out on this team, just like Bo Derek."

Of MSU's first win over Alabama in 23 tries, Bryant said then, "Maybe the Good Lord planned things this way, as a test."

Several factors contributed to the upset.

Bellard was the one who originally taught Tide coaches the wishbone offense in 1971 when he was a coach at Texas. He worked with his defense all week and told his players, "I invented the offense. I know how to stop it."

That was obvious.

"There weren't that many teams that knew how to defend the wishbone, but they did," said Alabama's Major Ogilvie, who gained just 30 rushing yards on seven carries. "It's a hard offense to defend, but they had a great game plan. That was the only time I lost to an SEC team in the four years we played at Alabama."

Russ Wood, a UA star linebacker, remembered listening to Bryant's weekly radio show the next week. A State fan called up, with noise in the background, and wanted Bryant to know he was still partying.

"I'm glad you're having a good time," Wood recalled Bryant saying. "I just wish I'd hear from you more than once every 23 years."