Remembering Rocky Block: Reliving Alabama's classic win over Tennessee
Immortalized by paintings and cemented into the minds of Crimson Tide fans, Alabama’s famed “Rocky Block” victory over Tennessee in 2009 is one of the most significant in program history.
Clinging to a 12-10 lead with four seconds remaining, the No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide watched as its perfect season began to unravel during a fitful October afternoon. After controlling arch-rival Tennessee for the majority of the game, a series of fourth-quarter blunders set up a potential game-winning field goal from Tennessee kicker Daniel Lincoln.
A sense of uncertainty swept over the crowd in Bryant-Denny Stadium as Lincoln squared up to squander Alabama’s pursuit of a first national championship under head coach Nick Saban. Those held breaths gave way to hysteria as Alabama defensive lineman Terrence Cody swatted down the ball to win the game for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama went on to finish the season undefeated, beating Texas in the BCS National Championship Game to claim the program’s 13th national title. The Crimson Tide’s 14-0 record that year marks Saban’s lone perfect season as a head coach.
As the monumental moment celebrates its 10th anniversary this week, here is a look inside the final play through three distinct vantage points.
'It is blocked by Alabama! The Crimson Tide wins!'
Eli Gold runs through a quick, mental checklist before every big moment he encounters. The Brooklyn-born broadcaster is in his 31st year as the voice of the Crimson Tide. Gold’s booming voice has described countless Alabama classics from the “Desperation Block” against Penn State in 1989 to Tua Tagovailoa’s game-winning touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith in overtime of the 2018 national championship game against Georgia.
Each time, three things run through his mind.
“The thing I say to myself is, ‘If this is good for Alabama, this call is going to live forever, whether it’s in the Bryant Museum or every TV talk show,’” Gold said. “I always remind myself to take your time, make sure of what you’re seeing and don’t yell and scream like a crazy person.”
Gold went through the same process before delivering his simple yet memorable call during Alabama’s “Rocky Block” victory over Tennessee 10 years ago.
“The fans are cheering with that feeling in their stomach that’s hard to explain,” Gold began on the call. “Morgan Cox will snap it, Bram Cannon will hold. Daniel Lincoln from 45 yards out to win it for the Volunteers. The snap, the spot… The kick is blocked! It is blocked by Alabama! It is blocked by Alabama! The Crimson Tide wins! The Crimson Tide wins! The Crimson Tide wins!”
Years of experience have taught Gold how to control his exuberant emotion in a way that he can effectively describe the accounts of the play while still conveying his passion. However, don’t be mistaken — he was just as nervous as the 92,000 fans inside of Bryant-Denny Stadium that day.
“I was hoping and praying he missed it,” Gold said. “I didn’t expect necessarily that it would be blocked. But I was hoping that he’d kick it wide or something. So yeah, I’m right there feeling the same emotions as a fans are. I, however, just have to keep myself controlled and explain things and describe things without being an out-of-control commentator.”
Alabama took a timeout heading into the famed block, allowing drama to build inside the stadium. While the extra time allowed Gold to ready himself for the moment, he said he never tries to think ahead or script any of his calls.
Instead, Gold says the trick is to live in the moment. He refers to radio as “the theatre of the mind,” and compares each game to a blank canvas which he tries to paint for his listening audience.
“The window is always open so I can feel what the fans are feeling,” Gold said. “I can smell the hot dog smell or the popcorn, or the barbecue. I want to experience all those things whatever they might be just so I can bring the listener that much closer to the event itself.”
Gold remembers the almost somber atmosphere inside the stadium as the crowd nervously waited to see if Alabama’s perfect season would come to a crashing halt. However, nothing stands out in his memory more than the distinctive double thud heard through his effects feed as Lincoln’s foot hit the football followed by the ball hitting Cody’s arm.
From there, it was history.
“I remember very vividly Terrence running and throwing his helmet away and celebrating like crazy,” Gold said. “That’s when I kicked into ‘Alabama wins! Alabama wins!’”
'God, I hate Alabama'
Roughly 385 miles away in Greenville, Tenn., another play-by-play account was occurring — one of a much different manner than Gold’s. Tennessee superfan Keith Ricker has been following the Volunteers since he was around 10 years old. The 52-year-old Tennessee native is the creator of the Big Vol Daddy YouTube account and is best known for his extreme reactions toward Volunteers football. While not safe for work, his commentary of the 2009 game is a must-watch.
The profanity-laced video has more than a quarter of a million views and picks up as Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton hit tight end Luke Stocker on a 23-yard pass to put the Volunteers inside of field-goal range at the Alabama 27-yard line with 46 seconds remaining.
“There’s still a long, long, long, long, long way to go,” he said in the video as Tennessee lined up for the following play. “We need some more yards here, Kiffin — old buddy, old pal, old bout to be best friend of mine.”
However, those yards never came. Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin elected to run one more play before letting the clock wind down for a last-second field goal attempt.
“Are you f###ing kidding me, this game’s going to come down to Lincoln?” Ricker lamented off camera. “Oh my God.”
Ricker had watched earlier in the game as Cody blocked a 43-yard attempt from Lincoln with 10:43 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Tennessee kicker also missed a 47-yard attempt at the close of the first half.
“I had zero confidence, to be honest,” Ricker said. “He was having a terrible year if I remember right.”
In an ultimate act of foreshadowing, Ricker’s now wife is heard in the background stating perhaps the line of the video: “He can do it if they keep fat-ass Cody out of there.”
Despite his nerves at the moment, Ricker remembers being quite confident heading into the drive. Trailing 12-3 with less than four minutes to play, Tennessee forced a fumble from eventual Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram which gave the ball to the Volunteers at the Alabama 43-yards line. Eight plays later, Crompton hit receiver Gerald Jones on an 11-yard touchdown to bring the score to 12-10 with 1:19 remaining. After Tennessee recovered the ensuing onside kick, a sense of destiny began to creep in Ricker’s mind.
“I was thinking, ‘Man, we’re actually going to win this thing,’” he said. “I thought we were going to go down the field, kick a field goal and win this game at the last second. The main thing I was thinking about was not so much how happy Tennessee fans were going to be but how broken-hearted and crushed the Alabama fans were going to be.”
Alas, it was Ricker’s hopes that were dashed moments later.
Immediately following the block, he unleashed a string of swear words, slamming a pillow down to the ground. It only got worse from there. The tirade continued with screams outside in his backyard. At one point a knock can be heard in the background followed by Ricker exclaiming, “God, I hate Alabama.”
“I went outside and screamed like an idiot for a little while, came back in and punched a hole in the wall. That’s when you saw the computer kind of rattle like it was about to fall off the table,” Ricker said. “My wife just kind of sat there and didn’t say a word. We weren’t even married at the time, we were just engaged. She had never seen anger like that from me.”
Ricker is still making videos. His BVD YouTube channel has more than 9,000 subscribers. Ricker says he probably should have a bigger following now but admits he’s been less arduous in promoting the channel in recent years.
“You lose your fire for wanting to go out there and saying, ‘We’re going to go out there and kick Team X’s ass today,” he explained. “It’s hard to get on camera and say we’re going to beat Alabama or Georgia or Florida. Sadly, now it’s gotten to the point where most Tennessee fans are not comfortable saying we’re going to beat Vandy.”
Ricker says he picked up his hatred of Alabama from his dad and pappaw who used to listen to the Volunteers on an old transistor radio. While he didn’t get to go to many games as a kid, he was in attendance in 1982 when the Volunteers ended Alabama’s 11-game winning streak in the series with a 35-28 victory inside Neyland Stadium.
Alabama heads into this year’s matchup riding a 12-game winning streak over Tennessee, the longest run in the rivalry’s history. Given the opposite trajectory of both programs, Ricker says this is “as worse as it’s ever been” for the Volunteers. Although, that won’t stop him from donning orange and white as he hopes for another chance at an upset Saturday.
“This rivalry has never and will never lose its luster for me,” Ricker said. “It doesn’t matter if we lose the rest of them.”
'It was total chaos'
Alabama had several opportunities to put Tennessee away long before Lincoln's missed field goal. Leading 12-3 with 3:53 remaining, the Crimson Tide was handed a golden opportunity to ice the game after Tennessee linebacker Chris Donald collided with Alabama punter P.J. Fitzgerald resulting in a roughing the kicker penalty.
However, Ingram fumbled the next play, giving the Volunteers the ball right back. The turnover marked the first time the Alabama back had lost the ball on a fumble in his college career. It also served as the Crimson Tide’s last offensive play of the game.
Following a touchdown drive from Tennessee, the Volunteers lined up for an onside kick with 1:19 to play. Alabama receiver Mike McCoy failed to corral Lincoln’s bouncing kick, allowing Tennessee receiver Denarius Moore to fall on it at the Volunteers’ 41-yard line.
“Watching our offense not being able to move the ball, it was a little bit of ‘Oh my God, what are we doing?’” said linebacker Cory Reamer, who was on the field for the onside kick. “Late in the game, you started realizing, we’ve let these guys hang around, and now they have a shot at winning this ballgame and ruin our season.
“Your heart is in your throat. You’re trying to block out all the thoughts of ‘Is it their day? Is this actually happening right now?’”
Reamer had little time to recompose himself as he took the field on defense. Disaster almost struck four plays later when a miscommunication saw 6-foot-3, 331-pound defensive lineman Marcell Dareus forced into a coverage situation as he gave up the 23-yard completion that put the Volunteers into field-goal range.
“That should have been a check where I should have taken the tight end and let Marcell rush,” Reamer said. “We didn’t get the check in. You definitely don’t want to see at the end of the ballgame, a 300-pound guy trying to cover a tight end. I just remember Marcell taking off with the tight end in coverage and I knew at the time we had messed up.”
Heading into the game, Lincoln was still dealing with a quadriceps injury that limited his ability to get much air under his kicks. After noticing the low-flying balls on his previous attempts, Alabama coaches called for their “max block” package which featured 6-foot-3 receiver Julio Jones and his 38.5-inch vertical in the middle to jump up and block.
“Sal Sunseri was the special teams coach at the time, and he was in charge of getting us lined up for max block,” Reamer said. “I just remember his Italian voice screaming at everybody, ‘Make sure we get a good push.' We just wanted to make sure we got a strong push up the middle so that we could get Julio a chance to jump.”
While Jones might have jumped high enough on the play, the ball never reached him as it plummeted off of Cody’s left arm.
“What I remember the most is the snap happens and everybody’s going as hard as they possibly can to try and get this thing blocked,” Reamer said. “You hear it hit off of Cody’s hands. Then I remember Cody’s running, he throws his helmet, everybody’s going nuts. At that same exact time, Rolando McLain and I make eye contact. Nothing was said, but we both realized, ‘Where’s the ball?’
"The game’s not over. The ball’s still live. I don’t know if there was anything that could have happened where they could have advanced the ball and scored, but it was just like pandemonium on the field, and we’re trying to run against the grain to find the football.”
According to NCAA rules, once a punt is blocked and travels beyond the line of scrimmage it can’t be advanced by the kicking team. However, Reamer didn’t know that at the time and wasn’t put at ease until Jones jumped on the ball to end the game.
“When I finally saw that happen it was total chaos,” Reamer said. “You realize the ballgame was over and we squeaked away with a win that was not supposed to be as close as it was. I remember seeing a smirk on Lane Kiffin’s face because he knew he had given us a lot more stress than we had hoped for.”