It's Alabama week at Ole Miss, so I thought it was just natural to reflect back on one of the more famous plays of the series: Gary Abide's big hit back in 1993.
Abide is quick to tell you he was wrong when he intentionally and prematurely charged across the line of scrimmage from his linebacker position, plowing over Alabama center Toby Shields at the conclusion of a hotly contested battle with the Crimson Tide some 18 years ago.
There are thousands of Rebel fans who remember that hard-to-swallow, 19-14 loss to Alabama. And many of them wouldn't want Abide to apologize for his game-ending outburst for anything in the world.
"I've had a lot of people tell me that I just did what they wished they could have done," Abide begins. "But I was wrong."
As the final seconds drained from the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium game clock, Alabama lined up in the victory formation. The Tide was prepared to kill the clock by taking a knee and sneaking back across the state line with a slim victory over a Rebel squad that entered the contest with a 4-2 record.
"It was a hard-fought battle," Abide remembered. "We played well enough to win that day. The frustration level had just built up."
In fact, Ole Miss may have won that day had it not been for an injury to Alabama quarterback Jay Barker.
"We were stopping them with Barker at quarterback," said Abide. "I mean we had their number. Honestly, I think if Barker had stayed in the game, we would have won."
Barker, however, left the game with injury following a Tim Bowen sack. The result was Alabama coach Gene Stallings moving the speedy David Palmer under center. Palmer's speed and quickness spelled trouble for the Rebel defense.
"Bowen's sack led to Palmer coming in at quarterback. Had we not hurt Jay Barker, I think we would have beat them," Abide lamented.
But it was not to be the Rebels' day. So as defeat became a certainty, and with only a snap remaining between the final horn and an Alabama escape, Abide jumped the gun. He left his linebacker position in a full sprint, blowing the Alabama center up as he sat unsuspecting over the ball. A national television audience listened as legendary announcers Keith Jackson and Bob Griese described the carnage. On TV, it looked as if Abide never checked up to even see if the officials had ejected him. He simply headed through the gates, cool, calm and collected, seeming never to slow down.
"That wasn't how it happened, though," Abide related. "After I hit the guy, I actually turned around and went back to the defensive huddle. That's when I heard a ref say that 52 was out of here. I started off heading to our sideline, but I saw Coach (Billy) Brewer, and he was just pointing me toward the locker room. In his infinite wisdom, he just wanted to get me off the field.
"I apologized for it immediately after the game. I apologized to Coach Stallings and to Alabama. I was in the wrong."
Wrong or not, Abide endeared himself permanently to many an Ole Miss fan that day in the fall of 1993.
Former Ole Miss head coach Billy Brewer remembers Abide as a fine football player.
"Gary Abide didn't get the due he deserved in his playing time here," Brewer said. "Gary was an underrated football player. He was smart, aggressive and talented."
Abide was a senior captain on that 1993 team, after an injury redshirted him in 1992. He was a true freshman out of St. Joseph's High School in Greenville in 1989 when Chucky Mullins fell victim to an injury that would later claim his life.
"It was a very emotional time for the team," he reflected. "As a young player, you're not real sure what to do or say in those circumstances. I remember the team meeting the Sunday after the Vanderbilt game that Chucky was hurt in. There was a lot of silence. There were a lot of prayers. There were tears. A lot of hugging. That season, from that point on, I think Chucky was with us."
Abide played in two other bowl games as a Rebel: the 1991 Gator Bowl and the 1992 Liberty Bowl.
"The bowl games occupy a special place for me. The Gator Bowl was just so special. We were back in a January bowl game for the first time since the Archie Manning days," he said.
The Rebels went on to post an 8-4 record, defeating Air Force, 41-29, in the Liberty Bowl.
Gary Abide is now a successful businessman living in Rogers, Ark. He's married to the former Kim Yeager, also an Ole Miss alumnus. The couple has one daughter, Allie, who is 11.
The Abides still make a point to return to Oxford as much as they can every fall.