Alabama receivers coach Woody McCorvey, having a few hours to kill before scouting a high school game in Atlanta last Friday, strolled into a novelty shop and bought a souvenir coin bearing the inscription EXPECT TO WIN. No motto applies better to the '94 Crimson Tide.
With less than eight minutes remaining in last Saturday's game at Mississippi State, Tim Rogers booted a 21-yard field goal to put the Bulldogs ahead 25-15. Amid a crescendo of cowbells, Mississippi State's long-suffering fans dared to believe that maybe, for just the second time in the last 37 meetings between the schools, the Bulldogs could beat 'Bama.
No two SEC schools are geographically closer (87 miles) and historically farther apart. Alabama has a dozen Sugar Bowl visits and as many national titles. Mississippi State hasn't even won the SEC title since 1941.
But this year was to be different. Entering the game the Bulldogs were 7-2, and quarterback Derrick Taite had set a single-game school passing record (466 against Tulane), while running back Kevin Bouie had set a single-game rushing mark (217 against Kentucky). Early in the week Mississippi State wideout Eric Moulds, who caught two touchdown passes on Saturday, had said, "If it's close going into the fourth quarter this year, we'll win."
It was close; in fact, the Bulldogs had the lead. But then Tide quarterback Jay Barker proved for the 33rd time in 35 starts that he is a winner. "We never thought we were going to lose," said the senior quarterback after leading his team on touchdown drives of 65 and 66 yards in the game's final six minutes. With the 29-25 win, 'Bama improved to 10-0 and moved to No. 4 in the country.
After the game Alabama alum and Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill praised Barker, though never mentioning him by name. Said Sherrill, "I've coached a long time and I've seen a great many quarterbacks, but I've never seen anyone better than number seven."
A Cruel Blow
Last Friday night, while his teammates were in Baton Rouge preparing for the season finale at Louisiana State, Southern Mississippi defensive end Jamie McPherson lay in room 273 in the Methodist Hospital of Hattiesburg watching television. Instead of readying himself for what would have been the final game of his college career, McPherson, a fifth-year senior from Grand Saline, Texas, was allowing the TV to hypnotize him. Beneath the television, on a table overflowing with mail, sat his Golden Eagle helmet and a gift—a book entitled When God Doesn't Make Sense.
McPherson had been lying in this hospital for three weeks, since the game against Samford. "I can't remember anything else about the game except that play," says McPherson, a commercial recreation major. "We were in a scheme called Killer Willie, where me and the other end [Tim Bell] come in on a straight blitz. I was fixing to hit the quarterback high, and Tim came in low. I can't even remember if we sacked him."
In the instant before McPherson and Bell converged on Samford's Bart Yancey, the quarterback stepped up into the pocket. Bell's shoulder pad struck McPherson just below the front of his right knee. "In one instant, I heard it pop; a millisecond later I was screaming in pain," says McPherson. "I was still going forward, but the back of my right knee was touching the ground."
McPherson had hyperextended the knee and, in the process, severed the popliteal artery, the primary source of blood to the lower leg. Unless blood flow could be restored soon, the tissue in McPherson's lower right leg would die. "I happened to be in the stands that night," says Dr. Lewis Hatten, a vascular surgeon, who in the next 16 days would perform half a dozen operations, mostly arterial grafts, in an effort to reestablish circulation to McPherson's foot. "The injury occurred at about 7:30, I was called at about 10:30, and we restored blood flow an hour later. But sometimes you have a feeling that things are going to be bad from the git-go. It's a devastating injury."
On Nov. 7, McPherson's right leg was amputated just below the knee. Four nights later, as he lay in bed, he talked about the sensation of phantom pain. "I'm feeling my leg right now," he said. "It feels like my toes are touching the bar at the end of the bed."
As his gaze returned to the TV, McPherson said, "What I think about most now is getting up, getting used to my prosthesis and getting on with my life."
Best Case Scenario
New Mexico quarterback Stoney Case is not only the latest gem to be unearthed from the Lobos' QB quarry (predecessors include Terry Stone and Rocky Long), he is also the rarest: a compound of passing and running talent streaked with veins of intellect and competitive spirit. Currently third in the nation in total offense, Case is the only quarterback in Division I-A history to pass for more than 8,000 yards and run for more than 1,000 in a career.
"If I were writing the script I might make him a little faster, but Stoney's the type of guy you'd hope would date your daughter," says New Mexico coach Dennis Franchione. "Our philosophy is to put the ball in number 25's hands."
Though the Lobos' opponents have come to appreciate Case's talents, there was a time when New Mexico was the only school that had any faith in him. After throwing for 29 touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards as a senior in leading Odessa (Texas) Permian to a 16-0 record and the No. 2 ranking in USA Today's final poll, Case was offered a Division I-A scholarship only by New Mexico, then one of the nation's lowliest programs. It wasn't grades that kept schools away—Case graduated with an academic average of 97—but Permian's emphasis on the run somehow cast doubt on its quarterback's talents.
Case, a 6'3" senior, who has a 3.3 GPA as a premed student, probably wouldn't have even received the offer from New Mexico if it hadn't been for television (which also inspired his name—his mother, Sharon, was a big fan of Jack Lord's title character in Stoney Burke). Former Lobo coach Mike Sheppard, now an assistant with the Cleveland Browns, spotted Case at 1:30 a.m. on a replay of Permian's 28-14 defeat of Houston Aldine in the 1989 Texas 5A title game. "He had all the things that make QBs great," says Sheppard. "Leadership, presence, the ability to rally people. The tape ended at 2:30 a.m., and I would have called him right then if it weren't so late."
Five years later Case has become accustomed to fielding late-night calls from reporters and admirers. "You wouldn't believe it," groans one of his roommates, offensive guard Andy Gleason. "At home we call him Phoney Case."
Case should be busy next year, too, when he is in the NFL or medical school—or both. "Things didn't turn out exactly the way I'd planned," Case says, "but they couldn't have turned out much better."
On the surface junior fullback Brian Milne's two-yard touchdown run last Saturday against Illinois completed the most improbable of comebacks for Penn State, which had trailed by 21 after the first quarter and by 10 midway through the fourth. The winning drive, which had begun on their own four-yard line with 6:07 left, gave the Nittany Lions a 35-31 win, keeping them undefeated and assuring coach Joe Paterno of his first trip to the Rose Bowl in his 29-year career. But for Milne, this comeback was nothing.
After his All-America season as a junior at Fort LeBoeuf High School in Waterford, Pa., Milne was found to have Hodgkin's disease. Ordinarily doctors would have cracked open Milne's sternum to remove the grapefruit-sized tumor they had discovered in his chest, but Brian and his parents requested an alternative surgical procedure. "My mom asked the doctor if he could cut horizontally through the muscle and tissue, instead of vertically through my bone," says Brian, who had rushed for 2,430 yards and 31 touchdowns as a junior. "We were asking the doctors to save my life but to limit my recovery time so I could start working out."
Although the less traumatic procedure was used, Milne still missed the football season as a senior while he received chemotherapy. But he returned to competition in track and field in the spring of '91 and won state titles in the discus and shot-put. In his first collegiate meet the following spring. Milne threw the discus 207'5", breaking the Penn State record and qualifying for the NCAA championships and the Olympic trials.
Two days later his body betrayed him once again, and he had to undergo an emergency appendectomy. "That was a scratch in my side compared to the cancer," says Milne. "But I decided to quit football that season and focus on track because I couldn't recover from anything if I was getting beat up in football all the time."
In the spring of '93 Milne won the NCAA discus championship, and that fall he felt healthy enough to strap on his helmet again. After seeing limited action last season, he has been called upon this year to carry the ball in goal line situations, where his powerful frame and muscular legs make him ideally suited to the task. So far he has scored six touchdowns, all from inside the six-yard line, including three against Illinois. So when Penn State had the ball on the Illini two-yard line in the closing moments last week, it didn't take Paterno long to decide who was best qualified to complete his team's unlikely comeback.
Lower the Boom
Many coaches have publicly complained about the quality of officiating this season. But the year's most egregious missed call occurred last Saturday in Reno. Nevada wideout Cornel West wasn't flagged when, after catching a four-yard touchdown pass against Utah State, he ran over to a cannon beyond the end zone and fired it. Now that is excessive celebration.
Dennis Riddle's late touchdown kept Alabama perfect and Mississippi State frustrated.
Thanks to the Lobos' philosophy of putting the offense in his hands, Case has become a record-setter.
Penn State's improbable come-from-behind win was complete when Milne took the plunge.
Players of the Week
Southern Cars Rob Johnson, a senior, completed 25 of 35 passes for 390 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for another TD, as the Trojans defeated Arizona 45-28.
Defensive end Marcellus Wiley, a junior at Columbia, had five tackles, one sack, an interception, broke up two passes and rushed for a touchdown in a 38-33 win over Cornell.
Carey Bender, a senior at Coe College in Iowa, rushed for 347 yards and eight touchdowns on 42 carries in a 63-48 victory over Beloit. He now has 6,125 career yards, best ever in Division III.