10-9-10: The day Alabama football fans are desperately trying to forget
Every now and then, something happens so crazily out of the realm of certainty — an outlier among outliers — that there is no rational explanation.
On Oct. 9, 2010, that was how the Alabama Crimson Tide felt when they lined up against the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Fresh off the 2009 national championship and with reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram in the backfield, Alabama had won 19 consecutive games. Seemingly 12 feet tall and bulletproof, the Crimson Tide looked across the Williams-Brice Stadium turf at a South Carolina team armed with a head ball coach on his second chance and a rowdy quarterback inches from being benched at any time.
Steve Spurrier was prowling the Gamecocks’ sidelines, sure, but this wasn’t the Spurrier who reinvented the college game at Florida. South Carolina wasn’t running the Fun ‘n’ Gun with Garcia — because the noted Columbia party boy was all the Fun without much of the Gun. He had been yanked from South Carolina’s previous game, as Spurrier handed Garcia a clipboard to try to hold instead of a football that he fumbled twice in a loss to Auburn. Heck, it wasn’t even a certainty that Garcia would start, as freshman Connor Shaw was a major part of the CBS pregame conversation.
Alabama, meanwhile, was coming off a 31-6 destruction of Florida. Senior quarterback Greg McElroy had the offense clicking. Everyone was healthy. It was going to be a cakewalk.
Not on Oct. 9, 2010.
That day, Stephen Garcia was a radioactive combination of Joe Montana, Bart Starr and Brett Favre — combining pinpoint accuracy, game management and just enough swashbuckle to stymie Alabama’s seemingly dominant defense.
Garcia and the Gamecocks shredded Alabama’s top-rated scoring defense, putting up the most points on the Tide since a 41-34 loss to LSU in 2007. Garcia pitched 3 TDs, 2 to Alshon Jeffery, and Marcus Lattimore added 3 scores.
And Spurrier, the wily coach who washed out with the NFL’s Washington Redskins after 2 seasons and a 12-20 record that took the luster off a Florida coaching career that included 122 wins and the 1996 national title, finally had himself a signature win at South Carolina.
“I think that this game was meant to be,” Spurrier said after the game, a 35-21 upset that remains one of the most stunning upsets in Alabama football history.
“I said, ‘Fellas, if fate means for us to win this game Saturday then let’s give it a chance. Let’s give fate a chance to happen.”
Fate happened all over the Crimson Tide that sweltering Saturday afternoon. Ingram and Trent Richardson, Alabama’s electric tailback duo, finished with just 64 yards. McElroy threw for a career-high 315 yards, but was sacked 7 times. Garcia was near-perfect in all aspects, including picking up a critical 4th-and-1 on South Carolina’s final scoring drive. Jeffery caught 7 passes for 127 yards and TDs of 26 and 15 yards.
And Spurrier finished with a smile on his face and a ride on Gamecock players’ shoulders after his 107th SEC victory.
“I gave myself a game ball for that one,” Spurrier said.
South Carolina is the only SEC team with an active winning streak against the Tide. It’s only 1, but it’s a painful 1.
Nine years later, Garcia recounted Spurrier’s unusual calm demeanor leading up to the Alabama showdown.
“That week of practice was probably the most chill that coach Spurrier ever was in my entire career playing for him,” Garcia told The State newspaper. “He was as cool as you could possibly imagine. That’s what made me want to come to South Carolina, his attitude that week specifically.
“He was carefree. ‘We’re going to go out there and we’re going to play hard and we’re going to give ourselves a chance.’ That’s the kind of guy that I was. I didn’t like him constantly up his (butt) and chewing me out all the time.
“It was awesome. His confidence, everything about it, it was exuded throughout the whole team. I could feel it was palpable. It was my favorite week of practice. There was no question about it.
“And obviously it showed.”
And, in the rarest of circumstances for Spurrier and *any* quarterback, Garcia found himself literally thinking and acting in perfect sync with the HBC.
“The first drive, we started off in an empty set,” Garcia told The State. “We had typically not done that in the past, but coach Spurrier had some confidence in me for some reason — he never usually did, he was too busy chewing my (butt). But we went out 5-wide and he was like, ‘Look, we’re going to win this game with you. It’s kind of on your shoulders. Here’s the keys to the car and go do something.’”
Garcia completed 17-of-20 passes for 201 yards, 3 TDs and an interception.
“Stephen Garcia played the game of his life,” Spurrier said.
Thankfully for Alabama, Garcia won’t be anywhere near the field of play for South Carolina — instead leading the pregame “Game! Cocks!” fan cheer.
Saban said this week he is doubtful any of his current players, that were likely in the 6th grade at the time, remember a thing about Oct. 9, 2010.
Alabama fans, of course, remember. So too do the Gamecock faithful. They all remember that brilliant late-summer afternoon under a sweltering sun when Stephen Garcia and the South Carolina football team played the game of their lives.