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    • Wuerffel’s The Class Of The ’13 HOF Class

      News reached Danny Wuerffel a couple of weeks ago that he had been voted into the College Football Hall of Fame. It could have been easy for Danny to take it in stride, almost expect the honor. After all, the former University of Florida quarterback and 1996 Heisman Trophy winner who led the Gators to their first national championship that season, is regarded as one of the best players in SEC history.
    • Holloway Trades Sneakers For Cleats

      Murphy Holloway was feeling good a few weeks ago. The Ole Miss senior basketball star had just played in the Portsmouth Invitational, a college career showcase for NBA scouts.
    • Same Name, Same Game For E.T. Times Two

      Elston Turner, Sr., won’t be front and center in Tad Smith Coliseum tonight when Texas A&M plays at Ole Miss.But the former first-team All-SEC honoree for the Rebels, the school’s fifth all-time leading scorer, will be there in spirit. . .and in namesake, with a high-arching sweet jumper.
    • How Does SEC Football Get More Amazing?

      The Commish – that’s what I call SEC commissioner Mike Slive – stood on the confetti-covered Georgia Dome field near the 50-yard line – last Saturday night. He was surveying the post-league championship game scene when we spotted each other.
    • Transfer Worked Wonders for Donnelly

      The premise, more than two decades later, is still so remarkable that even Chris Donnelly can’t tell the entire story to strangers.

    SEC Traditions

    People ask me the same questions all the time about my career choice of being a sportswriter, something I’ve done for 30 years.

    “Don’t you ever get tired of your job? Don’t you ever get tired of never having a weekend off in college football season?”

    My answer is also a question volleyed back to the questioner: “Are you kidding me?”

    There’s no place I’d rather be on Saturday afternoon in the fall than in a football stadium. It’s not just the atmosphere, the electricity, the excitement, the anticipation.

    It’s also because there’s that chance I’ll see something happen in that game that I hadn't seen happen before, or may not see again for a long time.

    I never get that feeling when I’m watching an NFL game. It’s because of the diverse college offensive attacks and defensive schemes and the fact that college coaches are dealing with mostly teenagers on their teams. There’s a larger unpredictability factor in college football that doesn’t exist in the NFL.

    Here are four of my favorite plays in SEC history, things that may not happen again for a long time, if ever. Maybe you were in the stadium for some or all of them like I happened to be.

    BLOCK THAT KICK. . .NO, TACKLE THE PUNTER

    These days, Bill Marinangel helps run the family business in his hometown of McHenry, Ill. He’s the assistant vice-president of business development for McHenry Savings Bank.
            
    The majority of customers who come into his bank have no clue that 15 years ago as a senior at Vanderbilt, he was the best punter in the SEC. He did something that some of the best running backs in league history failed to do before or since – run 80 plus yards for a touchdown.
         
    “Most people don’t know about it,” Marinangel says. “My cousins put it on YouTube and it got some attention. It was my 15 seconds of fame and now I’m in the real world of work.”      

    True, but it’s a glorious 15 seconds. On Sept. 14, 1996, with perennial underdog Vanderbilt playing 11th ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Marinangel ran 81 yards for a second-quarter touchdown off a fake punt. It’s still the longest TD run in Vanderbilt history.
          
    The play was so well-scouted, so flawlessly executed, that no one knew it was coming. Not Alabama. Not even Marinangel’s own teammates, who seemed to be as stunned as Alabama’s punt return team to see him sprinting right down the middle of the field like he was trying to catch a cab.
           
    The Tide obviously didn’t read a scouting report on the 6-2, 225-pound Marinangel. Maybe they didn’t realize he had been a first-team all-state free safety at McHenry (Ill.) High in 1992 who also averaged almost 10 yards per carry as a running back, and who also punted and placekicked. He had 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, so he was not your normal punter who couldn’t outrun a pastry truck.
           
    Vanderbilt special teams coach Ken Whisenhunt knew that, too. You might recognize his name. He’s now head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, and came within about a minute of winning the Super Bowl a few years ago against the Steelers.
          
    Vandy was Whisenhunt’s first coaching job, and he had a good pupil in Marinangel, who was more than just an All-SEC punter who averaged 46.6 yards in his final season.
           
    The week of the ’96 Alabama game, Whisenhunt spotted on film a major weakness in the Tide’s punt return scheme.

    “Ken Whisenhunt saw the flaw that Alabama would bump blockers at the line of scrimmage, then turn and not pay attention (as they retreated to block for the returner),” Marinangel says.

    Vanderbilt was losing 9-7 and had fourth-and-five at its own 19. Marinangel was standing around his own 4-yard line when he received the snap from deep snapper Walter Pitts.
          
    “We had practiced it all week that if they (Alabama) would make a bump, I’d make a read and run up the middle,” says Marinangel, who the previous year as a junior gained 34 yards on a fourth-and-31 fake punt against Ole Miss. “If they didn’t, I’d punt it away.

    “We originally called for the fake punt, but then we called it off because we were backed up too close to our goal line. But I decided to still make the read without telling anybody. Alabama bumped and turned, I pulled the trigger and the rest is history.”

    Alabama was so fooled that no one on its return team, except for the returner facing Marinangel, didn’t turn around and face him until he was at about the Vandy 40. By that time, two of his teammates, his snapper Pitts and Jamie Duncan, realized Marinangel was right behind them. They made a couple of blocks, Marinangel put one of his running back moves on the returner and he steamed into the end zone where the celebration started.

    One key element of the play came just before the snap.

    “There was one Alabama guy screaming, `Watch the fake!’,” Marinangel recalls. “I shook my head and said, `Yeah, right.’ I mean I’m standing 15 yards back on the 4-yard line, so who thought I’d take off?

    “I actually thought it was the perfect setting, so that’s why I decided to take a look at it. I guess I got pretty lucky. I knew I could at least get a first down, but I never thought I'd score when I began running.

    “Before the play, I was over on the sideline warming up doing some short sprints in case I had to run it. Some Alabama fans were yelling at me, `What are you running for?’ ”

    The fans soon found out.

    When Marinagel got to the Vandy sideline after the TD, Whisenhunt was still stunned that Marinangel took off on his own, but added, “I’m sure glad you scored.”

    Over in the stands, Marinangel’s parents were overjoyed, celebrating loudly in a stadium full of dazed 'Bama fans not quite sure what they just witnessed.

    “You can see them in the corner of the play if you watch the end of it,” Marinangel said of his parents. “One of our walk-on kickers is tackling my Mom in the stands with my Dad. They almost got clobbered and taken out because everybody was high-fiving them.”

    After the game, Alabama defensive end Kelvin Moore admitted, ''I've never been around a special teams breakdown like that at Alabama - it's inexcusable. . . you can't let a guy run straight through you and nobody ever turn around.''  But Tide punter Hayden Stockton found Marinangel to congratulate him.

    Wisnenhunt left Vandy in 1996 to join the staff of the NFL’s Balitimore Ravens where he convinced the front office to sign Marinangel, who got cut. He went to Atlanta to train for a comeback, but injured his back so severely during a leg press exercise that he underwent surgery, didn’t walk for four months and had to rehab for a year. Subsequently, he had to give up football.

    Marinangel’s name is still in the SEC record book. His 272 career punts are the second most in league history. He also ranks third in total punting yardage (11,336) and his 46.6 average as a senior is the best season in SEC history for a punter with at least 75 punts (he had 77 attempts).

    Certainly, he would have loved to have played longer. But his finance degree from Vanderbilt prepared him well to return home to his family’s bank where he has been the last nine years.

    “My back still hurts to this day just sitting here,” Marinangel says. “But I’m happy where I’m at. I enjoyed my college career and that (Alabama) game was a fun time. It’s definitely something you never forget.”

    Watch it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXuKtkXsmfo

    TEE-ING OFF ON THE GAMECOCKS

    Few quarterbacks in SEC history had more pressure on them than Tee Martin did in 1998.

    Martin, then a junior from Mobile, Ala., happened to be the guy who had to replace Peyton Manning as Tennessee’s starting QB.

    All Manning did in his four years as a Vol was win one SEC championship, become a No. 1 overall NFL draft choice and play well enough to become regarded as the best player ever to wear the orange and white. He even had a street near Neyland Stadium named after him – Peyton Manning Pass – that Tennessee players stroll down before home games on their way to their dressing room.

    Fortunately for Martin, he was well-equipped to handle the pressure. He was 6-2, 225 pounds, and had spent two years as Manning’s backup, soaking in every word in every QB meeting with Manning and then-offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe.

    And though Martin barely won the first start of his career in that ’98 season – the Vols won 34-33 at Syracuse on a last-second field goal to beat the Donovan McNabb-quarterbacked Orangemen – the win was huge.

    “That game gave me a measuring stick of how I needed to be emotionally, physically and mentally, how I needed to approach the game as a young quarterback,” says Martin, who’s now receivers coach for the University of Kentucky. “To get my first win as a starter on the road in that hostile environment was big for me. It was big for my confidence and it gave the team confidence in me that I was going to take care of the football.”

    Six games later when the unbeaten and No. 3 ranked Vols rolled into South Carolina, they were in a bit of adjustment period. Star running back Jamal Lewis had sustained a season-ending knee injury just three games before against Auburn, so Martin volunteered to step up.

    Cutcliffe no longer wanted Martin to be a caretaker. He wanted him to be a playmaker.

    “When Jamal went down with a knee injury, Coach Cutcliffe challenged everybody on offense to step up,” Martin recalls. “He called us out, who was going to step up. I asked for more responsibility. He said, `If I put you in this situation, I want to see if you can handle it.’ ”

    So as the Vols prepared to play at South Carolina, Cutcliffe gave Martin a package of play checks.

    “If I liked the play, I could keep it,” Martin says.  “If I didn’t liked it, I could change it.”

    That day at South Carolina, in a 49-14 victory, Martin picked the right play time after time against a Gamecocks’ secondary that was short three key injured players.

    Because of the missing starters, Carolina stacked the line of scrimmage to stop Tennessee’s running game. Martin’s response was to complete his first 23 passes, a NCAA record.

    “At halftime, Coach Cut normally gives the quarterbacks what their stats are,” Martin says. “At halftime of that game, he said, `Hey, you’re 15-for-15, you’re doing pretty good, making good decisions, so just keep taking care of the football.’ ”

    “I had never seen a QB complete that many in-a-row, so I wasn’t thinking about what was going on. When I got the completion that broke the record, the crowd starting cheering and I didn’t understand why. When I got to the sideline, people told me.

    “It’s a team record I’m proud of and I share that with all my teammates. It’s hard to do, the offensive line had to keep the pressure off me, the receivers had to get open and make catches.”

    On the play following his 23rd straight completion, Martin overshot David Martin (no relation) on a screen pass with just over two minutes left in the third quarter. On the next play, Tee ran 30 yards up the middle to set up a Vols’ TD for a 42-0 lead and he took a seat on the bench for the rest of the day.

    “Yeah, it was a bit of high throw and a drop,” says Martin of his only incomplete pass that day. “It was a run play call, I checked out to a pass, threw it a bit high to David Martin. I thought he could have caught it, but quarterbacks always say that. I threw it high.”

    Martin’s final stats: 23-of-24 for 315 yards and four touchdowns, drawing praise from Cutcliffe who said, “I don't think I've ever seen any better.  I don't think a guy could do any more than he did."

    Wide receiver Peerless Price, who had 10 receptions for 165 yards and two touchdowns, gave Martin the ultimate praise after the game.

    "Peyton had some rhythm," Price said, "but Tee was just picking and choosing."

    That game was a thrill for Martin, who got the game ball and gave it to his mother, Marie. But the best was saved for last, when he guided the Vols to a win over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl to complete a perfect 13-0 season and win the national championship.

    “My proudest thing was winning the national championship, what we did for University of Tennessee,” Martin says. “That was our team goal.”

    Watch it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9x5uSOYzVZs

    THE GREATEST PLAY YOU NEVER SAW

    If you look on the official play-by-play of the 1993 Sugar Bowl, a 34-13 Alabama victory over favored Miami that snapped the Hurricanes’ 23-game winning streak and gave the ’92 Crimson Tide squad its seventh national championship, there is no mention of the play.

    All it reads is: Second and 10, Miami 11, Alabama penalized 5 yards for offsides.

    But what happened on that play was not only what former Alabama defensive coordinator Bill Oliver still calls “one of the greatest plays I’ve ever seen in a game, and certainly the finest made by an Alabama player,” but it was a microcosm of the Tide’s complete domination that night of Miami’s high-powered, suddenly befuddled offense.

    Miami had Gino Toretta, a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, who threw to a flock of future NFL receivers. The Hurricanes’ offense was designed for Torretta to throw quickly, often from one-back sets with a tight end and three wide receivers.

    Armed with the nation’s No. 1 defense (allowing 194.2 yards per game) and rushing defense (55 yards per game), Alabama's Oliver concocted a game plan that befuddled the Hurricanes.

    He threw the kitchen sink at Toretta. He devised a 3-1-7 defense, with three linemen, one linebacker and seven defensive backs. He had a 4-2-5 package. For almost 20 plays in the game, Alabama put all 11 of its defensive players on or close the line of scrimmage.

    On one play, the Tide even lined up first-team all-America ends Eric Curry and John Copeland on the same side of the line. The Tide deliberately substituted late just before the start of each play so Toretta and Miami coaches didn’t know what was coming.

    By halftime with Alabama leading 13-6, Toretta had been sacked twice and intercepted once. And by the end of the third quarter, after his third interception had been returned 31 yards by Alabama cornerback George Teague for a touchdown and a 27-6 lead, the Hurricanes had been reduced to a wisp of wind.

    Teague’s interception was the first of his career that he returned for a touchdown in his very last game as a member of the Crimson Tide.

    “I’d never been in the end zone before,” Teague says. “I hate that it had to come in my last game.”

    As much as Teague’s scoring interception meant to him personally, the play he made on the next series, the one that got wiped out by a Crimson Tide offsides penalty, is as much fun to watch today almost 20 years later as it was when it happened.

    On second-and-10 from the Miami 11, Toretta fired a pass to Lamar Thomas, who had beaten ’Bama cornerback Willie Gaston. Because Teague had lined up wrong as the nickel back, Thomas had nothing in front of him but empty field as he raced to the end zone with no Tide defender within 10 yards of him.

    Teague, roaring from behind, tracked down Thomas, pulled up alongside him and in one swipe stole the ball out of Thomas’ hand at the Alabama 7. Teague slammed on the brakes, made a U-turn and began running back the other way.

    “I knew it was going to be my fault if I didn’t hurry up and catch him,” says Teague, now a coach and athletic director at a small Texas high school.

    Alabama free safety Chris Donnelly, now a medical equipment salesman in the Birmingham area, says he and the other Crimson Tide defensive backs were in such shock at Teague's play, that they didn’t even block for him after he pickpocketed Thomas.

    “If you go look at the film, most of us are standing there and George runs right past us,” Donnelly recalls with a laugh.

    It’s comical what Oliver remembers most about Teague’s touchdown-saving effort.

    “The funniest thing was when Thomas was running for what appeared to be for a touchdown, the guy in the Miami mascot suit is running down the sideline with Thomas,” says Oliver, who’s now retired and living in Alabama. “When Teague snakes that ball out from Thomas, that mascot stops, spreads his legs, puts his hands on his hips and just starts staring in amazing disgust like `what in the world happened?’

    “It’s amazing how far George ran to make that play. I knew George was fast, but I didn’t know he was that fast.”

    It was the crowning play to a sweet night for the Alabama defense that had finally earned respect from Miami’s receivers. The Hurricanes' pass catchers had yapped all week before the game that the Tide secondary was soft because it played zone defense most of the year rather than man-to-man.

    Certainly, it was a night Teague never forgot, for his TD and the play that never was.

    And Toretta never erased it from his memory, either. Years later at a charity golf tournament, he ran into Oliver and told him how confused and exasperated he was that night in the Louisiana Superdome.

    “Gosh, I didn’t know what in the world was going on,” Toretta told Oliver, according to Oliver. “It would be like three plays and we were out.

    “So I go to the sideline, call upstairs to our coaches booth and I say, `Hello. Hello. HELLO? Anybody up there? Finally, one of the coaches said, `Yeah Gino?’ I say, `What are they doing out there?’

    The coach says, `Give us a couple of more series and we’ll get the information to you. I say, `Hell, the game will be over by that time.’ ”

    Too late.

    Watch it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kx1AZSeCkkM&feature=related

    UGA PLAYS DEFENSE     

    The Georgia-Auburn rivalry never really needs any pregame smack talk or false rah-rah. After all, the schools are almost interchangeable.

    For instance, the winningest coach in Georgia history is an Auburn grad named Vince Dooley. One of the best coaches in Auburn history is a Georgia grad named Pat Dye.

    The two schools, 172 miles apart, recruit many of the same players. With Auburn not far from the Georgia border, the fan base tends to crossover.

    And here’s how deadeven this long-standing rivalry is: Auburn holds 53-52-8 edge in the 113-game series, with the cumulative point totals of the two teams just 56 points apart (Georgia 1178, Auburn 1122).

    So when the two teams get together every year, there’s no holding back, like the 1996 overtime classic won by Georgia, 56-49. That November day in Auburn, both teams brought out the best in each other and in Georgia’s English Bulldog mascot UGA V.

    The long line of UGA’s, started in 1956 and maintained ever since by Georgia grad and Savannah lawyer Sonny Seiler, are usually docile, happy creatures. They like to pose for pictures, they love to be petted on the sidelines and generally just try to relax as much as possible at games.

    Usually, UGA and his handler, normally Sonny’s son Charles, stay out of the line of fire during a game.

    In the first quarter of that 1996 Auburn showdown, UGA V was minding his own business well off the playing field near the Georgia end zone when an intruder evaded his space.

    Auburn quarterback Dameyune Craig lofted a 21-yard touchdown pass to receiver Robert Baker, who caught the ball in stride at the 2-yard line. He angled through the end zone, spiking the ball from excitement.

    The problem is, he happened to do it almost at the front paws of UGA V, who didn’t care for the sudden evasion of privacy.

    “The player startled UGA,” Sonny Seiler says, “when he slammed the ball down on the ground. So UGA lunged at him. He didn’t want to bite him, as much as he wanted to catch him. UGA didn’t do anything wrong. He was right where he was supposed to be.”

    The result is a photo for the ages, one captured by a photographer from the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser. The paper received so many requests for reprints of what transpired that the negative eventually wore out.      

    What happened was this: UGA V gets airborne, aiming for the most sensitive of Baker’s body parts. Charles Seiler is yanking back on UGA’s leash, while Baker is jumping backwards to avoid becoming a soprano.

    “Actually, Auburn should have been penalized for celebration,” Sonny Seiler says. “But what happened shook everybody up so much that the referees didn’t call it.”

    Since the game was on CBS, UGA’s goal line defense was also caught on camera, CBS announcers Sean McDonough and Mike Mayock loved it.

    "The Georgia defense might want to consider dressing UGA," said McDonough while the replaying was being shown.”

    Added Mayock, "UGA was a little more feisty than the Georgia defense in that first series.” Later on Mayock, still impressed by UGA guarding his turf, asked the rhetorical question, “Is he the best mascot you've ever seen, or what?"

    Maybe so. Because several months later when Sports Illustrated published a special college sports issue of America’s Top 50 Jock School, the cover boy was UGA V, smiling like the star he was.
        
    Wonder if Robert Baker ever asked UGA V to paw print a personal copy of the SI cover?
    Watch it:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foGHh14uvKk&NR=1


     
     

    Ron Higgins Bio

    •  Ron Higgins of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis has covered the SEC for more than 30 years.
       
    •  He’s a 1979 graduate of LSU and son of former LSU sports information director Ace Higgins.

    •  He is a past president of the Football Writers Association of America and an eight-time honoree as the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Writer of the Year.

    •  Working for The Commercial Appeal, Tiger Rag Magazine, the Shreveport Times, the Shreveport Journal, the Morning Advocate in Baton Rouge and the Mobile Register, he has won more than 150 national, regional and state writing awards. He has also written and co-written two books.
         
    •  Higgins is married to the former Paige Blanchard, also an LSU graduate, and has two sons, Carl, a Southeastern Louisiana University graduate who is serving in the military, and Jack, a high school student.