|This is the Liberty Bowl Program that Thom gave my dad|
And, truth be told, Illinois was a GOOD football team! Tony Eason had set 9 NCAA records and 3 Big Ten records. The Illini offense had amassed 4,604 yards for the season- a number almost unheard of in the early 80's.
One thing that bothered me about the match-up was that Illinois had won close games and we had lost close games. 6 of their games were decided in the last minute.
And, I couldn't get out of my mind how bad we had practiced in Tuscaloosa, even after the retirement announcement.
Some of what I am sharing about just before the game came from Thom Whitely. But everyone was still amazed about the night before. There was a players only meeting, led by Jeremiah Castille where it was laid down in blood that everyone was going to focus on their job to win the game and not think about Coach Bryant.
But during the last minute reminders- as Coach Bryant was saying the usual stuff- he just got choked up- and no one said a word. Then someone just turned out the lights and every man in that room in the Kennedy Sportsplex sat in the dark and let it go.
On Dec. 29, 1982- I sat in my downstairs basement with a Bear Bryant picture over my TV. I usually don't pray for wins- but I was pleading with God to let Coach Bryant go out a winner. I was as nervous as I had ever been for a game on TV!
But when I saw the intensity in which our guys were playing- I got strangely calm and confident.
I will tell you this- it was the hardest hitting defense I have ever watched on TV. And Jeremiah Castille came to play! Rocky Colburn and the other DB's made sure that if the ball hit a receiver's hands- it was going to be lights out!
For a long time, I had a VHS cut-up of that game and I showed it to our Briarwood Christian team from time to time. It is nowhere to be found- but I am looking!
I did find a vintage clip from the game:
Jeremiah was the MVP for his Liberty Bowl record 3 interceptions and Coach Bryant was all smiles.
I was so relieved and proud- this is how it was supposed to end.
Coach Bryant notched his 323rd college football win in his last stand. Even Mike White, the Illinois coach knew that was how it should have happened.
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