Every NFL and college football fan can recall their favorite play. Maybe it’s Doug Flutie’s last-second hail mary in 1984. Maybe it’s the Miracle in Miami the Dolphins completed against the Patriots in 2018. There are literally hundreds to choose from.
But what about the plays that never counted? Little attention is devoted to these because, well, they didn’t technically happen due to penalties or other circumstances and don’t matter. The Pittsburgh Steelers nearly pulled off a lateral-filled miracle in the snow against the Dolphins in 2013 had Antonio Brown not barely stepped out of bounds.
Some plays, like Dez Bryant’s non-catch in the Dallas Cowboys’ loss to the Green Bay Packers in the 2014 NFC playoff game or a no-call on an obvious pass interference against the New Orleans Saints in the 2018 NFC Championship Game, receive even more attention and ignite conversations.
If you’re an Alabama Crimson Tide football fan, there’s probably one play that’s been running through your mind since you started reading this: “The Strip.”
No, I’m not talking about the string of bars and nightlife along University Boulevard where the Houndstooth Sports Bar sits. But you should most definitely visit one of the best bars in the SEC.
It’s the 1993 Sugar Bowl/National Championship Game. No. 2 Alabama is ahead 27-6 in the third quarter against the defending champion No. 1 Miami Hurricanes, coached by Dennis Erickson. Tide coach Gene Stallings stands on the opposing sideline.
The Hurricanes are looking for a spark on offense. One play. Something. Anything.
UM quarterback and 1992 Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta finally answers the call. He fires a spiral to wide receiver Lamar Thomas down the left sideline on their own 36-yard line. Thomas burned UA cornerback Willie Gaston and was off and running with nothing but open field ahead of him.
With every 10-yard marker Thomas sprinted by, Hurricane fans could sense a comeback brewing. “This is it! This is our moment!” they probably thought.
The rest of their thoughts probably went as followed:
“Wait. Who’s that dude in crimson chasing Thomas down like a bat out of hell?”
“Oh no. He’s gonna tackle Thomas.”
“OH GOD. HE JUST STRIPPED THE BALL CLEAN OUT OF HIS HANDS.”
That bat out of hell was Alabama safety George Teague. Not only did the All-SEC defensive back chase down Miami’s speedy receiver, he stripped the ball from behind and began running it back the other way before being tackled.
The play didn’t count because of an offsides penalty on Alabama defender Antonio London. If it had, it would’ve gone down as one of the great plays in college football history. It should still be considered one of the greatest of all time, at least in school history. Here’s why:
Teague’s strip clearly prevented a touchdown that would’ve counted regardless of the penalty. The Strip sucked the life out of Miami’s team and fired up the entire Crimson Tide sideline. It ultimately may have been why Alabama went on to win 34-13.
“That kind of play demoralizes a team, and it also demoralizes that player. He’s like, ‘National TV, millions of people watching, I get run down, and I’ve been talking all week about how fast I am.'”
— Alabama defensive back and 1993 Jim Thorpe Award winner Antonio Langham told AL.com.
Langham was right. Leading up to the National Championship Game, Thomas sounded off on the strength of the SEC. He boasted about how great Miami’s receiving corps was. He called out Alabama defensive backs.
This excerpt from a New Orleans Times-Picayune the day before the game is almost laughable looking back now:
Real men don’t play zone. At least that’s how Miami wide receiver Lamar Thomas has it figured. Thomas looks at Alabama cornerbacks Antonio Langham and George Teague and sees nothing that scares him.
“I don’t really consider their corners two of the best in the nation, because it’s their defensive line that makes them so good,” Thomas said Wednesday. “Their corners never come out of zone coverage, so they’re not good cover men. I don’t think they’re great corners; they’re OK corners. I think they should get out of their zone and be real men.”
…Thomas couldn’t resist one parting shot.
“They’ve been doing some talking about how their defense is going to score against us,” he said. “I don’t think their offense can score against our defense, so they’re probably going to need it.”
And with that iconic play on January 1, 1993, in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Teague responded. He certainly wasn’t scared.
If you ask Teague, he’ll tell you he should’ve never had to chase down Thomas in the first place. Langham said he took a bad angle and should’ve either batted it away or intercepted it.
“To be honest, I had so much confidence in the guys around me, I was trying to take a little play off.” — Alabama safety George Teague told AL.com.
Regardless, it worked out in the Crimson Tide’s favor. After rolling past the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship Game that year and downing Miami in the title game, they finished a perfect 13-0.
Stallings coached seven seasons in Tuscaloosa before resigning in 1996 after NCAA violations under his watch lead to a loss of scholarships that hindered the Tide’s football program until Nick Saban arrived. Still, Stallings was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
After Teague’s famous non-play, the Green Bay Packers chose to select him in the first round of the 1993 NFL Draft. He tallied 15 interceptions and 341 tackles over a successful nine-year NFL career with the Packers, Cowboys and Dolphins.
“The Strip” ranks right up there with Van Tiffin’s “The Kick” in the 1985 Iron Bowl, Kenny Stabler’s “Run in the Mud” in the 1967 Iron Bowl and more recently Terrance Cody’s blocked field goal in 2009 against Tennessee in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Although Teague’s playing days are over and the Crimson Tide have won a bunch of titles since that year, University of Alabama football fans will remember “The Strip” for as long as they live.
Even if it technically didn’t happen.