TUSCALOOSA — TUSCALOOSA — Whiskey bottles, plastic cups and anything else the fans sitting in the Ole Miss student section could get their hands on were flying onto the playing surface.
One female Rebels fan even threw her red high-heel shoes onto the field at Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium.
What was the ruckus about?
Alabama 27. Ole Miss 24.
Oh yeah. The game also ended with a controversial call that cost Ole Miss a shot at the win.
Hotty toddy. Gosh almighty.
What was this? This was Ole Miss-Alabama in 2007.
It wasn’t one of the Rebels’ finer moments. That loss eventually led to the firing of former Ole Miss football coach Ed Orgeron.
The events that followed for Alabama weren’t much better.
In coach Nick Saban’s first year, the Crimson Tide followed with wins over Tennessee and Houston before closing out the regular season with a five-game losing skid that included embarrassing losses to Louisiana-Monroe and Mississippi State.
So that win in Oxford, Miss., turned out to be huge. Alabama’s wins over Ole Miss and Tennessee that season allowed the Crimson Tide to become bowl eligible, setting up an eventual victory over Colorado in the Independence Bowl.
But back to the Ole Miss game. Its finish was one of the most interesting moments of Saban’s first season at Alabama.
Trailing by three late in the fourth quarter, Ole Miss quarterback Seth Adams completed what appeared to be a 41-yard pass to Shay Hodge on fourth down. That play would’ve put the Rebels on the 4-yard line.
Emphasis on would’ve.
As Hodge ran down the visiting sideline, Saban was screaming that the Ole Miss receiver had stepped out of bounds before catching the ball. After a five-minute review, the Southeastern Conference officials working the game overturned the call, giving Alabama the football.
And then the ruckus began.
Debris started to fly out of the Ole Miss student section. The only person that was injured was a photographer from Birmingham who had large, bloody gash on his forehead after getting hit with a whiskey bottle.
A few Ole Miss students were arrested, but that wasn’t the end of this saga.
During his weekly press conference the following Monday, Saban was critical of the Ole Miss fans that threw debris onto the field, saying that type of behavior was uncalled for.
Saban’s remarks didn’t sit well with Ole Miss athletics director Pat Boone.
“To a certain extent, maybe Nick is like a parent,” Boone said in 2007. “It’s easy to see faults in children who live next door but not in your own. We heard similar comments from him several years ago when he was here with LSU.
“We had several arrests made. That’s exactly what will happen if it happens again. We’ll take care of it. But I’m not sure some other coach needs to be talking about our fans. I resented that a little bit.”
Just another chapter in the Ole Miss-Alabama series — an SEC West rivalry that’s become known for dramatic, wild finishes.
Today’s 2:30 p.m. matchup will be the first time Alabama has visited Oxford since the whiskey bottle and red high-heel shoe shower of 2007. It’s also one of the most meaningful games these two programs have played with each other in years.
Alabama (5-0, 2-0) enters the game ranked third in the latest Associated Press poll. Ole Miss (4-1, 1-1) sits at No. 20 after opening with a preseason No. 8 ranking.
Ole Miss plummeted in the polls following a 16-10 upset at South Carolina two weeks ago, but the Rebels could climb back into the national championship picture with a signature win over Alabama.
Needless to say, the stakes are high in this one.
“We need this one in the worst way,” Rebels coach Houston Nutt said during his weekly press conference. “We all know Alabama is a great football team. We know that they have No. 1-ranked recruiting classes and all those things. Just all that tradition.
“I think it is about preparation, your attitude and how you approach it. You get your guys to believe. You have to go fight.”
Ole Miss was one of the hottest teams in the country in the second half of last season. The Rebels finished with an eight-game winning streak, including a win over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.
That finish had many prognosticators picking Ole Miss as one of the preseason favorites in the SEC West, and Rebels junior quarterback Jevan Snead was considered a possible early candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
But Ole Miss hasn’t lived up its potential — at least not yet.
After a sloppy win at Memphis and an easy win over lowly Southeastern Louisiana, the Rebels suffered their first loss of the season at South Carolina. But Ole Miss bounced back last week at Vanderbilt, beating the Commodores 23-7 in Nasvhille, Tenn.
But that was far from a flawless performance. Snead threw three interceptions against a Vanderbilt team that’s ranked last in passing defense.
Ole Miss has taken a few lumps this season, but that doesn’t mean Saban is taking this game lightly.
“This is probably the best team we have played to this point,” said Saban, whose Crimson Tide won 38-20 at Kentucky a week ago. “They have a lot of experience, a lot of good players … I think our team needs to be focused on what we need to do to improve and play the kind of winning football it’s going to take on the road to beat a good football team like this.”
Crimson Tide linebacker Cory Reamer said the players haven’t bought into Ole Miss’ recent slide in the polls. He said this will be one of the toughest opponents Alabama has faced.
“They’re still a top-tier team,” Reamer said. “This is a very important game for them, but to say it’s not important for us would be a lie. We know how good they are.
“If we want to accomplish our goals, this is a game we have to focus on. We have to play like it’s the No. 1 team in the nation.
With a defense that’s ranked second in the nation, opposing teams have struggled to consistently move the football against the Tide.
But Alabama’s defense did have a few problems with Kentucky’s running game, giving up a season-high 133 yards on the ground against the Wildcats.
Crimson Tide linebacker Rolando McClain expects to see a similar game plan from Ole Miss.
Ole Miss has several options in its backfield. Dexter McCluster is a dynamic playmaker, while Brandon Bolden is more of a downhill runner.
“They’re a good team with a very good quarterback and a sound running game,” McClain said. “We have to do our job to stop the running game.
“When (McCluster) comes in, he brings another dimension to their running game. When he comes in you just have to be a little quicker on your feet.”
This series has delivered lots of close, intense games in recent years. There’s a chance that trend could continue today.
But will there be whiskey bottles? Or maybe even red high-heel shoes?
If so, maybe they won’t fly onto the playing surface this time.
Justin Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 257 or by e-mail at email@example.com.