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Clay Coppedge
Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Too Full of Alabama

by Clay Coppedge

More than sixty years later, the story can be told. Again. It's a story that won't go away because in the annals of college football there has never been another one quite like it. Not surprisingly, it happened in Texas. There's a zealot in the story, but he's not a Texan — he is from Alabama, a state every bit as football-mad as Texas.

It happened on January 1 in the 1954 Cotton Bowl. Rice shared the Southwest Conference crown with the University of Texas that season and won the right to play the Southeastern Conference champion, Alabama, in the Cotton Bowl. Rice won the game easily, 28-6.

The result wasn't as surprising then as it would be now. Rice, led by running back Dickie Maegle, was among the nation's college football elite for a short time, while Alabama was four years away from the arrival on campus of legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Fullback Tommy Lewis, who scored 'Bama's only touchdown in the first quarter on a two-yard run, was the Crimson Tide's star player.

Maegle and Lewis would have their names inextricably linked for the rest of their respective lives because of what Lewis did to Maegle in the second quarter of that game. Rice was backed up at its own five-yard line when quarterback Leroy Fenstemaker handed the ball to Maegle, who took off on an end sweep and broke free down the Alabama sideline. [Word(s) missing?] Lewis, sans helmet, watched the play unfold from the sideline. As Maegle got close to midfield, Lewis suddenly dashed onto the field and tackled him. Just like that. Just jumped out there bare-headed and knocked him down. Seventy-thousand-plus fans gasped as one.

"I saw him start off the bench and thought his helmet had rolled onto the field and he was coming to get it," Maegle recalled later. "I gave ground to my left, but then he was right in front of me, and down I went."

There was no instant replay, of course, and the officials huddled for a time to confirm what they thought they saw. Ultimately, they awarded Maegle a touchdown and no doubt shook their heads at Lewis, who recognized right away the dastardly nature of the deed he did. As the teams left the field at halftime, he jogged up to Maegle with tears streaming down his face. He apologized again and again. "I don't know what got into me," he said. "I hope they don't string me up on these goalposts."

The play, alternately called the "12th Man Tackle" and "The Stupidest Tackle of the Century," was an instant media sensation. As such, When Maegle and Lewis were invited to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show that Sunday night, the perils of sudden fame soon became apparent to both perpetrator and victim.

For his part, Maegle was none too happy when he found out he would be sharing a room with Lewis. "He might have a nightmare and try to throw me out the window," he protested to Sullivan.

The line that Lewis delivered on the show has become as much a part of the story as the play that inspired it. When Sullivan asked Lewis why he did it, Lewis replied, "I guess I was just too full of Alabama."

Both supporters and detractors of Alabama football still throw that line around. The thing is, Lewis claims the line wasn't his. He said years later that Sullivan urged him to say it. "That's not something that would normally come out of my mouth."

The play turned out to be an albatross for both men. Lewis, of course, never completely lived it down. "I'm reminded of the play frequently," he told the San Antonio Express-News in 2006. "But anyone who knows me, and all my old teammates, would never dare bring it up. They know that play devastated me, and I have to live with it. I can't take it away."

For Maegle, the play overshadowed one of the most sensational performances in Cotton Bowl history. Maegle ran for 265 yards on just eleven carries that New Year's Day, or 24.1 yards per attempt, and scored three touchdowns. But all anybody remembers is a 95-yard touchdown he scored after Lewis tackled him at midfield.
Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" December 30, 2018 column

Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Who Was That Masked Man? 12-15-18
  • Tasty Texas Ingenuity 12-2-18
  • An Annoyance of Grackles 11-16-18
  • The Original Texas Songster 11-2-18
  • The Little Axe That Could 10-19-18

    See more »

  • Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Who Was That Masked Man? 12-15-18
  • Tasty Texas Ingenuity 12-2-18
  • An Annoyance of Grackles 11-16-18
  • The Original Texas Songster 11-2-18
  • The Little Axe That Could 10-19-18

    See more »


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