FOOTBALL

The view from the other side of worst loss in Nick Saban era of Alabama football

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

The football greets Darrius Battles every time he walks in the door.

It sits in a glass case on the second level of the brown shelf. The three levels feature a variety of items. A copy of the New Testament is displayed on the top shelf.  

Some of the letters have faded on the white football. The year isn’t 100% clear, but the former Louisiana Monroe defensive back doesn’t need the commemorative ball to remember the details. He’s never going to forget Nov. 17, 2007.

ULM Warhawks 21. Alabama Crimson Tide 14., the ball reads.

“That win is like a college degree,” Battles said, 15 years later. “You can do anything you want to do with it. You can say anything you want to say about it. But guess what? It was earned.”

And stunning. The Warhawks walked into Bryant-Denny Stadium and dealt Nick Saban and Alabama football a gut punch.

The Crimson Tide already had a rematch with Louisiana Monroe in 2015 with a 34-0 shutout. Still, as Alabama (2-0) prepares to face the Warhawks (1-1) on Saturday (3 p.m., SEC Network), the 2007 matchup remains on many minds. For good reason. The Crimson Tide hasn’t lost a nonconference regular-season game since.

The low point at the beginning of Saban’s dynasty became an unforgettable night for the Warhawks.

“We wanted it more than they did,” said Battles, a Mobile native who's an Alabama fan to this day. “They slept on us.”

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The storm clouds for an upset had been hovering. Alabama had lost its past two games. Meanwhile, ULM wasn’t afraid of Power 5 teams. Just that season, they had played in College Station and Clemson. In 2006, Louisiana Monroe narrowly lost 42-40 to Kentucky in Lexington and Kansas 21-19 in Lawrence.

“Guys really got a feel for playing the big boys close and finding a way not to win,” ULM coach Charlie Weatherbie said. “If we’re in a position to win this game, we’re going to win it. We’re not going to let it slip between our fingers like we had in the past.”

In those fingers were stones. Weatherbie doesn’t recall at what point in the year one of the team’s police officers gave them the stones, but he remembers each listed the passage from the Bible about David and Goliath.

That story was also mentioned in the pregame speech Ron Dickerson Sr., the former Temple coach, gave to the team. His son, Ron Dickerson Jr., was a ULM assistant at the time.

“You don’t need some great gigantic weapon to knock somebody down,” Dickerson said, per Battle’s recollection. “Use what you have.”

The Warhawks didn’t possess the size, speed and talent of Alabama. They just had a simple game plan: Don’t beat ourselves.

And they didn’t. ULM had no turnovers. Alabama had four ― two interceptions and two fumbles.

On offense, there were no special packages. Weatherbie said the overall game plan wasn’t rocket science. ULM was going to stick to its style.

“We just wanted to run downhill,” running back Calvin Dawson said.

The Warhawks rushed 44 times in the win, and a motivated Dawson had 33 of those for 91 yards and a touchdown.

“I’m not one of those people who holds grudges too much,” Dawson said. “But I definitely remember kind of having that mindset of, ‘Oh I’m going to show him why he should have got me.’”

That was directed at Saban. The Alabama coach once visited Dawson’s high school when Saban was still coaching LSU. He shook Dawson’s hand, but then Saban went straight to Dawson’s teammate. Saban was more interested in recruiting the free safety than Dawson, an all-state running back.

Dawson finally had a chance to show Saban what he missed on that November 2007 day, but not without a toll.

“Physically, it was brutal,” Dawson said. “It was the most challenging game on my body that I ever had.”

He wasn’t alone. Defensive back James Truxillo, who broke up the pass on Alabama’s final offensive play of the game, immediately cramped up after the play. ULM had to help him off the field, Weatherbie said. Truxillo needed an IV after the game.

“That’s how much energy and effort those kids were giving,” said Weatherbie, who’s now the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Southwest Florida director.

Some had to rest on the bus ride back. Others never went to sleep that night. When they returned in the early hours of the morning to Monroe, the band was there playing and many from the city waited to celebrate.

“It was like we were celebrities almost,” Weatherbie said. “It was pretty neat. I will never forget it.”