January 1, 1954: The "12th Man" Tackle At The Cotton Bowl
On January 1, 1954, behind a 265 yard and three touchdown performance by running back Dicky Moegle, the Rice Owls knocked off the Alabama Crimson Tide in convincing fashion with a 28-6 victory at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Moegle scored on runs from 79, 95, and 67 yards out as he obliterated the Alabama D. The story of the day was Moegle's 95 yard touchdown run with a little more than 8 minutes left in the second quarter, the running back never crossed the goal line because of an infamous "12th man" tackle that happened when fullback Tommy Lewis sprung from the sideline and dropped Moegle at the 38 as he sprinted up the sideline near the Alabama bench. The referee Cliff Shaw immediately awarded Moegle with a touchdown following the tackle giving the Owls a 14-6 lead. As you can see by the score it was a lopsided affair. In the first quarter, the Alabama offense put the first points on the board after Bart Starr intercepted a pass, then turned around and helped lead his team down the field on a scoring drive that was capped off with a 2 yard run by the same Tommy Lewis who would later make a very regrettable tackle. The run by Lewis gave Alabama a 6-0 lead after a failed point after. That missed point after attempt was the beginning of the end for Alabama, Moegle was off and running and the only way he could be stopped was by an illegal tackle. Moegle had already scored from 79 yards out before the 95 yard run that would go down in history. After that infamous play, Moegle was a bit shaken and probably a bit stunned by the actions of his opponent but that didn't keep him from going on one more long run with the 67 yard run late in the third to cap off his scoring efforts. Buddy Graham finished the scoring off for Rice with a 7 yard touchdown run early in the fourth then the Rice defense refused to let Alabama have any glimpse of hope as they stood tall in front of them. The infamous tackle by Lewis was almost just as stunning to him as it was the crowd of more than 75,000. When the clock ran to all zeros he sat on the sideline with a dazed look upon his face. His teammates tried to cheer him up but he sobbed because of his mistake. It wasn't a premeditated kind of thing, he was simply caught up in the moment, this was going to be his last game in a Crimson Tide uniform and the thought of losing it led to a very bad decision. He stated "I guess there is just a little too much Alabama in me." Born and raised in Alabama, he had achieved a lifelong dream when he suited up for the Crimson Tide. Not only did Moegle and the members of the Rice squad forgive him for his error, fans also chose to forgive. The night after the game Lewis sat up late with his wife by his side trying to comfort him, he was absolutely devastated by his decision and lost sleep because of it. It's just not the way a player wants to cap off a college career that's for sure. Two days after the game Moegle and Lewis appeared together on the Ed Sullivan show, to his surprise he was cheered and it seemed like people got over it quickly. He had expected to be dragged through the mud and if it would have happened he would have understood why. Luckily for him and Moegle alike the result of the "12th man tackle" did not end with an injury. I'm sure that the forgiveness would have been a little harder to come by if that was the case.