October 15, 2008

Hodge still talking about controversial play

Shay Hodge would love to put last season's home loss to Alabama in the history books and let it collect dust.

However, no one will let him.

Instead, the Ole Miss wide receiver is asked about that play over and over, asked to relive it, to review it and to dissect it.

"Every time I go home, they always talk about that play and about how we got ripped off against Alabama," Hodge said Tuesday.

That play inspired conspiracy theories, Zapruder-like frame-by-frame dissection of film and weeks worth of hard feelings. Ole Miss never recovered. One week later, then-Arkansas coach Houston Nutt and the Razorbacks whipped the Rebels in Oxford, and Ole Miss failed to win a conference game.

"I got over it real quick," Hodge said. "You have to get on with the season. I let it go real fast. I think about it all the time though. It could've been a big play to turn our season around and maybe things would've been different with the momentum of beating them, but I've let it go."

Alabama led, 27-24, late in the game when Ole Miss' final rally began. On fourth down from the Crimson Tide 45-yard line, Ole Miss quarterback Seth Adams connected with Hodge for what appeared to be a 41-yard reception at the Alabama 4 with 7 seconds left. The Rebels lined up to take a shot into the end zone for the win. Alabama coach Nick Saban, who had seen Hodge step out of bounds in front of him, called a timeout and appealed to the officials to ask for a review.

The catch was reversed, giving the Tide the win and setting off a barrage of thrown items from the students in the south end zone. Three people were arrested and even though SEC coordinator of officials Rogers Redding defended the call, emotions were raw on the Ole Miss side for weeks.

Replays showed that Hodge did run out of bounds. It was Hodge's contention, however, that an Alabama defender forced him out. If Hodge's contention had been accepted by replay official Doyle Jackson, the receiver could have come back in and make the catch. If Jackson had ruled that Hodge went out on his own, the only way he could have legally caught the pass would be if Alabama cornerback Lionel Mitchell touched it first.

Redding said the replay official was right in ruling that Hodge was not "blocked" out of bounds, as the rule requires. And he saw two views of the catch that went against Ole Miss. One showed Hodge touch the ball first and the second showed a "simultaneous" catch, which by rule goes to the offensive player.

"It felt like he pushed me," Hodge recalled on Tuesday. "When the play was going on, I had no idea how close I was to the sideline. He was pushing me. I finally got around it and then I saw the ball and I just went up and got it. I came back and saw the replay and then I was thinking, 'I didn't know I went out of bounds, but he pushed me, and if you get pushed out of bounds, you can come back in.' But it went the other way."

The scene that occurred immediately following the reversal became as talked-about as the play itself. As Alabama ran the final seconds off the clock to win the game, fans began throwing garbage onto the field - everything from whiskey and vodka bottles to a single, red high-heeled shoe.

"I had never seen that before," Hodge said. "It was funny. It really wasn't funny at the time but after thinking about it and then they said our fans needed to get some class or something like that, it was funny. It was crazy."

"There were girls' shoes on the field," Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson said earlier this week. "It looked like high heels. I couldn't believe it. We've had stuff thrown at us, but not shoes."

Hodge found the scene amusing. Alabama coach Nick Saban did not.

"There is no class in that," Saban told reporters after the game. "I just want our players to represent the university with class. If (Ole Miss fans) want to be classless, that's their business."

That comment drew a sharp rebuke from Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone on the following Monday.

"To a certain extent maybe Nick is kind of like a parent who can see the faults of the children that live next door, but maybe not your own," Boone said at the time, adding that while he thought the display was unacceptable, "I'm not real sure that some other coach ought to be talking about our fans. I kind of resented that a little bit."

One year later, Ole Miss (3-3 overall, 1-2 in the SEC) has a new coach, a new quarterback and a new outlook. Alabama, meanwhile, is ranked No. 2 in the country with a perfect 6-0 record, including a 3-0 SEC mark. Ole Miss is fighting for its first bowl invite since the January 2004 Cotton Bowl and Alabama is trying to keep its lofty status in the national title mix.

Alabama center Antoine Caldwell said he expected last season's drama to be a motivating factor for the Rebels this week.

"They felt like we got away with one," Caldwell said. "They're probably going to use that this week in practice and get motivated. They're going to be ready to play because they feel like we came over there last year and stole one from them. Which they probably should feel like that."

Hodge said last season's game hasn't even come up in discussion. He said there are no personal feelings going to Tuscaloosa, just the desire to play well and try to find a path to victory.

"It's just another big team," Hodge said. "We have to come out, play hard and play good just like against Florida. It's intense. Add on it's my (21st) birthday that day too."

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