Saturday, February 24, 2018
Sports

College Football Playoff: Remembering the day Lousiana Monroe took down Nick Saban's Alabama

Charlie Weatherbie, 61, is an ordained pastor. He lives in Naples, where he is a regional director the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Weatherbie was a college football head coach for 17 years, with stops at Utah State, Navy and, lastly, at Louisiana Monroe.

Alabama and Nick Saban are chasing a fifth national title in eight seasons in the national title game against Clemson.

But once upon a time, before this Alabama run, there was that day late in Saban's first season at Tuscaloosa, when the Crimson Tide were beaten at home by the Warhawks of Louisiana-Monroe, 21-14. Hard to believe these days.

But there was that day.

Charlie Weatherbie was the winning head coach.

"I was blessed," he said. "That was a great day."

You nearly rub your eyes twice when you see it in the Alabama record books.

But it happened.

Monroe (4-6) upset mighty Alabama, though it wasn't that mighty in 2007.

Saban was still trying to get it together.

Saban was the highest paid coach in FBS football at the time, at $4 million. Weatherbie was the lowest paid, at $130,000

No matter.

That game was a stunner.

How much of a stunner?

Saban invoked two American tragedies.

"He actually made a statement comparing it to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor," Weatherbie said. "I think he walked that one back a little later."

But back to that day, the one that began the great Alabama turnaround.

"We definitely got the hornets' nest going, didn't we?" Weatherbie said. "I think Nick used that as a rallying point."

About the game ...

"We didn't have the same athletes Clemson has to go into battle with," Weatherbie said. "But we had some good players. The year before, we'd almost beat Kansas, Kentucky and Arkansas. Our guys believed they could play with anybody.

"What was really funny about the thing is we're going in at halftime and I think we were tied. Their student body was cheering for us, telling us, 'You can do it!' Is that crazy or what?"

ULM went ahead in the third quarter and later began eating clock.

"We picked up several vital first downs. That's when the guys really started believing. We didn't turn it over in the game. We created four turnovers. We blocked a kick, returned it clear to their one-yard line and then punched it in. We were backed up at our end zone and we kicked a punt way over their return guy's head and really backed them up. It was just our day."

When it was done, Weatherbie and Saban met on the field.

"It was a short, quick handshake," Weatherbie said. "He looked very pale. He said congratulations. It wasn't quite the same team as now. I think they were still hunting for their identity. Now they're hunting something else, I guess."

Weatherbie said, "Now look at those guys. They don't rebuild. They reload. Nick Saban does a great job at that. He's a great recruiter. He's got a system that works and he sticks with it no matter what. After I watched them beat Washington the other day (in a national semifinal), I figured they could probably win one of those NFL divisions."

Weatherbie played quarterback at Oklahoma State during the 1970s, when Oklahoma and Nebraska ruled the Big Eight and most of college football. He knows dynasties.

"Seen Alabama win a few championships now. They're rolling right along."

About that day in 2007 ...

"I remember a lot of dancing and celebrating," Weatherbie said. "A lot of hugs. It was amazing. We got back and the (school) president was waiting for us. The whole town was. We bused over, so we didn't get back until one, two in the morning. But the band was out. It was like we'd won a world championship."

Weatherbie left coaching after Monroe's 2009 season.

"I just felt like I needed to be available to what God wanted me to do," he said.

The win over Alabama comes up now and again in his ministry.

"Oh, yeah, we talk about those kind of things. We talk about David and Goliath. There was a police officer who traveled with us. In one of the weeks leading up to the Alabama game, he used the illustration of David and Goliath. He gave each of our players a little stone to put in their pockets. I don't know how many of them carried them. I carried one in my briefcase pretty much all the time. I had it with me that day. Ten years. It was 2007, and now it's 2017. Doesn't seem that long ago."

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