November 10, 2017 10:59:53 AM
Brett Hudson - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Sylvester Croom knew better than most what Alabama football looked like -- he was a part of it as a player and assistant coach over a combined 14 years. That being the case, his players knew he meant it when he said they were better than Alabama.
"He would tell us, 'We're more Bama than they are. They ain't the real Bama, we Bama,'" former Mississippi State running back Anthony 'Boobie' Dixon said.
Croom told his 2007 MSU team exactly that before it beat Nick Saban's first Alabama team in 2007, 10 years ago this Saturday when the No. 1 Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference, No. 2 College Football Playoff) visit No. 18 MSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC, No. 16 CFP) 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) at Davis Wade Stadium. Players from that team relived the game with The Dispatch this week as the last group of MSU players to beat Alabama.
"It was definitely more intense," Dixon said. "He loved (former Alabama coach Paul) 'Bear' Bryant and we really felt like the Junction Boys. We felt like those guys because Coach Croom, that's what he showed us clips of, that's what he preached."
The Junction Boys is a reference to Bryant's 1954 Texas A&M team, which he took to the brutal conditions of Junction, Texas, for a 10-day preseason camp. The camp has since been documented in a book and a movie.
That attitude carried more into the Alabama game than any other. Dixon said the 2006 team, which beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, said it knew it was better than Alabama before that game and felt like nothing had changed the following year as Saban took over.
The first minutes of the game proved that.
Throughout the first half, Alabama was afforded several opportunities -- an early interception, a facemask penalty nulling what would've been a drive-ending tackle for a loss and a MSU red zone trip ruined by a sack and a penalty -- just for MSU to hold Alabama to a trio of field goals.
Then came the moment that Dixon and his teammates will never forget. Current MSU tight ends coach D.J. Looney was a freshman offensive lineman on that team and at first mention of the game, he remembered the play.
"That was the pick-6 game," he said.
In the final seconds of the first half with Alabama facing a third-and-goal, Anthony Johnson intercepted John Parker Wilson and returned it the length of the field for a touchdown. Dixon, who is a fixture on MSU's sidelines to this day, said it was the loudest he has ever heard Davis Wade Stadium. Even as the team trotted past the massive inflatable white helmet that made the team's pregame tunnel at the time with just a one-point lead, it was all the confirmation it needed.
"It definitely felt like it was our day," Dixon said. "We went into the locker room and told ourselves the same thing we've been saying: we got them, we're better than them."
The first five minutes of the third quarter did little to undermine that point.
It was Derek Pegues intercepting Wilson this time, setting up an MSU possession in excellent field position that Dixon would punch in with a touchdown run. The exclamation point of the drive came the play before, when Dixon got MSU down to the 3-yard line by hurdling Alabama's Kareem Jackson, a current Houston Texan.
Little did MSU know that it wouldn't score again. A MSU defense led that day by Keith Fitzhugh and Jasper O'Quinn would spend the rest of the day, as Looney put it, "just holding on."
They did, holding Alabama to three points in the final 25 minutes to win by a final score of 17-12.
"Anytime you play a program like Alabama, you understand the history and tradition there," Looney said. "We were very excited to get that win."
Looney knows all about that version of the Alabama program under Saban; he knows even more about the current one he's spent all week studying.
Simply put, "It's a different beast."
Alabama's list of accomplishments since that loss to MSU in 2007 speaks for itself -- included on that list a perfect record against the Bulldogs. Still, Dixon sees the formula for beating Alabama the same way he did when he played a part in toppling the Tide 10 years ago.
"What I've told guys is you can't be a fan of these guys, you can't be out there thinking you don't belong," Dixon said. "You have to believe you're just as good. You have to attack them, you have to press on them."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter, @Brett_Hudson