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How to tell the story of the Kick Six as it happens in front of you

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Five years later, SB Nation interviewed the people who defined the broadcasts of one of football’s biggest and wildest moments ever.

One of the most anticipated Iron Bowls of all time was going to overtime. Until it wasn’t. The most unforgettable second in college football history gave us the Kick Six.

It was Week 13 of the 2013 season. No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn, rivals meeting for the 77th time since 1893, were deadlocked after 59 minutes and 59 seconds at Jordan–Hare Stadium. Alabama had the ball on Auburn’s 38-yard line when a replay review put that last second back on the clock.

With a chance to seal the win before overtime, Nick Saban sent his backup kicker, Adam Griffith, out for a 57-yard field goal attempt. Auburn had safety Ryan Smith deep in the end zone to field a short kick. But Gus Malzhan, with two timeouts remaining, opted to call one. Whether or not the icing would matter, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee used the chance to suggest a key personnel change. Enter Chris Davis.

”I remember looking up and seeing him [Smith] under the goal post,” Lashlee told SB Nation. “And I said ‘Hey, Coach, if we’re gonna put a returner back’ — which makes sense, right? — ‘why don’t we put the nation’s leading punt returner back there?’ You know, we had Chris Davis. He goes ‘Yeah let’s do that.’ He goes ‘Scott [Fountain],’ who was our special teams coach, ‘Let’s put Chris back there.’”

The 2013 Iron Bowl was the biggest game of the season before it became even bigger.

It was the highest combined team ranking in this rivalry’s history. The winner would win the SEC West and be one game from a BCS title shot.

”It was incredible,” Auburn IMG color commentator Stan White said of the build-up. “Being a guy that’s played in four of them, growing up in the state, and that was my 13th year that year, so I had obviously been apart of some big ones, but nothing of that magnitude. So that’s what made it so electric, and nationally it was the overriding game of the weekend, it wasn’t just in the South. It was exciting for me and my partner Rob Bramblett.”

The defending national champion, Alabama’s offense was made up of future pros such as quarterback A.J. McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon, and Amari Cooper. The Tide’s defense was loaded with guys like Reggie Ragland, C.J. Mosley, A’Shawn Robinson — yeah, you can see why the Tide were favored by 10 points.

But the Tigers’ uptempo offense had clicked throughout the season, with quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason leading leading seven straight wins heading in, including a miracle finish against Georgia.

“As a coach, you always just try to do what your guys A) what they do best, and B) what you do best as a unit,” Lashlee said of the plan against Alabama’s defense. “What we’re good at is typically what our quarterback does well. 2013 was Nick [Marshall]’s first year, so we were a lot of zone-read, we ran the ball and threw it deep.

”So we really just tried to find ways to do what we had been doing all year, maybe a formation differently or give them a different look, but to still do what we’re good at. Because at the end of the day, [when] you try to do something different than what your identity is, it just doesn’t work well.”

It turned into a classic heavyweight prize fight — even before the iconic knockout punch.

In front of a rocking 87,451 people, underdog Auburn got on the scoreboard first when Marshall got loose for a 45-yard rushing touchdown. Alabama then reeled off 21 unanswered.

”We knew for Auburn to get to the championship, they had to beat them [Alabama],” CBS Sports’ Gary Danielson said. “And it was the way that game started with Alabama getting up big, there was almost a smugness about the Alabama crowd and especially in the press box that: ‘Hey, we’re still the best team. Even though Auburn’s got their little thing going this year, we’re still the better team.’”

The Tigers capped the Iron Bowl’s frenetic 35-point first half with a touchdown drive to make it a one-score game at the break.

”A seven-point game at halftime, a good game — that’s no big deal,” Lashlee said of the Auburn locker room at halftime. “Somebody’s gonna be up and somebody’s gonna be down. So our guys were good.”

The Tigers’ opening third quarter drive ended with a game-tying pass to C.J. Uzomah. A missed Alabama field goal soon provided foreshadowing.

Bama pulled ahead with a play that seemed destined to be the defining moment: a 99-yard touchdown from McCarron to Cooper.

”Before the Kick Six, that was looking like the play of the game, for obvious reasons,” White said. “A 99-yard pass play doesn’t happen often, especially in the Iron Bowl.”

With 10:48 remaining, Auburn was again trailing.

”At that moment, you know the Auburn fans were like ‘Oh God, it’s just not going to happen,’” Bramblett added.

Alabama v Auburn
McCarron celebrates throwing his 99-yard touchdown pass to Cooper in the fourth quarter.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Every epic needs a surprise meme. Enter Auburn’s sewing machine guy.

Dana Marquez had been at Auburn since 2006, but his breakout moment came midway through the fourth quarter in 2013’s game.

Marquez, who does everything from coordinating equipment to overseeing uniform purchasing and fitting at Auburn, was thrust into the spotlight after defensive end Ladarius Owens’ jersey ripped. Instead of giving him a new one, Marquez sewed it up on the sideline, to CBS’ fascination and instant GIF fame:

sew

”It’s ironic because I remember listening to that [TV] spot, ‘You’re in the SEC, don’t you have backup jerseys?’” Marquez said. “They mainly focused on my back while I was sewing, but the back-up jersey was right next to me. I asked the player — he was a senior — I said, ‘Look I’m just gonna throw you your back-up jersey,’ he goes, ‘Dana, I really wanna finish in this one. It’s my last game.’

”And I said, ‘Alright, well let’s rip it off of you, and we’ll sew it back together and you can finish the game in it.’ It took about 25 seconds to get it all put back together and put back on him,” Marquez recalled. “He didn’t miss a play.”

”It just was kind of happenstance,” CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson said. “You can only be in one place, and I just happened to be on the sideline and I’m like ‘What are they doing?’ And I noticed them open up a trunk-type thing, and they pull something out. And they have to take the jersey off him, so that was causing chaos. [He’s] a big man, you’re trying to get it over the pads and everything.

”And sure enough, they bust out the sewing machine on the sideline, and I asked them, and usually they don’t talk, but they were very open about it, and they’re like, ‘You know, we just find it’d be much quicker to just sew it right here.”

Marquez is still with Auburn in 2018. An advocate for equipment safety, he was the first ever recipient of the Maxwell Award for Innovation in Safety for his work with HelmetFitting.com, which he founded.

”It is pretty funny,” Marquez said about going viral during one of the biggest football games ever. “I didn’t think it was that big a deal.”

Auburn still brings the sewing machine on the sideline for home games.

”I live in a small town in Auburn,” Marquez said. “And I cannot go to lunch, breakfast, or dinner without somebody telling me ‘Hey, there’s the sewing guy!’”

Auburn’s second-to-last big play tied the game and changed the future of football offense as we knew it.

With two minutes remaining, Malzahn’s option offense ensured its place in football history. Run/pass options had been in college football for a few years, but never in such a huge moment. NFL coaches would later specifically cite this touchdown as inspiring their use of the RPO.

”The zone read elements have so many things off of it other than just handing or running,” Lashlee said. “So we’ve had the zone read at that point for a while where we run a zone read to the field, where if Nick pulls the ball, alright Sammie [Coates], our outside receiver, runs a go. Typically the corner covers him, and it’s either hand it or run it. When he pulls it, he reads the corner. If the corner comes off, you throw an easy touchdown.”

SB Nation’s Ian Boyd broke down what was, at the time, a revolutionary moment:

The offensive line started to block for an inside zone play. As far as the linemen knew, they were blocking straight ahead for another Tre Mason run. The fullback, Jay Prosch, raced around the unblocked defensive end to provide a lead block on the edge for Marshall, in case the quarterback got a “keep” read.

The addition of a lead blocker on the edge for the QB has caused enough trouble for college defenses, but that wrinkle is one Alabama already knew was coming. Marshall saw the defensive end stay inside, giving him the sign to keep the ball and follow Prosch’s block on the edge.

This is where things got interesting. Marshall made an additional read to determine whether his X receiver, Sammie Coates, was being covered or not. Since both the free safety and corner came up to stop the quarterback keeper, he awkwardly pulled up and tossed a hitch route to Coates.

Marshall finds Coates downfield for a game-tying TD.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers had called the same play a down earlier, but Marshall opted to hand it to Mason, who rushed for a first down. Marshall noticed the corner had dropped off of Coates.

”I just remember he looked over at the sideline to us and kinda gave us like a motion with his hands like ‘Run that again,’” Lashlee said. “And so typically we would have either called timeout or called a pass play the very next play, you know, just because the clock was getting under a minute now.

“But he saw it, and we saw it, and he just kind of looked at us. You just kind of get a feel as a coach over time, you trust your guys. And you go ‘Hey he saw it, he’s out there playing’ so we just rolled the play again as fast as we could.”

The trust was rewarded, the score was tied, and coaches around the country were taking notes.

”It’s the most significant thing to happen to college football,” longtime defensive coach Manny Diaz told Boyd. “The most important play of last season was the touchdown that tied the game at 28.”

The Seahawks would use the same RPO in the first NFL game of the following season, with Pete Carroll giving Malzahn a shoutout afterward.

hawls

”We’ll go anywhere to find a play,” the Seattle coach said, via Peter King of MMQB. “And that one — uh, Muschamp at Florida, no ... Auburn. They ran it. Give Gus Malzahn credit. That’s a great play. I kept telling them [the offensive staff and players] this summer, ‘It’ll work, it’ll work.’”

”It’s cool as a coach,” Lashlee said of Carroll’s usage. “We all as coaches watch film all the time, and we’re all borrowing, stealing, and copying from people. And so we’ve all done it.”

Even with plenty else to talk about it, Saban acknowledged the difficulties in defending Auburn’s RPOs.

”You gotta have tremendous discipline to play against this offense because you got a zone dive, you also got a quarterback that can run the ball, and they also have a pass off of it most of the time,” Saban said. “So we made a mental error in coverage, and it cost us a touchdown.”

Alabama v Auburn
Marshall celebrates his fourth quarter touchdown.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

”I think the reason it got so much attention is it was such a high-profile game with so much on the line,” Lashlee added. “It happened in a critical moment, and quite honestly against a team and a coach that, quite honestly, if he says something people care. And so when Nick Saban comes out after the game and is upset about something, people are going to listen. But I think it’s really helped. You look at offenses around the country they’re doing versions of it. It’s made the game more exciting and more fun.”

It also helped inspire Saban to change his entire offensive philosophy, eventually dooming the rest of college football.

”I think it was also the final play that Nick said ‘I gotta change,’” Danielson said. “And I think it led to him directly hiring Lane Kiffin to upgrade his attack on offense by saying ‘OK, I’ve been hard headed about this, but if I’m having as much trouble handling this, I gotta go after them and try and give them some of their own medicine.”

Be careful what you wish for, especially when the game clock is involved.

With seven seconds left, Yeldon burst free for a 24-yard run that ended at the left sideline. If Yeldon got out of bounds in time, the Tide were in range for a Hail Mary.

Head referee Matt Austin ruled that the fourth quarter was over. But Saban challenged. Upon review, one second was added back, thanks in-part to CBS’ camera crew.

”To figure out the right picture, we needed something with the clock and his foot on the ground at the same time,” Danielson said. “And so we were able to do a split screen — because [of] all of the live looks, you couldn’t look at the clock and his foot and put it together until we put a split screen together.”

“The discussions during the review were more focused from the replay official to the CBS producer to ensure that the split screen was accurate and in perfect synchronization,” SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw said via email. “After this determination, the replay official communicated the decision to the referee ... and the clock was reset.”

”Fortunately, I had written down how many timeouts there were, where the ball was supposed to be placed,” Auburn scoreboard operator Richard Smith said. “So when they said please put one second back on the clock, I set that back up.”

Also, note which Auburn player forced Yeldon out of bounds in time: Chris Davis.

With one second on the clock, Alabama had a chance for one more play in regulation.

“Before the play, my number one comment when I realized they were going to try the field goal was one of surprise,” Danielson said. “I said ‘They’re gonna try and field goal?’ almost incredulous — in my mind the safer play was a Hail Mary.”

With two kickers at his disposal, Saban tapped Griffith. The redshirt freshman had made one of two kicks during the season, including a 30-yard field goal against Tennessee. He averaged 63 yards on kickoffs. Cade Foster, Bama’s other kicker, was 0-for-3 on the day.

“I had to wait for the kick,” Chris Davis told Sports Illustrated in 2015. “I couldn’t really tell where it was going. But soon I thought, I’ve got a chance. When I caught the ball, I tried to set up my return in one direction, because Alabama had a bunch of bigger guys on the field the other way. I tried to reverse it to our sideline, and all the blocking just fell into place.”

As the play unfolded beneath him, Bramblett wasn’t even certain the kick could be returned.

“This just goes to show you how stupid I was,” Bramblett said. “The thought didn’t even cross my mind that he could run it back. Well, my spotter who sits down to my left, hands me a Post-it Note with the words written on there: ‘He can run this back if it comes up short.’ So I’m like Ron Burgundy — I’ll read whatever you put on the teleprompter. And I read that verbatim. That’s where I got that. I was reading a Post-it Note, never thinking that it would actually happen.”

Alabama v Auburn
Davis starts returning Alabama’s short field goal out of the end zone.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Davis evaded the first attempt at a tackle near the 20-yard line.

“He starts to come towards our sideline,” Lashlee said. “And he’s coming with such speed, just his momentum, he literally almost swung out of bounds. And he just barely tip toes in bounds, and I remember seeing the holder, who was their punter, go flying by Chris. When I saw him flying by, I was like ‘Ooh, that guy almost got him.’”

“When [Davis] hit midfield, [play-by-play commentator] Rod goes ‘There goes Davis!’ and the only thing that came out of my mouth was, ‘Oh, my God!’” White said. “And you can hear that on the broadcast. And I’m saying it over and over.

“And this is why our engineer deserves an award. He can see that I’m starting to lose my mind. And what’s the analyst’s job? The analyst’s job is to analyze what happened or what may be about to happen, not describe what is happening. Well he could see that I was about to just describe what was happening in a fan nature. So he slowly starts dialing the volume down on my headset.”

“And I looked up in front of Chris, and there wasn’t a white jersey in front of him,” White said. “And I mean, I think at that point, everybody in the headsets was screaming, ‘He’s gonna score,’ And I literally just watched him right by me into the end zone. Literally the whole time you’re just like, ‘Don’t fall down.’”

Davis didn’t fall down. After 109 arcing yards, Auburn beat Alabama.

Alabama v Auburn
Davis begins to reach the end zone to complete the Kick Six.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

“You’re calling it wherever you’re on the field, the yard line,” Bramblett recalled. “He gets to midfield and everybody around me in the booth, it looks almost like they’re levitating.”

Auburn offensive lineman Avery Young summed it up:

“I think they show my expression more than they show the actual kick,” Young told AU Now in 2015. “Like, Chris Davis, he made that happen, I was just on the sidelines shocked.”

Bramblett managed to get a few more words out in the radio booth, but he still needed to listen to a playback of the call to know what he actually said.

“I’m not exaggerating one bit. I have no idea what I said on the Georgia catch. I had no idea what I said on the Kick Six,” Bramblett said. “I remember the beginning, and I remember the end. What I said and in what order in between, I really did not know on the Kick Six until I was on my way home listening to the radio. And I though ‘Wow, OK, that was a pretty good call.’”

“It’s why you do it,” he continued. “And the fact I got to do it for my alma mater and it meant so much that many people. Long after Stan and I are gone, that play and that call will be played over and over and over — it’s humbling.”

Absolute chaos ensued.

Almost immediately after Davis reached the end zone, fans began rushing the field.

Amid the crowd, Wolfson needed to track down Malzahn.

“I looked to my sideline producer, and I was like, ‘You go get Chris Davis, and I’ll get Malzahn,’” Wolfson said. “And we kind of split because you knew he [Malzahn] would be the easiest to find.

“So I just attacked. Again, [I’m] used to this — not as chaotic, but definitely used to trying to fight my way through to get an interview, and that’s exactly what I had to do. And kudos to the rest of our crew because we were all in the right spot.”

Unbeknownst to her, yet befitting the moment, Auburn’s mascot was crowd surfing right behind the interview.

“I didn’t prepare any questions for that moment,” Wolfson said. “You didn’t know what was going to happen. So you just have to go off of your gut and your knowledge of your game. And you say to yourself, ‘What do you wanna hear from him? What do you wanna get out of him?’ And so that’s how that mentality is when you’re in that environment surrounded by everyone.”

Alabama v Auburn
Davis is surrounded by Auburn fans that stormed the field after the victory.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Up next after wrangling Malzahn: Find Davis.

“You can’t let him go,” Wolfson said of the game’s final star. “And I remember as he was being carried on his shoulders, and I ran over and I was like, ‘Put him down! Put him down! We need an interview!’ And the guy looks at me and goes, ‘CBS needs an interview! Put him down!’”

“It’s funny because I worked with Verne Lundquist,” Wolfson continued. “And I would always say to him, ‘You have such history. You have so many moments you have in your memory of these crazy games,’ and we would talk about it all the time. And that was finally my moment.”

Alabama v Auburn
Fans swarm the field to celebrate the thrilling Iron Bowl victory.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In the aftermath of the game immediately known for “The Kick Six,” the defending champs dropped to No. 4 as Auburn moved up to No. 3.

The Tigers advanced to the SEC Championship against Missouri and later the national title game vs. Florida State. Alabama went on to lose to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl — further pushing Saban toward changing his long-held philosophy.

The Kick Six is awe-inspiring, romantic, and confounding. It’s much more than just a single play. It captures the beauty, awe, and chaos that encapsulates this sport. The second you think you’ve got college football figured out — boom — it figures out a way to knock you on your ass and remind you that you really knew nothing all along.

“I really don’t even think it hit us, for me, even until I got in the car going back to the hotel that we might’ve witnessed the ultimate finish in any game,” Danielson said. “Especially with the consequences that were attached to it, the rivalry, the excellence of the two teams, that it happened to Alabama.

“The whole thing combined, you just started thinking about, ‘Wow, we just witnessed something that, anyone who ever talks about college football again will tell the story about the Kick Six.’”

“You really had to remember what happened,” Lundquist told SB Nation in 2014. “Sammie Coates catches a touchdown pass with 37 seconds left to tie it again at 28, and then we all remember the finish: the craziness of whether Yeldon did or did not get out of bounds with one second left or not, and the time it took for the replay official to determine if there was one second to put back on the clock in the first place.

“More than anything, Nick [Saban]’s decisions, because he was disgusted with his senior field goal kicker to put a redshirt freshman from Poland out on the field to try a 56-yard field goal. The kid hit it pretty well.

“I think all those things that preceded the actual return by Chris Davis make it extremely unlikely that we’ll ever have a finish like that again.”