TUSCALOOSA — An 11-year-old Brian Robinson Jr. was on the edge of his couch in his family’s living room, eyes glued to the TV screen as his Alabama hosted top-ranked LSU in what was billed as the latest and greatest “Game of the Century.”
It was 1-versus-2 between bitter conference rivals in the midst of a contest in futility where defense reigned and points were at a premium.
For Robinson — still five years away from realizing his dream of one day playing for his hometown team — the memory of that 9-6 overtime loss to No. 1 LSU remains an indelible moment in time.
It's at least part of why the Crimson Tide junior running back will be playing in this season’s latest edition of the SEC West series as No. 2 LSU (8-0, 4-0 SEC) faces No. 3 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) in one of the most anticipated games of the season (2:30 p.m. on CBS).
“It was the atmosphere, how many people were tuned into that game, the outcome of the game,” Robinson said last week. “It was a great game. For the future prospects and recruits watching (like myself, there was a feeling of) wanting to be a part of that atmosphere.”
While Robinson was watching in from his living room, a 35-year-old Kirby Smart was in the midst of the action inside a packed Bryant-Denny Stadium, experiencing every jaw-rattling hit that his Crimson Tide defenders were laying in what amounted to a heavyweight bout on turf.
“It was probably one of the most physical games I’ve ever got to witness,” the former Alabama defensive coordinator and current Georgia head coach said last week. “That was still during the LSU two-back run era, and there were a lot of iso and leads, and we had some big linebackers at Alabama back then and there were some major collisions in there. … It was like a dinosaur game nowadays — 9-6 or whatever it was, that just doesn’t happen anymore.”
That game was viewed by many as a battle for SEC West supremacy and a ticket to the conference championship game, but also a potential path to not only play in but win that season’s BCS National Championship game.
“This was seen as that stepping stone that would either make or break us,” recalled former Alabama kicker Jeremy Shelley, who combined with teammate Cade Foster to miss four of their six field goal opportunities in the 3-point loss.
“So going into the game, that was kind of the feel, that this was it — this is the national championship. It’s 1 versus 2, right? These look like the best teams in the nation. So preparation-wise, and inside the building, all the focus was on that (game).”
And while Alabama head coach Nick Saban is known for his ability to block most outside distractions from infiltrating the Tide locker room, there were influences surrounding the “Game of the Century” that were unavoidable.
“For me personally, I definitely had the recognition that the game was the level of game that it was going to be,” Shelley said. “With ESPN calling it the ‘Game of the Century’ and everything like that, it’s really hard to really ignore the impact that that game was going to have on college football, on the season and of course personally on the team.”
Which is what made the result truly disappointing for everyone pulling for the Tide in that game.
“Coming out of that game was very difficult,” Shelley recalled. “That next week, … and more so throughout the rest of the year before we had a shot at redemption, it really was a heavy feeling, a frustrating thing not seeing some of those kicks fall.”
There would be a shot at redemption, and that 2011 Alabama team would ultimately prove to be the best in the nation that season after a series of upsets around college football granted the Tide a second chance in the all-SEC BCS national championship game, which Alabama dominated, 21-0, for its second title under Saban.