On the 20th anniversary of UCF's win at Alabama, many memories come to mind.
It was my 6th season calling games for the Knights and I had witnessed the many close calls in games at Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss and that first half at Nebraska. But UCF never enjoyed victory in those games. One play or a bizarre officiating call turned an upset into a depressing loss.
That day in Tuscaloosa felt different.That Alabama team was reeling with a losing record, a coach everyone knew was not coming back and a team that played like they knew he was going to be fired.
Ryan Schneider engineered that game winning drive and moved his team down the field before Javier Beorlegui kicked a 37-yard field goal to give UCF the long awaited big win over a brand name.
I remember much about that day. I remember the stadium, the crowd, the big plays UCF made to take the lead and then rally back. I remember the poise of quarterback Ryan Schneider on that final drive. I remember the long wait before the snap before the game winning kick. Heck, I remember the wild kickoff return by Alabama before the final whistle was blown and I remember the joy on the flight back.
But I also remember glancing over the booth to my left at Bryant-Denny Stadium after the field goal went through the uprights. I remember looking at Steve Sloan. Sloan was full of emotions but just stood there watching with a sneaky smile on his face. We made eye contact as I was trying to describe the scene on the field and yet I saw a man who had mixed emotions but was full of black and gold joy.
Sloan was the athletic director at UCF and knew the importance of this win. After all, no one knew about the financial struggles of an athletic program that needed to take any money game they could. Sloan played at Alabama for the great Bear Bryant. He coached under the Bear and he would later return to his alma mater to serve as their athletic director. The ending in Tuscaloosa was not pretty for Sloan and many felt one of their own got a raw deal when he was basically run out of town.
When Sloan took the AD job at UCF in 1993, the Knights' football program was a few years removed from Division II. There was no money and facilities were not even sub-par in most cases. UCF's athletic department was basically funded by a few local supporters, like Wayne Densch, to keep it afloat.
Sloan had no choice but to take any money game he could. Then President John Hitt took a gamble believing in Sloan's vision that UCF could indeed compete at the Division One level and that in time football would not only pay for itself, but it would pay for the other athletic teams and it could be a brand building force for a thriving university that was set to explode.
On this day, 20 years ago, Sloan returned to a stadium that had so many special memories. He came to Alabama and backed up Joe Namath. He would go on to win a national title in 1965. Now, he brought an upstart football program into the house he knew well.
Sloan took no credit in the win that day, because that's who Steve Sloan is. The win that day did not solve all of UCF's budget issues. But on that Saturday afternoon Steve Sloan had reason to smile. And I remember that moment looking over when his grin said so much without saying a word...
Final thought: Pepperoni is an American invention. Dating back to 1919, pepperoni is a type of salami combining pork and beef.