Photo courtesy of the Tucson Citizen|
Corky Simpson voted Alabama first in every Associated Press college football poll in 1992, but nobody joined him until the seasonís final set of rankings.
Voting for the Tide
As heís set to retire, Arizona columnist Corky Simpson recalls his part in Bamaís run to 1992 championship
Corky Simpson hasn't forgotten his friends in Alabama, and he says that every now and then, he gets a reminder that they haven't forgotten him.
If you remember Simpson, then you remember the 1992 college football season when Alabama won a national championship. Until the season's final rankings, nobody voted Gene Stallings' Crimson Tide first in The Associated Press poll, except for Simpson, an award-winning Tucson (Ariz.) Citizen columnist who put Alabama first on his preseason ballot and kept the Tide there all season.
After the season, the good-natured Simpson — who still seems to consider the whole adventure a little strange and a lot of fun — served as grand marshall for the championship parade in Tuscaloosa. The car in which he rode broke down, but Simpson simply got out and walked the rest of the route.
"I got to go to Alabama, meet a nice coach and meet some nice kids from the team," Simpson said recently from his home in Tucson. "I met a lot of other nice people in Alabama, too. ... I still hear from them once in a while. Every once in a while, I'll get a Christmas card or a letter out of the blue."
These days, Simpson, 68, still works at the Tucson Citizen. He started there in 1974 and earned a promotion to lead sports columnist in 1980. However, he announced in his July 21 column that he will retire Dec. 22.
He's not only revered by Alabama football fans. When the Arizona Associated Press Sports Editors began a state sports journalism hall of fame in 2003, Simpson was the initial inductee.
In recognition of his retirement, his newspaper is putting together a book of some of his best work, and Simpson said a committee of "about five or six people" are deciding what should go in it. The source material should be rich, considering he has covered the World Series, the Final Four, the Olympics, pro and college teams in Arizona and a variety of other events.
"I think even my wife has picked one or two columns for the book," he said, laughing, "but I hope Alabama gets mentioned in there somewhere."
His journey to the grand marshall of a Crimson Tide victory parade began in February of 1992. As a member of the Football Writers Association of America, he attended an NCAA football preview session in Kansas City.
Bill Lumpkin, then of The Post-Herald in Birmingham, made it to the session, too, and told Simpson that he should watch for Alabama, which went 11-1 the previous year.
"He told me that if Alabama beat Tennessee that year, they had a darn good chance of going all the way," Simpson said.
Simpson then looked for more information about Alabama and the more he read, the more he agreed with Lumpkin's sentiments.
"So I picked them," Simpson said. "It wasn't until the summer that I was asked to vote in the AP's weekly poll, but I kept picking them then, too."
Miami received attention as the favorite that year. The Hurricanes had won national titles in 1989 and '91 and went through 1992 unbeaten until losing to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Back then, Simpson had to call in his vote to the AP's main office in New York.
"Every time I'd call, the fellow I talked to would always say, 'Are you voting for Alabama again? They aren't half as good as Miami.' I have a stubborn streak, so that only made me more determined to vote for Alabama," Simpson said.
By about the fourth week of the season, Simpson was uncovered ... by me. At the time, AP didn't make the individual votes public, but someone in the New York office was willing to tell me who was voting Alabama first every week, providing that I wouldn't say how I found out.
I called Simpson and asked him if he was willing to say who he voted first in the poll. He answered, "Of course. I voted for Alabama."
THE DAILY published the story and then forwarded it along to the state AP, which released the story nationally. And the phone at Simpson's home and office didn't stop ringing the rest of the season.
"It was like Alice's adventure in Wonderland," Simpson said. "It seemed like I went on every talk show in the country, some of them multiple times. If you name a state, I talked to somebody there.
"New York City, Seattle — Pete Rose had a show in Miami at the time, and I was on it twice."
One day he arrived home to see an ESPN truck with a huge satellite dish parked in front of his house.
"Here I was, sitting in my living room talking to some ESPN guys about this," he said. "I didn't know my neighbors well, and I'm sure they thought it was a drug bust."
After the season, The University of Alabama invited him to the victory celebration, and he took time on his own to check out Tuscaloosa.
"I was walking around town and passed by something called The Houndstooth, a saloon," he said. "My picture had been in the paper, and somebody in the bar recognized me. He ran out and pulled me in.
"Everybody there wanted to buy me a beer, but I kept thinking how it would look if I let them do that. I would've passed out, and they would've had to carry me out of there," he added, laughing. "I had to say, 'Thanks, but I don't drink.' "
He never voted in the AP poll again.
He said he sent a letter to an AP editor, saying that he enjoyed the experience, but "I wanted to retire undefeated."
However, another news source reported that AP had removed him from the poll. Simpson said that wasn't true.
"A lot of people contacted me after reading that, including some in Alabama, saying how badly they felt for me," he said. "When our publisher heard about it, he fired off a couple of angry letters, and the international AP president sent me a letter apologizing for the report.
"So whenever anybody asks about it, I can pull out that letter," he added, laughing.
He last talked to Stallings in 1996, the coach's last year at Alabama. Simpson served as president of the Football Writers Association of America that season and covered the Crimson Tide's loss at Tennessee.
"I wanted to go to an Alabama home game, but I couldn't work it out," he said. "So I saw them at Tennessee."
He returned to Alabama in 1997 when he covered the Arizona basketball team in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats played in Birmingham for the region semifinals and finals, beating Kansas and Providence. They won the national title, beating North Carolina and Kentucky. Simpson said that covering that NCAA tournament remains a career highlight.
Simpson still seems like the same gentle person he was in 1992 when THE DAILY first contacted him.
After the Sugar Bowl that Alabama won, the AP asked Simpson to write a column that it moved over its wire service. He made certain to mention THE DAILY and me, prompting a few phone calls from friends around the country, saying, "Did you know that you're mentioned in my paper?"
He never has seemed to take the sudden national attention over his AP vote as anything more than it was.
He still emphasizes, "I didn't do anything. It didn't take any skill."
"People in Alabama were asking me for my autograph," he said. "I didn't even have an autograph. I had to come up with one."
Now, 14 years later, he says, "If that year proved anything to me, it was the fallacy of the polls. They're a lot of fun, but they mean nothing. It's fun to follow the teams, but they're not that important."
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