Tide pride: Atmore natives, former Bama players talk about national title game

Published 5:47 pm Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Alabama Crimson Tide have featured several players from Atmore and Monday the team will play for its 15th national title.

If the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide beats Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Monday night, many of the Tide’s current players will know how two Atmore area natives feel.

McCullough native Don McNeal won two straight national titles as a defensive back for the Tide under Bear Bryant in 1978 and 1979 before playing 10 years for the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League.

“It was a great feeling,” McNeal said. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”

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Atmore native Jeff Torrence played linebacker for the 1992 National Championship team under Gene Stallings.

“It was awesome,” Torrence said. “It was a great experience. Anytime you’re playing with those stakes on the line at Alabama it’s special.
“It was a great feeling,” he said. “I had an opportunity to be part of history.”

Torrence said he’s been really impressed with the coaching job of Alabama’s Nick Saban and that a win Monday gives him three championships in four years.

“All of the teams have been well coached,” Torrence said. “They are all good players.”

McNeal said Saban is like Bryant in the way his players respect him.

“Everyone plays for him,” McNeal said. “The man works hard and he cares for his players. Coach Bryant was the same way.”

As far as the teams go, McNeal believes the defense he played for in 1979 was a little stronger than the current one. He said he remembers shutting out LSU in a game that ended 3-0 as part of the perfect season.

“We didn’t let them cross the 50-yard line because we knew they had a great kicker,” he said.

Torrence said today’s linebackers are bigger and stronger than when he was in school.

“It’s quite a bit of a difference,” he said.

McNeal, a 1976 Escambia County High School graduate, expects the Crimson Tide to beat the Fighting Irish Monday night because of something instilled in him by Bryant.

“We expect to win,” McNeal said. “We expect to be the best. Notre Dame has a great team and a great coach, but ‘Bama is greater.”
After college, McNeal was drafted by the Dolphins in the first round. He has two Super Bowl appearances.

While he learned a lot from his coaches, McNeal attributes much of his success to his father, Henry McNeal, as well as his six sisters and four brothers.

McNeal is a minister in Miami and a public speaker for Sports World Ministry.

Torrence, the son of Cornell and Mavis Torrence, is an assistant principal at Coppinville Junior High School in Enterprise.

The current incarnation of the Alabama Crimson Tide will set out to prove their former players correct Monday in the Discover BCS National Championship game set to take place in Sun Life Stadium in Miami.