A four-sport athlete during his time at Alexandria High School, Mike Tucker impressed Paul “Bear” Bryant even more with the “intangibles” he brought to his time at the University of Alabama.
In an Anniston Star interview in the spring of 1978, the legendary Alabama head coach described Tucker as a “team man, unselfish, and a terrific player.” He went on to say, “(Tucker) is not very large in stature, but bigness is in the heart and he’s got plenty of that.”
As a senior in the fall of 1972, and a first-year quarterback, Tucker led Alexandria to its first football playoff appearance. Eight teams in each of four classes made the playoffs that year and Alexandria was rated No. 7. The underdog Valley Cubs defeated Lauderdale County in the quarterfinals before being eliminated by eventual state champion Oneonta and finishing 10-2. Tucker earned first-team All-County recognition at quarterback, and honorable mention on the Birmingham News’ Class 1A-2A All-State team.
The football field wasn’t the only place Tucker succeeded. He was selected All-Calhoun County basketball tournament in the small-school division. In addition, he was all-area and played in the AHSAA North-South basketball game. Tucker was also a three-year letterman in both baseball and track for the Cubs.
“It was kind of busy,” Tucker said. “At the time, Alexandria was considered a small school so the only baseball games we really played were during the county tournament. I got to play a lot of football and basketball games during my time at the JUCO level.”
Coming out of Alexandria, Tucker received both football and basketball scholarships from Marion Military Institute where he lettered in football, basketball, and track.
“At the time I was at Alexandria, coach Bryant told coach (Lou) Scales he wasn’t trying to recruit a small, 160-pound quarterback,” Tucker recalled. “After that, I felt like I had to prove to Alabama I could play, and that’s what happened when I went to Marion, and I think they saw I could play.”
Tucker’s football career at Marion lasted just the 1973 season. In the spring of 1974, Marion Institute announced it would discontinue football. That’s when Alabama assistant Curly Hallman spotted Tucker running in a track meet and offered the football scholarship that had been his dream.
“It felt like a sense of acceptance,” he said. “I was actually in the process of taking an official visit down to the University of Southern Mississippi and when coach Hallman found out he got in touch with my coach at Marion, who met with me in the office. That’s when coach Hallman offered me over the phone, and I accepted.
“After that, he drove up to pick me up, and we rode home so I could sign with my mom and coach Lou Scales.”
Tucker made the most of his time in Tuscaloosa. He was a three-year letterman at cornerback and led the team in interceptions each of his final two years. During his senior year, he was a second-team All-SEC and first-team Academic All-SEC.
He made a habit playing his best at crucial times. As a junior against Auburn, Tucker caused a fumble that set the stage for the first touchdown of Alabama’s 38-7 win. He also intercepted Tiger quarterback Phil Gargis twice.
Early in Tucker’s senior season, the Crimson Tide was clinging to a 7-3 lead in the third quarter against Southern California when Tucker tackled USC tailback Charles White for a 5-yard loss on a third-and-goal play from the Alabama 1-yard line. The Trojans settled for a field goal and Alabama eventually won 21-20.
Tucker and Ozzie Newsome, current general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, were elected permanent captains for the ’77 team by their teammates.
“I played with a lot of outstanding players at Alabama,” Tucker said. “Ozzie was one of the best wide receivers in Alabama history. Since we ran the ‘Wishbone’ offense, it was difficult for defenses to cover him.”