Antonio Langham and Sunny King Charity Classic playing partner Terry Reese have a plan, and it makes sense, given Reese’s golfing ability and Langham’s history of gambles turned golden.
“You keep it in the fairway,” Langham said with a laugh, “and I’ll just swing away and see what happens.”
Sounds like a plan for the former Alabama defensive back whose risk-taking produced the interception that ESPN called “The Play That Changed College Football.”
Langham’s historic snag and runback against Florida in the 1992 SEC Championship Game and NFL career, spent partly under the guidance of then-Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Nick Saban, mean star power for the signature Calhoun County golfing event, which raised a record $140,000 for nearly 30 area charities in 2018.
Langham will be one of 422 players, spread over 211 two-person tandems, sweating it out and dodging rain over Anniston Country Club, Cider Ridge and Silver Lakes today through Sunday. Then again, he’s Antonio Langham, whose fame runs right down to his cell-phone number.
Yes, the cell-provider clerk recognized him and had an inspiration.
“He said, ‘You’re probably going to like this,’” Langham said.
Area codes and prefixes changed since then, but the last four numbers never have … 4343.
It’s not been the luckiest of numbers for defensive backs. Just ask New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams, who suffered the “Minneapolis Miracle” in the 2017 playoffs. Former Minnesota Vikings cornerback Nate Wright suffered Drew Pearson’s acknowledged nudge and “Hail Mary” touchdown catch in the 1975 playoffs.
Then again, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu wore it well through a highly decorated, 12-year NFL career. Langham wore 43 all the way to the end zone, 27 yards, after stepping in front of Shane Matthews’ pass to Monty Duncan in 1992.
The game was tied 21-21 with 3:16 to play. Florida had rallied from a 21-7 hole and had momentum. Alabama, the unbeaten team, saw its national title hopes teetering.
Meanwhile, then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer and others who conceived the SEC’s new divisional format, culminating in a league championship game, saw every critic’s worst fear developing. Alabama might lose the extra game they said could derail a national champion.
Langham saw a day’s worth then-Florida coach Steve Spurrier’s play calling. Langham saw spread formations with four wide receivers and combination routes, designed to make Alabama’s cover-2 scheme respect the deep ball. Matthews dinked and dunked for five, six, seven yards to keep Florida moving the chains.
Langham risked everything.
“People always say cornerbacks sometimes have to be riverboat gamblers,” Langham said. “I put my gambling skills to the test.
“I was either going to have a full house, or I was going to fold that day.”
Langham cutoff Matthews’ dump-off pass and found nothing but green between himself and the goal line. Alabama won 28-21 and went on to throttle Miami in the Sugar Bowl, making the Tide’s case to finish No. 1.
The play became the subject of a 2011 ESPN documentary, “SEC Storied: The Play That Changed College Football.”
After changing college football, Langham won the Jim Thorpe and Jack Tatum awards in 1993. Saban convinced then-Browns coach Bill Belichick to draft Langham in the first round in 1994, launching a seven-season NFL career.
Long before Alabama fans came to find reassurance, even endearment, in Saban’s sideline scoldings and headphone slams, Langham experienced Saban up close.
“If he decided you was the one he wanted to pick on that day, he rode you the whole day,” Langham said. “He would have you so mad at him that you wanted to fight him.
“You learned, at the end of the day, that he was only testing you. He was trying to see if he had him a warrior or somebody who was going to quit on him when the going got tough.”
Langham said he remains closest to former Alabama defensive coordinator Bill Oliver, calling him “my guy.”
“A lot of the guys always kid me, telling me I was his prodigal son,” Langham said. “They say, ‘Everybody else could do wrong, but you could do no wrong.’”
Oliver came to know Langham’s personal story after Langham arrived at Alabama. A newspaper story detailed the death of Langham’s father, Willie James McCoy Jr., from injuries in an automobile accident.
Langham was 16 months old when his dad died.
Oliver “read the article, and he called me to his office,” Langham said. “He said, ‘You know, son, my father always told me that you never really become a man until you lose your father.’ He said, ‘Now, it explains to me why you are the way that you are.’
“It just went from there, and we’ve been very close since then.”
Langham laughs when asked to ponder what Oliver would’ve said over the headphones, had Langham’s gamble against Florida failed. Langham mimicked Oliver’s high voice, when the coach got animated.
“That high-pitched voice of his, he would’ve said, ‘Hey! Do your job and stop trying to be the man!’” Langham said.
As it was, sideline headset chatter revolved around getting ready for the defense’s next call to the field. Oliver said little about Langham’s play.
“The only words I think I heard from him were, ‘I love ya son,’” Langham said.
Nearly 27 years later, Langham, 46, coaches defensive backs, volunteering under head coach and former Alabama quarterback Andrew Zow at Bessemer City. The Town Creek native also works as co-host on former Alabama quarterback Jay Barker’s statewide radio show, the Jay Barker Show, which airs noon-2 p.m. on WKLS-105.9 FM.
Langham has done commercials for Sunny King and will play in the tournament at the invitation of Tony Russell, general manager.
It’s not the first time Russell pitched Langham. Russell, who played wide receiver, hosted Langham on his recruiting visit to Auburn in 1990.
“Tony did a good job convincing me to come to Auburn,” Langham said. “At the last minute, things happened. Alabama showed up late, and I already had four cousins at Alabama.”
Langham knows Reese, a long-suffering Browns fan, through Sunny King, as well. Between the two, Reese is the golfer. As for Langham’s handicap?
“When it comes to golf, I have a lot of handicaps,” he said.
"The goal for us is for me to be Coach Saban and for Terry to be Tua,” Langham said with a chuckle. “I’ll coach Terry up, and Terry will make all the shots.
“We’ll call our team the Nick & Tua Show.”