We’re making our way through the opening round of our quest to crown the greatest Alabama Crimson Tide football player of all time, and today’s matchup pits two greats from opposite sides of the ball. Cast your vote and send the better player to his second round matchup.
Stallings Division – D Line vs. O Line
Billy Neighbors (1959-1961)
Offensive Tackle – Northport, Ala.
6’1”, 210 lbs
Billy Neighbors holds the distinct honor of probably being the first star to play under renowned head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama, and the absolute first to be named an All-American, which he achieved in 1961 unanimously.
During that 1961 season, the Northport native helped lead the Crimson Tide to their sixth national championship in program history — the first of six won by Bryant during his coaching career at The Capstone.
Neighbors, who played in an era when playing on both sides of the ball was common, was the defensive captain of the 1961 national championship team as a defensive lineman. Alabama’s defense that year may very well be the greatest in team history, allowing only 132.6 yards and 2.2 points (25 points allowed for the whole season) per game.
In addition to being named a unanimous All-American as an offensive tackle, Neighbors also won the Jacobs Trophy in 1961 as the SEC’s best blocker.
In 2003, Neighbors was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. In addition, he was a member of Alabama’s 1960s team of the decade as both an offensive and defensive player along with being a member of the Tide’s Team of the Century.
Neighbors passed away last spring from a heart attack at Huntsville Hospital. He was 72.
John Copeland (1991-1992)
Defensive End – Lanett, Ala.
6’3”, 261 lbs
Career Statistics: 130 tackles (36.5 for loss), 17.5 sacks, 36 quarterback hurries
Along with fellow defensive end Eric Curry, John Copeland made up one half of possibly the greatest defensive end tandem in college football history.
Copeland arrived at The University of Alabama in 1991 after beginning his college career at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Miss., and his presence was immediately felt. After a 7-5 season the previous year in 1990, Copeland helped lead the Crimson Tide to an 11-1 season during his first season in 1991. He helped anchor a defense that allowed only four rushing touchdowns all season.
But it was the 1992 season where Copeland’s money was made, where as a unanimous All-SEC and a consensus All-American, he helped take the Tide one step further. That year the Tide finished the season as undefeated national champions following a 34-13 win over the Miami Hurricanes in the Sugar Bowl. In the process, the 13-0 Tide also defeated the Florida Gators in the first-ever SEC Championship game.
Copeland finished that season with 10.5 sacks, tying him for fourth all-time in the Alabama record book for sacks in a season along with Curry, who also had 10.5 sacks in 1992. His 21.5 tackles for loss rank him third all-time for a season in Tide history.
The No. 1 ranked Tide defense allowed only 660 total yards on the ground, including only 55.0 rushing yards per game and 1.67 rushing yards per play in 1992. As a defense, they gave up just 3.21 yards per play.