The former All-American corner is known as much for the trouble he caused for the Alabama football program as he is for his on-the-field play, but that matters little to this contributor.
As I recall, it was mid-November, 1992. Alabama football was in Starkville, Mississippi. It was, of course, a Saturday evening (though for some reason I convinced myself it was a Thursday for nearly 30 years). I was nine years old and avoiding bedtime.
(Bedtime was 8:30 back then, maybe 9:00 on a Saturday.)
My dad, a Tuscaloosa County native and ‘Bama grad, was obviously a major fan of the Crimson Tide. I remember friends of his occasionally coming over to the house on Saturdays to watch Alabama football games and I admired the camaraderie from afar. Still, I wasn’t that big of a college football fan.
That point in my life, I was a Michael Jordan fanatic and the Bulls were about to begin their second title defense in as many years. When it came to football, I enjoyed watching Joe Montana and the Niners, but Joe was on the back end of a stellar career.
Nothing was necessarily driving me to sit down that Saturday evening with my dad while he watched an undefeated Alabama football team take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Davis Wade Stadium. But I did.
For the better part of the first quarter, I was a little bored. I mean, it’s not like the Tide’s offense was all that exciting and I certainly didn’t clock the historic nature of the ’92 defense at the time. I thought about leaving.
Then, a football player in white with a No. 43 jersey ran up the middle on a State punt. It’s as if he materialized from the ether. One moment the punter had a clear shot to an awaiting David Palmer and the next, Antonio Langham was blocking it and returning it for a touchdown. It literally happened within the space of five seconds.
I was gobsmacked.
I’d never seen anything like it and the way Langham’s teammates all crowded around him in excitement as he shimmied in celebration. It shook me to my core.
I went to bed that night concerned when State had taken the lead late in the second half. The next morning, I remember waking up and immediately going downstairs to ask my dad who had won the game. I needed to know that Alabama football won.
My dad happily informed me that the Tide did, in fact, win. I was genuinely relieved.
That weekend, my love of Alabama football was born. And it was a punt block from a sophomore cornerback that birthed it.
Twelve days later, Langham broke a 0-0 tie midway through the third quarter of the Iron Bowl when he tipped a Stan White pass to himself for a 61-yard touchdown. Keith Jackson was pumped on the call!
Nine days after that, in what became not only the defining moment of Langham’s career, but the very instance that made the conference championship game in college football viable, Langham jumped a Shane Matthews pass and returned it for yet another touchdown, breaking a 21-21 tie in the inaugural SEC Championship Game.
Of course, Alabama would go on to throttle an undefeated Miami Hurricanes team in the Sugar Bowl to cap off a 13-0 national title-winning campaign. Langham had a decent game that night, but George Teague was the unquestioned star.
(Maybe it was selfish of me to expect Langham to score a fourth touchdown in as many games. Honestly, at that point, I was a kid and I genuinely thought that’s what corners were supposed to do.)
The next season, Langham’s third and final, I was able to watch him break the all-time Alabama football interception record in person! AND, he returned it for a touchdown. AND he was flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty for taking off his helmet after he scored. To this day, it’s the best sports moment I’ve witnessed in person.
Everything about it was perfect.
Alabama finished its 1993 season with a 9-3-1 record, but the NCAA stripped all but one victory due to Langham’s involvement with an agent the week of the Sugar Bowl against Miami. This on top of submitting an application to enter the NFL Draft during the season, all but solidified Langham’s ineligibility in November of 1993.
Still, he was awarded the Thorpe Award for the top defensive back in the country (Minkah Fitzpatrick is the only other Tide winner) in December of that same year and he would go on to be picked 9th by Cleveland in the 1994 draft. Then-Browns defensive coordinator Nick Saban was the one who pushed for Langham to be the choice.
All told, Langham tallied 19 career interceptions (a ‘Bama record that still holds to this day) to go along with three pick-sixes (a ‘Bama record tied in 2012 and broken in 2016).
I have three different Langham autographs from 1993 to go along with a jersey that was to be worn by him prior to his ineligibility (all arranged by my voracious grandmother).
To say that Antonio Langham is my favorite Alabama football player of all time would be an understatement. His playmaking ability is one of the two reasons I’m a Tide fan to this day.
He’s my favorite athlete period.