Doug Flutie welcomes him to the club.
No. 3 Auburn’s Davis turned in one of the most memorable plays of college football history with his 109-yard, last-play return of a missed field goal to beat No. 4 Alabama on Saturday. That comes with being long identified for a single play, like Hail Flutie.
“There’s no doubt that he’ll always be remembered,” Flutie said in a telephone interview. “I think the majority of the country are going to remember the great return in the Iron Bowl. I think people in Alabama are going to remember Chris Davis the rest of their lives.
“Whether it’s an Alabama or Auburn fan, or SEC fans in general, that’s what he’ll be remembered for. He could win Super Bowls and have a couple of interceptions and in their mind this is the crowning moment he’ll always be remembered for.”
Flutie knows. Nearly three decades later, the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner who went on to play in the CFL and NFL is still best remembered by millions of fans for his Hail Mary pass to Gerard Phelan to lift No. 8 Boston College over No. 12 Miami on Nov. 23, 1984.
But even Flutie believes this one was different.
The Tigers (11-1) earned a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game with the victory and remained in the national title race. It almost certainly ended Alabama’s bid for the first a historic third consecutive national championship.
“When you go back and look at my Hail Mary, there was really nothing riding on it,” Flutie said. “We had already accepted a Cotton Bowl bid. Miami already had a bowl bid. We were really just playing for fun.
“What made ours so big and what gave it so much attention was it was Thanksgiving weekend. I think it was the most watched game of the year and it was a time when we were the underdogs and everybody loved to hate Miami at that time. All those factors went into how big a deal was made out of that one.”
This Iron Bowl was the second-most watched game on CBS this season, behind Alabama-Texas A&M.
The Tigers had beaten Georgia on a deflected Hail Mary two weeks before the Iron Bowl. Davis, a cornerback and return man, then trumped Ricardo Louis’s catch in one of the biggest Auburn-Alabama games ever.
He was already one of the Tigers’ top defenders and the leading tackler. Davis had also scored on an 85-yard punt return against Tennessee.
Nice highlights, to be sure. But nothing compared to what was to come.
Davis, who was not made available for interviews this week, posted on Twitter Monday that he received a standing ovation in his geology class. He’d better get used to the extra attention.
Flutie said people still bring up Hail Flutie “well over once a day” on average. It’s a frequent icebreaker for people when they first meet him, and he tries to be gracious about it.
His advice to Davis: Just go with it.
“Don’t let it become routine,” Flutie said. “Go ahead and enjoy it. What the heck. This is the way I view it is, there’s a lot of guys that have had tremendous careers and within a couple of years after they’re done they’re forgotten about. At least you’re going to have that moment that people will remember.
“I won a Heisman and they still remember the Hail Mary over the Heisman.”
Flutie said he called Davis’ return while watching the Iron Bowl on TV. He routinely saw field goal attempts returned in the CFL because the rules give the offense a point if a miss isn’t run out of the end zone
So when officials restored one second to the clock after a T.J. Yeldon run set up Alabama’s 57-yard try, Flutie had an idea of what was coming.
“As soon as they put one second back on the clock, I turned to my wife and I said, ‘They’re going to try a really long field goal and this guy’s going to return it for a touchdown,” Flutie said.
Still, there was nothing routine about Davis’ effort. It was only the fourth time a 100-plus yard return has happened in college, according to NCAA records.
It also happened in a rivalry where fans remember certain plays for decades.
In the 1972 Iron Bowl, a one-loss Auburn team beat a previously undefeated Alabama team 17-16 when Bill Newton blocked two punts in the final minutes and David Langner returned both for touchdowns.
Langner still hears about it and said the name recognition helped him land jobs during his career. He lives in Tuscaloosa and coincidentally attended the same Birmingham high school as Davis.
“Forty years later, it’s every day,” Langner said. “Everybody remembers the name. They’re like, ‘I’ve heard that name.’ It’s just been part of my life since that day it happened, and it will be for that kid.”
Just on an even grander scale.
Langner figures that will be “the most remembered game in the history of Auburn.”