Former Alabama receiver Tyrone Prothro is known for two things: a remarkable catch against Southern Miss and a gruesome injury against Florida that ended his career. Now he’s giving back to the game by investing in kids at a high school in Alabama.
Nearly 14 years have passed since “The Catch,” but Tyrone Prothro still can’t totally explain how it happened. Prior to that famous play, Southern Miss had Alabama on the ropes 21-10 as the second quarter’s final moments ticked away, and the Tide was in dire need of a momentum shift.
It was September 10, 2005, at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Tide crowd wasn’t pleased with what it had seen so far, but had no clue it was about to witness history. On fourth-and-13 on USM’s 49 with only 29 seconds until halftime, coach Mike Shula decided to go for it. Of course, he wanted the ball to find its way into the hands of his most trusted receiver.
“The play call we had kind of put a couple of us on 1-on-1s,” Prothro explained, “and basically left me alone with a safety. Brodie [Croyle] just threw it up and gave me an opportunity to make a play. So, I just put my hands up, basically the same way I would have if nobody was standing there. And the defensive back just happened to be standing there in between my hands.”
Golden Eagle safety Jasper Faulk did happen to be standing there, unaware he was about to be on the wrong side of history. But his presence didn’t stop Prothro from being Prothro. No. 4 made an acrobatic play when he reached around the back of Faulk to secure the iconic, 42-yard catch, trapping Faulk in a bear hug as the two rolled into the end zone.
“It was just one of those plays you can’t fully explain,” Prothro said. “It just happened. And after it happened, I just looked back and thought ‘how did that happen?’”
The much-needed reception led to a touchdown on the next play and helped the Tide come back to defeat Southern Miss 30-21. To this day, you can find a Daniel Moore painting of “The Catch” in just about every barbecue joint and Tide fan’s office in the state. Prothro was awarded “Best Play” at the 2006 ESPY Awards and the Pontiac Game Changing Award of the Year.
But unfortunately, Prothro’s world would soon come crashing down around him.
A few games later, a 4-0 Alabama welcomed No. 5 Florida to Tuscaloosa. The Gators were an overwhelming favorite, but the Tide couldn’t be intimidated.
“I could tell when I woke up that morning that there was just something special about that day,” Prothro recalled with a humble smile. “As the game unfolded, it unfolded like we thought it would. We didn’t have any doubts. We knew what we could do offensively and defensively. It was just a matter of going out and executing.”
With 5 receptions for 134 yards, two touchdowns, and a 63-yard punt return that was nullified by a penalty, Prothro was having the game of his life.
“I kind of felt like it was my coming out party,” Prothro said.
The Gators could not get anything going offensively and struggled defensively to stop the explosive Tide. Bryant-Denny was rocking, the loudest crowd Prothro claims he ever heard.
Then, with 8:53 left in the game, a terrible silence fell across the Capstone.
On fourth-and-5 with a 31-3 lead, the Tide elected to take a shot at the end zone.
“What a lot of people probably don’t realize,” Prothro explained, “is that was probably our starters’ last play of that game. We took a timeout to figure out if we were going to kick a field goal or go for it. We made the decision to go for it. The play was nothing unusual. I had jumped up like that hundreds of times before, but it just so happened to be on that play the injury happened.”
The ball spiraled just above Prothro. With a leap into the end zone, he seemingly caught it for what was sure to be another touchdown. But as he landed, his left leg snapped in what is considered one of the most gruesome injuries in sports history. The ball fell out of his hands. And the extraordinary win was forever scarred by a horrific moment.
Fingers immediately pointed at Shula, with critics claiming Prothro and other starters should have been pulled before the play since the Tide was leading by four touchdowns that late in the game. But Prothro disagrees and still defends his former coach’s decision.
“Coach Shula was a great coach to me, and he’s a great man,” Prothro said. “I can call him if I ever need help with anything, and he’ll answer. So, when I hear people blame him, it kind of ticks me off. Because being an athlete and realizing the magnitude of that game and the atmosphere with it, you don’t want to come out of that game. I just feel like none of that blame is necessary because it’s just one of those things that happens, and I’m a firm believer that God has a plan for everybody.”
This belief in God’s plan has helped Prothro grow as a person and kept him grounded despite never being able to play another down of football. After 14 years, 12 surgeries, and plenty of soul searching, Prothro now looks back at the career-ending injury as a blessing in disguise. Though he may not have had a glamorous life in the NFL, Prothro has everything he needs in Tuscaloosa, where he still lives.
“In September, I will have been married for three years,” said Prothro. “I have a 5-year-old and another on the way. So, I just try every day to be the best father and man I can be to my family. I want to be the best I can be no matter what I’m doing. Whether its coaching or bagging groceries at a store or taking orders at a restaurant, I want to be the best Tyrone I can be. I will work my fingers to the bone so that my kids and my wife never have to struggle.”
Hopefully, though, Prothro will get to keep the skin on his fingers at Jasper High School, where he now coaches receivers. He’s thankful for the job he has, even if he must trek more than an hour each morning to work.
“Jasper has been behind me since Day One,” Prothro proudly explained. “The love and support I’ve been shown by the community, the superintendent, the school board, the coaching staff, has all been tremendous. It’s not one of those situations where a school just needs to hire another coach and takes whoever they can get. They want me here, and they want to keep me here. Me and my family feel blessed knowing I’m somewhere I’m wanted.”
These days, you can catch Prothro in the Jasper High field house, coaching up kids on football and life. He finds that the two go hand-in-hand.
“The reason I coach is to influence kids,” Prothro said. “I use my example to coach these players up to play the game the right way, with heart. A lot of these kids grew up in single-parent homes like I did, so I share my experiences with them and help lead them on the right path by teaching them about hard work and dedication and what the benefits of that can be.”
Perhaps no one better understands the importance of hard work and dedication than Prothro. Though he will always be remembered as an Alabama great on the field, there is much more to the man than just “The Catch” and the injury off it. The people who know him know he is a humble and kind-hearted man who would do just about anything for anyone.
“I guess I’m just the type of person that will always try to be humble and keep God first in everything I do,” Prothro said, “because I know who got me to where I am. I didn’t make it to the league, but I live a pretty good life. That’s all anyone can ask for.”
If there’s one thing Prothro wants the world to take away from his story, it’s that the obstacles life throws at you are all for a reason. Adversity will make you stronger, smarter, and more grateful for what you already have.
“There’s nothing too big for God,” Prothro said. “You can always overcome whatever you’re going through. There’s always a way.”
It’s fair to say that Prothro is living proof of that. H&A
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All photos by Al Blanton