A memorable career for Paul Ott Carruth
by Erich Hilkert
Paul Ott Carruth had a memorable football career, but for Alabama fans, he will always be remembered for the 1984 Iron Bowl in which he was the only Alabama player to score a touchdown — and scored two no less. Alabama ended up winning the game 17-15 in an otherwise unmemorable 5-6 season.

“It’s amazing how usually something happens in that particular game each year that people will remember a long time,” Carruth said. “Of course, that was also the ‘Wrong Way Bo’ (Jackson) game, but (people) mostly (remember) that game and running over the defensive back for a touchdown.”

Former Alabama tight end and teammate Jay Grogan remembers the game well.

“I was on the sideline for the game, and I know he had a great game that particular game,” Grogan said. “It was as if he wasn’t going to be denied. He played his heart out trying to win and that game we did win.”

Throughout three full seasons at Alabama, he finished with 18 total touchdowns, with 14 rushing touchdowns, three receiving touchdowns and one passing touchdown. He had 277 carries for 1336 yards and 23 receptions for 257 yards for 1593 all-purpose yards.

Another memorable game for Carruth at Alabama came as he scored the opening touchdown in the 1981 Iron Bowl, a 28-17 win that put Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant at the top of the all-time wins column at that time with win no. 315.

The Summit, Miss., native won Mr. Football for the state of Mississippi his senior of high school while playing quarterback at Park Lane Academy. Carruth played for Bryant in 1981 and 1982 at halfback. Alabama made it to the Cotton Bowl in 1981 and won the Liberty Bowl in 1982 to send Bryant out as a winner.

Bryant had called Carruth’s mother, Alberta, at the hospital every Sunday when she had cancer, and Carruth was later one of the eight Alabama players to carry Bryant’s casket.

“My junior year was his last year,” Carruth said. “He came and signed me at my high school. It was just a real special time. He’s a big part of who I am.”

While the next two years proved to be challenging for Carruth, he left his mark by becoming a leader during a difficult time of transition for Alabama football.

During the final spring practice in coach Ray Perkins’ first season as head coach, Carruth injured his knee with only 5 minutes remaining. The injury was bad enough to require surgery, which forced Carruth to sit out the 1983 season.

“I rehabbed and came back for my fifth year in ’84,” Carruth recounted. “We had a lot of young guys and he kind of moved that way — playing younger guys. We lost a lot of close games. It was a very difficult year. Any losing season would be difficult but especially at Alabama. But I will say that probably one of the things I’m most proud of is being elected a captain that year. Usually when things are going good or easy, a lot of people can be leaders then or appear to be leaders then. It’s usually when things are tough and hard and difficult that people start hiding. To have been thought of as a leader by my teammates — it’s voted on by teammates — that was very special. That, and you have your handprint and footprint at Denny Chimes — that’s going to be there a long time.”

In addition to being co-captain of the 1984 team, Carruth also earned second team All-SEC honors, ranked third in the conference in touchdowns from scrimmage (11) and led the team to its signature win of the season in the Iron Bowl.

Grogan, a former standout at Pell City and son of former Munford head coach Gerald Grogan, remembers Carruth more for his style of play than any single game.

“Paul seemed like the old-fashioned style,” Grogan said. “You could always count on him. He was going to play as hard at practice as he does in the game. He was not one of those types of guys who would skimp at practice and be a game player.”

Grogan believes most of Carruth’s former teammates would remember him for how he gave everything he had to the game of football.

“Paul was just a hard worker, a hard-nosed guy,” Grogan said. “He always gave 110 percent. He never left anything on the field. He was just a very hard worker, and he made the most of every opportunity he had. He was very talented. I think where a lot of guys would be style over substance he would be substance over style.”

Carruth, who is currently vice president of McCullough Oil Company in Trussville, met his wife, Lindsey, while at the University of Alabama. Her family owned property in Pell City and he has enjoyed the area since that time.

“I grew up in Mississippi on a lake in a small town,” Carruth said. “(Pell City) reminds me of where I grew up a lot. Of course, the lake I grew up on wasn’t nearly as big as Logan Martin. It was probably about the same size town as Pell City. I just like the area and coming to Logan Martin. I’ve been coming up to Logan Martin since I was in college.”

Following his time at the University of Alabama, Carruth received an invitation to the 1985 Senior Bowl in Mobile.

“I got down there and Forrest Gregg was our coach,” Carruth said. “They have pro teams’ coaches, so the Green Bay staff was our coach that week. I got down there and coach Gregg came up to me that first day and he said, ‘I want you back. I want you returning punts and kickoffs.’ He said, ‘You break tackles and generally that’s what you need on punts and kickoffs.’ I said, ‘Yes sir!’ I was just glad he knew who I was.”

Aside from special teams, Carruth was able to catch the eyes of coaches by making a strategic position change.

“That week I got to looking around that first day, and we had a lot of halfbacks and only one fullback and it was my teammate,” Carruth said. “It was Ricky Moore. I said, ‘You know what? I think I’m going to play fullback this week.’ So, I moved to fullback that week and got to obviously play more because it was just me and him. We weren’t sharing the time with so many folks and I got the opportunity to do a few things in that game.”

Carruth did more than “a few things”; he earned MVP of the Senior Bowl that year for his performance, which included a reception for a touchdown and a long punt return.

Following the Senior Bowl, Carruth signed with the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL for the 1985 season.

“It was a good year; it was a little tough because it was in the spring and I had already played a whole college season, two all-star games, and then went straight into it,” Carruth said. “I think we had two preseason games, 18 regular season games and then we played in the playoffs, got to the semifinals. I don’t know how many games it was in a row. That was probably the only time in life when I was tired of football. I played two straight seasons back-to-back.”

The USFL folded following the season, but Carruth had made enough of an impression on the Green Bay Packers coaching staff to receive a call to come play for them.

The 6-1, 220 lb. fullback played three seasons with the Packers and one season with the Chiefs for a total of 45 games with 22 starts.

In his rookie season, he had 308 rushing yards and 134 receiving yards for 442 all-purpose yards while receiving 12 starts and scoring four touchdowns.

Carruth also ran into a tense situation early in his rookie year, as the NFL only allowed teams to carry two quarterbacks on the active roster.

“I had played quarterback in high school, got demoted to halfback in college, and got demoted to fullback in the pros,” Carruth joked. “They called me the emergency quarterback and I called myself the disaster quarterback because it was going to be a disaster if I had to play quarterback. The fourth game of the season, we were playing the Vikings. I had played on special teams, but I hadn’t played from scrimmage yet at fullback. Our quarterback gets a virus — I mean before the game he’s throwing up, he passes out in the locker room, he can’t even come out for warm-ups.”

That forced Carruth to go through warm-ups at the quarterback position as the backup quarterback. Vince Ferragamo, who had at one time been a standout quarterback with the Rams, was the team’s regular backup and got the start.

“He gets sacked and he goes one way, his helmet goes the other way and I’m sitting there, ‘Get up Vince! Get up!’ I was sitting there thinking my first play in the NFL from scrimmage is going to be at quarterback,” Carruth said. “He got up, went over there, put his helmet on, and went back in the huddle. The next series or so I got to go in at fullback and kind of moved on in to the starting role pretty quick and enjoyed it. It was quite an experience playing against guys you had watched growing up. One guy on our team — he was in the NFL when I was in the eighth grade. It’s quite different when you get to the pros.”

Later in the season, Carruth hoped he would get a crack at playing quarterback.

“We were playing Tampa and we were ahead a pretty good bit,” Carruth said. “I actually begged coach Gregg to let me go in and play quarterback. He said, “Nah, nah, nah. We’ve got to play these guys again later in the season. I don’t want to rub anything in.’ In ’87, I was the only player in the league to catch a touchdown, throw a touchdown and rush for a touchdown. So I did throw a touchdown pass.”

Carruth, like so many NFL players, had a short career because of injuries.

“That’s the reason that I retired: my neck was hurting so bad,” Carruth said. “They can fix knees and shoulders; they can’t fix your neck. At the time, I thought it was a terrible thing but now that I look back it was a blessing in disguise. If I would’ve kept playing, I’d be in a lot worse shape physically than I am now.”

In spite of multiple injuries, Carruth finished with an accomplished career.

“If you’re going to talk about being injured, you’ve got to flip it over to the other side: I could have been injured so bad the first day I walked out there and never played again and wouldn’t know that I could’ve played in the SEC and wouldn’t know that I could’ve played in the NFL,” he said. “So I was very fortunate and blessed that I wasn’t hurt so bad that I couldn’t play.”
© 2013