Friday Football Fever: Mike London’s Legend: Kendall Alley
By Mike London
The national economy is wheezing like a spent marathon runner, and Kendall Alley, president of Wachovia Atlanta, faces tough decisions daily.
But Alley remembers going over the middle to catch passes for Clemson’s 1981 national champions, and those ACC linebackers were also pretty tough.
“It is tough now, with everybody at risk,” Alley said. “But I’ve been hit in the mouth before, and I’ve learned to hitch my pants up and keep going.”
Alley began high school at North Rowan as a southpaw quarterback. North coaches made a tough decision that changed his life in 1977.
“I know I was tired of getting hit in the back of the head, and we had Bobby Myers, a young quarterback with talent and skill,” Alley said. “The coaches asked what I thought about changing to receiver, and I was all for it. I had some ability to run and catch the ball so it made sense to get Bobby and me on the field at the same time. It worked out. I never would have made it as a college quarterback.”
North’s fourth outing in 1977 was a landmark game.
It had been 53 years since a team from Spencer had beaten one from Salisbury, but Alley caught a TD pass from Myers in a 26-13 victory over the previously unbeaten Hornets. It was the night Salisbury’s 13-year county winning streak died.
“Salisbury came into our stadium showing a bit of disrespect for who we were and what we were,” Alley said. “We got into a huddle before the game and decided it was time to make a difference.
“I saw grown men from Spencer cry that night. It was emotional, the first big rivalry game I’d played in.”
Alley figures his best catch at North was a TD reception against East Rowan. He made it right at the sticks, with his American Legion baseball teammate Kim Arey defending.
“Kim was holding my right arm, but I was fortunate enough to catch it with my left,” Alley said.
Alley played free safety at North, as well as wideout.
He said Clemson began recruiting him because Tiger coaches watch him try to defend Perry Tuttle, North Davidson’s awesome receiver. Alley jokes he held the future Clemson All-American to “four receptions ófor four TDs.”
Alley was a fine baseball pitcher/outfielder and knocked in 65 runs during three Legion summers. He was a less-polished basketball player, but he played a season for North and had more run-ins with Tuttle.
“My job was to aggravate Perry,” Alley said. “I held him, pushed him, pinched him, and succeeded in making him mad. That’s when he literally jumped right over me and dunked. He ragged me about it for years.”
Alley enjoyed a standout senior football season in 1978 and led the county with 33 catches for 628 yards and eight touchdowns.He also intercepted five passes.
“My dad’s rule was, ‘If it’s in the air, it may as well be yours.’ ” Alley said.Alley picked off two passes against Lexington, and the former QB threw a touchdown pass that helped North win 28-7 at Salisbury.
Alley finished his North career with a spree of 100-yard games. He had 24 catches for 468 yards and six TDs in his last four outings.
“Bobby could throw it a mile, and we broke a lot of long pass plays on the sideline,” Alley said.
Alley was Rowan’s representative in the cold, rainy 1978 Shrine Bowl.
“The talent there was amazing,” Alley said. “I lined up next to Kelvin Bryant when we ran 40s for the NFL scouts. You think you can run a little, and then you get beat by Kelvin by 15 yards.”
The visit to the Shriners Children’s Hospital in Greenville, S.C., also is etched in Alley’s memory.
“They told us before we went in to see the kids that if we got emotional, it was OK to leave,” Alley said. “We were all tough guys and kind of dismissed that, but I don’t think any of us lasted more than two minutes.”
North Carolina recruited Alley, but once Clemson got him down for a visit it was over. He knew within minutes of setting foot on campus, he would be a Tiger.
Clemson was 6-5 in 1980, but embattled young head coach Danny Ford opened the 1981 campaign by writing “12-0, national champions” on the blackboard.
“He didn’t say a word,” Alley said. “But what an invaluable leadership lesson. Before that, we’d only thought about competing in the ACC, but he came in and raised the bar. Then we all looked at each other, and said, ‘Hey, why not?’ ”
The turning point for Alley and the Tigers came in the third game of the year against Georgia on Sept. 19.
Ford decided the Tigers had earned the right to wear orange pants for only the second time, and their all-orange look shocked the defending national champs.
Georgia turned it over nine times, and Tuttle scored the only TD in a 13-3 victory. It was the only regular-season game Georgia would ever lose with Herschel Walker in its backfield.
“We had a couple of guys hurt, and I had to play against Georgia,” said Alley who was a deep reserve and a redshirt his first two seasons in Death Valley. “It was the first time I felt like I was really part of it all.”
Alley made tough catches between the hashes against Georgia, and that became his trademark. From that game on, he was a factor.
Clemson survived a 10-8 struggle with UNC on Nov. 7 when both were ranked in the top 10, and Penn State’s Thanksgiving blowout of No. 1-ranked Pitt and Dan Marino, opened the door for Clemson to win a title.
But Clemson still had to beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for a dream season. Nebraska was ranked fourth, but it was still favored by the oddsmakers.
Clemson watched film of Nebraska and was awed by the Cornhuskers’ size until assistant coach Tom Harper said, “Look guys, you’ve lined up against Georgia.”
“That was vital,” Alley said. “From that point, we were looking for things that would work against Nebraska, instead of listing things that wouldn’t work.”
Clemson beat the Huskers 22-15, earning hero Tuttle an appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
“What I remember most is our offensive line coming back to the sideline after the very first series,” Alley said. “They all had a look that said, ‘We’ve got this.’ ”
His days as a Tiger opened corporate doors, and Alley has been promoted often in the banking industry. Before his current post in Atlanta, he was president of Wachovia’s South Carolina operations.
It’s been 27 years since he played for a national title, but Alley is still competitive.
“The core of the person I am came from my time at North Rowan,” he said. “I learned values from Bob Hundley, from Sam Gealy, and from Larry Thomason.”
Alley admits tough days lie ahead in a challenging economy, but it’s good to know he’s in the huddle. He hasn’t dropped the ball often in his career.