TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The noise thundering through the stadium had changed. The confident roar heard all afternoon had morphed into a different sound.
Still deafening. But now unmistakably desperate.
Alabama led 12-10 but was on the verge of losing everything -- a game it had controlled, a season it had dominated, a national championship it coveted. Hated rival and major underdog Tennessee had arisen from the dead in the final 3½ minutes, and after a stunning sequence of events was a 44-yard field goal away from inflicting one of the most painful losses in Crimson Tide history.
Anxiety was rampant in the stands at Bryant-Denny Stadium. On the front row, a family of four suffered together. The gray-haired father in the crimson pullover hugged his arms to his body, almost folding into himself. His wife sat down, face set in stone. On her right, their two houndstooth-clad daughters nervously shook their crimson pompons.
They were a single swing of Daniel Lincoln's right leg from devastation.
"That's how fragile a season can be," Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
And that's when Mount Cody put himself on Alabama's Mount Rushmore of heroic defensive performances.
His given name is Terrence Cody, but around here everyone calls him Mount Cody. See him up close and you know why -- at 6-foot-5 and 354 pounds, he is among the largest free-standing structures in the entire state.
And at a time when Alabama acutely needed someone to step up big, its biggest player broke through.
"After I blocked that thing," Cody said, "I knew I was like a big hero."
The path to heroism -- also the path to the kicker -- was short and straight.
The mountain man lined up over luckless left guard Cory Sullins, who was giving away 84 pounds in this matchup. Alongside Cody was 6-4, 296-pound Marcell Dareus and 6-4, 306-pound Brandon Deaderick. The call was "max block."
"Eleven guys going to block it," Saban said.
One got there first. The same one who blocked a Tennessee field goal earlier in the fourth quarter.
At the snap, Cody bulldozed through Sullins. Path clear, he didn't even need to jump. His raised left arm did the work.
"I reached out, just closed my eyes and got it," he said.
Got the kick. Blocked the kick. Saved the season.
Bryant-Denny exploded. Two-Block Terrence sprinted downfield, throwing his helmet off his head, dreads flowing behind him. Cheerleaders mobbed each other in euphoria.
And the family of four?
Dad put both hands behind his head, looking close to tears. Mom put her palm to her forehead as if she might faint. Houndstooth-wearing daughters hugged.
And after a postgame TV interview, Terrence Cody wound up hearing his surname chanted by a crowd of 92,012 that refused to file out. As the big man headed toward the tunnel, he lifted his left index finger in the air and the stadium erupted one more time.
"A play like that goes down in history at Alabama," said senior linebacker Cory Reamer, a native of the state.
A play like that is suitable for framing. This being Alabama, a painter named Daniel Moore has made a living commemorating great Crimson Tide moments on canvas.
Naturally, someone asked Cody if he knew about Moore's work. The Fort Myers, Fla., product said he did not. But he might be a Moore subject by season's end.
Indeed, if the Tide ends up 14-0, they'll likely remember Cody's block alongside the goal-line stand against Penn State in the 1979 Sugar Bowl and George Teague's fleecing of Miami's Lamar Thomas in the 1993 Sugar Bowl. (Technically Teague's play didn't count, nullified by a penalty, but it remains an indelible Alabama defensive moment.)
The downside to this gloriously dramatic moment was all the inglorious Alabama activity that preceded it. The Crimson Tide survived, but in shaky fashion.
It managed just four field goals -- kicker Leigh Tiffin was nearly as big a hero as Cody, making one from 49 yards and another from 50 -- and has scored only three touchdowns the past three games.
The Tide was outgained by 85 yards, had four fewer first downs and managed just two plays of longer than 14 yards.
With Tennessee crowding the box to stop Heisman Trophy candidate running back Mark Ingram (99 yards on 18 carries), Alabama did not throw downfield to keep the Volunteers honest. That left Saban sounding annoyed with offensive coordinator Jim McElwain's game plan.
"We can't be so risk-aversive," Saban said. "We've got be more aggressive in what we're doing on offense right now."
Nobody on the Alabama sideline could have been overly thrilled with the play-calling on its one trip inside the Tennessee 5-yard line. After gouging the Vols on that drive with Ingram running from the Wildcat formation, Alabama suddenly got pass-happy on second-and-2 from the Tennessee 4, throwing incomplete twice and settling for a field goal.
Lord knows they weren't happy with that in the stands. One Alabama fan with a 1980s perm came up to me shortly after the game -- not to rejoice in Cody's block, but to rip Saban for the goal-line sequence.
"Throw the ball two f------ times from the 1-yard line?" he said. "Coach Bryant wouldn't do no stupid s--- like that."
So much for the thrill of victory. And now you know why Saban makes $4 million a year -- to put up with fans like that.
Hopefully the fans will be more forgiving of Ingram, whose one mistake gave Tennessee hope late in the game.
Leading 12-3 and in complete command, Ingram did something he's never done before in 277 collegiate carries: he lost a fumble. That's where the game turned from uninspiring but comfortable to decidedly uncomfortable.
Tennessee recovered at the Alabama 43, and maligned quarterback Jonathan Crompton led a nice drive for the first touchdown the Tide had surrendered since Oct. 3. Then the Vols executed a perfect onside kick, and with 1:19 left there was a communal puckering in Bryant-Denny.
Crompton completed two more impressive passes, the first to Gerald Jones and the second to tight end Luke Stocker. Stocker made a tremendous catch at the Alabama 27 and held on despite a massive hit by safety Robby Green, setting the stage for the final kick.
At that point, first-year Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin stood on the brink of a great breakthrough. And Mark Ingram stood on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
"Probably the worst feeling I've had," he said. "Ever."
Even Cody allowed himself a moment of dismay as the game came down to the final play.
"Oh, snap," he thought. "Here we go again."
And there went Terrence Cody again -- through the Tennessee line, and into Alabama lore.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.