USA TODAY has been recognizing the nation's top high school athletes for more than 30 years. As we prepare to announce the 2014 American Family Insurance ALL-USA Preseason Football Team in a few months, we'll dig into the archives and check in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades. Today, we’re catching up with Van Tiffin, who was an ALL-USA kicker for Red Bay, Ala., in 1982 and was an All-American kicker at Alabama.
Alabama football coach Ray Perkins didn’t ask Van Tiffin if he could make the field goal. Six seconds remained and Alabama trailed Auburn 23-22 in the 1985 Iron Bowl.
It wouldn’t have mattered if Perkins had asked.
“That happened a couple of times and I would never tell him no,” Tiffin said. “You had to have the positive attitude.”
Tiffin had missed an earlier 52-yarder, wide left, and that was with the wind at his back. This kick would be 52 yards into the wind. Tiffin hit it cleanly, with a few yards to spare and Alabama won the game, 25-23. These days, that boot is simply called “The Kick” by Alabama fans.
“The thing that kept standing out in my mind is I never thought we would get in field-goal range,” Tiffin said. “We were running out of time, (Mike) Shula got sacked on one play and I think there was a fourth-down conversion. Then we had the one long pass that was a big gainer (to Greg Richardson) with six seconds left. On the sidelines, we weren’t sure he had gotten out of bounds. If he hadn’t of, we wouldn’t have gotten the play off. It’s best when it happens that way. Back then, nobody iced the kicker. I would have really hated to have to think about that kick.”
At Red Bay, Tiffin got a lot of chances to kick and especially punt, because his team was 0-10 his senior year. Playing at Tuscaloosa, he lost only 15 games in four years.
“That was quite a transformation,” he said. “You get used to losing and think, ‘Wow, I have an opportunity to go to Alabama.’ It was a big thing to go to Alabama, to be a part of a team having so much tradition.”
With the Crimson Tide, he set a school record by making 135 point-after kicks, never missing. The mark stood for 23 years until his son Leigh broke the mark by one in 2009, though he needed 142 attempts to do so.
After Van Tiffin’s senior career at Alabama in 1986, was not drafted but played in a handful of NFL games.
“I went to Atlanta to their training camp and got cut after three or four weeks,” Tiffin said. “Later in the year, I went to Tampa Bay and played three games and then the last game of the season, I played for Miami. The following year, I got cut after a month of training camp. I thought, ‘I have to make a living, I can’t keep doing this.’ ”
Tiffin went to work for the family business, Tiffin Motorhomes in Red Bay. He’s in charge of research and development for the company, which employs 1,300 workers and makes and services high-end motorhomes, or RVs. At least two major league baseball managers, Ron Gardenhire of the Minnesota Twins and Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays, own Tiffin Motorhomes and live in them during spring training.
Today, when Tiffin tailgates at an Alabama football game, he can easily spot a Tiffin Allegro, Phaeton or Zephyr.
“I love going to the parking lot and seeing what year and models there are,” Tiffin said. “A lot of people in the state buy our motorhomes. Auburn fans are good customers of ours too, especially since we offer service at our factory.”