Tide Has Won Titles Coming From Behind

The first bowl game I saw in person was the Jan. 1, 1966, game against Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Alabama was ranked fourth and Nebraska third going into the first ever night-time Orange Bowl game.

The Alabama team of Coach Paul Bryant had some bumps in its 1965 season, to say the least. Georgia got away with a trick play (that should have been ruled down, but instead went for a touchdown) and upset defending national champion Bama, 18-17.

Later in the year I saw the second bump as Alabama hosted Tennessee at Legion Field in Birmingham. The Tide was at the goalline in the final moments of the game and needed just a field goal to win. But a mix-up in downs, caused by a long run by Kenny Stabler that was short of the end zone was not a first down. Stabler, trying to stop the clock, threw the ball out of bounds on what he assumed was a first down play.

It was fourth down, and Alabama was tied by a big underdog Tennessee team, 7-7.

There were miracles in this season after Bama suffered its bump against LSU, losing 9-6 in overtime. The Tide had to have a lot of no-loss teams lose – thank you Oklahoma State, Stanford, Boise State – and it didn't hurt that a couple suffered second losses (Oklahoma, Oregon).

So now Alabama has made its way back to second in the nation with a chance to play against LSU in the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans on Jan. 9.

That's a much more direct route to a possible national championship than was the case in 1965. On that New Year's Day, 1966, the Tide needed three outcomes to win a second straight title.

Readers of ‘BAMA Magazine know a story I heard from legendary Nebraska Coach Bob Devaney. When I was sports information director at Alabama, I was charged with picking Devaney up at the airport in Atlanta to take him to speak to CoSIDA, the national organization of sports information directors. I was, of course, working for Coach Bryant at the time. Devaney told me the story on the drive in from Hartsfield.

Alabama was ranked fourth and Nebraska was third. In front of them were number one Michigan State and number two Arkansas (then playing in the Southwest Conference). Bryant had called him and said the only chance either of them had to win the national championship in 1965 was to go play in the Orange Bowl.

That afternoon, the miracles occurred.

LSU defeated Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, followed by UCLA upsetting number one Michigan State in the Rose Bowl. (Gary Beban was the UCLA quarterback who led the upset win. I heard years later that Coach Bryant sent Beban's wife a mink coat.)

That night, the television commentators ballyhooed the Orange Bowl as the game for the national championship. Alabama won the game and, sure enough, the national title.

There had been one miracle before the bowl games even were played. The year before Alabama was national champion and the title was based on regular season games only. When Alabama lost to Texas in the Orange Bowl, a controversial result since it appeared Tide quarterback Joe Namath had crossed the goalline for what would have been a winning touchdown, the Associated Press decided in 1965 it would wait until after the bowl games to crown a champion.

Without the loss to Texas at the end of the 1964 season, Alabama would not have been able to get its 1965 national championship.

That 39-28 score against Nebraska in the 1966 Orange Bowl made the game look a lot closer than it was and Bama was an easy selection for the crown.

Then came the rest of Devaney's story.

The next year, because Michigan State couldn't repeat in the Rose Bowl and Notre Dame didn't go to bowl games, the Associated Press decided to revert to its practice of not including bowl games in the national championship equation. That was devastating to Bryant and the Tide because Alabama was undefeated in going for a third consecutive title. Notre Dame and Michigan State, the other top contenders, had played to a 10-10 tie. The AP basically handed a championship to Notre Dame as a reward for playing for a tie.

Devaney said, "Bear called me and said since they had changed the format, there was no way for us to win the national championship. But he assured me that if we'd go to the Sugar Bowl, we'd have a great time in New Orleans."

Alabama romped to a 34-7 win in the Sugar Bowl.

"A few years later," Devaney continued, "neither one of us were doing very well. Bear called me and said his friends in Memphis assured him they would show us a great time if Alabama and Nebraska would play in the Liberty Bowl. I told him I'd get back to him. I immediately called the Sun Bowl and set up a game against Georgia."

Alabama has had a couple of opportunities to play for the national championship as the number two team playing against the number one team, and both of them have been in the Louisiana Superdome, where this year's BCS National Championship Game is being played.

In 1978, Coach Joe Paterno's undefeated and top-ranked Nittany Lions elected to play in the Sugar Bowl, where Bryant's second ranked Alabama was representing the Southeastern Conference. That Tide team is remembered primarily for the critical goalline stand as Bama was a 14-7 winner and national champion.

In 1992, Alabama went undefeated through the regular season and then won the first ever SEC Championship Game against Florida, to earn a spot in the Sugar Bowl against undefeated and number one ranked Miami. The Hurricanes, featuring Heisman Trophy winner Gino Toretta, never had a chance against Coach Gene Stallings' second-ranked Alabama, which won the national championship with a 34-13 victory.

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