Tide Has Had Many Great Bowl Moments

It was interesting to see a recap of the greatest bowl moments for teams that are in bowl games this year. Naturally, the greatest previous moment in Alabama bowl history would be open for debate, considering the Crimson Tide has been in more bowl games (58) and had more bowl victories (33) than any other.

Alabama also ranks among the top teams in winning national championships in bowl games, beginning with the first Associated Press national championship determined after the bowl games following the 1965 season.

The book, "Game Changers: The Greatest Plays In Alabama Football History," includes a number of great bowl moments.

That book and almost all other accounts of great plays in college football history consider Alabama's goal-line stand in the 1979 Sugar Bowl to win the 1978 national championship among the iconic moments in college football history. It was a series of plays from inside the Bama 10-yard line with the Tide clinging to a 14-7 lead in the fourth quarter.

Today, there is an annual match-up of number one vs. number two. It wasn't always so easy. When number two Bama under Coach Paul Bryant went up against Joe Paterno and number one Penn State, it marked the first such meeting since Nebraska had beaten Alabama in the 1971 Orange Bowl.

Alabama had given Penn State the ball at the Tide 19 on a muffed pitchout. The Lions got a first down inside the 10. A first down rush gained nothing. Then Chuck Fusina connected with star receiver Scott Fitzkee at the goal-line. An extraordinary play by cornerback Don McNeal kept Fitzkee out of the end zone. On third down, Penn State back Matt Suhey was slammed down inside the one.

Penn State called timeout to talk about it. Fusina, who had become friends with Tide defensive tackle Marty Lyons on the all-star circuit, asked Lyons "How far?"

"About 10 inches," Lyons replied. "You'd better pass."

Penn State didn't pass. Running back Mike Guman tried the middle and was pushed back in a charge led by linebacker Barry Krauss.

Here are a few others:

In 1992, Alabama had gone undefeated under Coach Gene Stallings, including winning the first ever Southeastern Conference Championship Game against Florida. That put the Tide, ranked second in the nation, against number one Miami and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Gino Toretta.

Stallings never wavered in his belief that Alabama would win the game against the Hurricanes. He was right. The final was Bama 34, Miami 13.

It was a game of huge plays, including one that seems innocuous reading the official transcript. In the third quarter, Miami faced second and 10 from its 11-yard line.

2-10 MIA 11 Alabama penalized for offsides.

There was a little more to it than that. Bama had a 27-6 lead and the Hurricanes had to make a move. Toretta hit speedy Lamar Thomas going down the sidelines, touchdown bound for sure it seemed. But coming up fast from behind was George Teague, who stripped the ball away from Thomas. Because Alabama had been offsides on the play, it appears nothing happened, but without Teague's play, momentum and the outcome could have been in jeopardy.

It is one of college football's great injustices that the 1977 Crimson Tide did not win the national championship. That team went through one of the most difficult schedules in college football history and was denied the title on the infamous Notre Dame "Poll Vault."

It was bad enough that the 1977 team had fallen from second in the polls to third after whalloping Auburn, 48-21, in the regular season finish. Bama's out-of-conference games that season had been at Nebraska (the lone loss, 31-24), at number one Southern Cal (the Tide winning 21-20), against Louisville for homecoming, and Miami.

The Sugar Bowl that year had great interest because it matched Bama and Bryant against Ohio State and Woody Hayes, who ranked first and second in all-time coaching victories at the time. The first quarter was scoreless, but on the first play of the second quarter Bama completed a tough drive with a fourth down give to Tony Nathan for the touchdown. Bryant preached "courage" to his teams, and that example of courage was the catalyst for a 35-6 victory.

After the game, Bryant said, "I don't think that this game had anything to do with how good a coach I am or how good a coach Woody is. It was just one more game. He's a great coach; and I ain't bad."

With number one Texas falling to Notre Dame and number two also losing, it looked as though Bama would be national champion, but in the closest vote in history the Irish got the trophy.

A Liberty Bowl would hardly qualify for great bowl moments under ordinary circumstances, but there was nothing ordinary about the game played in Memphis on December 29, 1982. It was the final game coached by Bama's legendary Bryant. Jeremiah Castille was the game's most valuable player as he tied a Crimson Tide record with three interceptions. But it may have been defensive end Russ Wood who delivered the play of the game and a Liberty Bowl moment for all time.

Tony Eason was the outstanding quarterback for Illinois, and he was attempting to pull the game out for the Illini, driving goal-ward as the Tide was clinging to a 21-15 lead.

"Every time we'd get into a tough situation, in the huddle someone would say, ‘Coach Bryant.' That was the word – ‘Coach Bryant' – every time we were in a tough spot."

In this tough spot, Wood attacked from right end and blindsided Eason, knocking him out of the game for the third and final time. Eason's back-up delivered the seventh interception by Alabama to linebacker Robbie Jones and the historic game was history.

It is ironic that the bowl game that vacated by the NCAA in Alabama's textbook "scandal" (can you think of a school or two where players getting textbooks would be considered less that criminal) featured one of the Tide's most exciting finishes. Playing in the 2006 Cotton Bowl against the Texas Tech offensive machine of Coach Mike Leach, the Bama defense of Tide Coach Mike Shula (directed by defensive coordinator Joe Kines) had held the Red Raiders to only 10 points. Unfortunately, Alabama also had only 10 points (including a 76-yard touchdown on Bama's first play of the game, Brodie Croyle's quick pass to Keith Brown, who had the long run).

As the clocked ticked to 00:00, Jamie Christensen's 45-yard field goal seemed doomed to failure. It would have given a dead duck a bad name. But miraculously, the kick had just enough on it to crawl over the cross bar and give the Tide a 13-10 win.

One could also include the on-sides kicks or the tackle eligible passes to Jerry Duncan as Steve Sloan led Bama to the 1965 national championship in the 1966 Orange Bowl against Nebraska. Or the game-opening Snake Stabler to Ray Perkins pass to open the 1967 Sugar Bowl rout of Nebraska to complete the season as the nation's only undefeated and untied team.

And talk about your moments:

Rose Bowl games of 1926 and 1931 and 1935.

And most recently, Alabama 37, Texas 21 to finish 14-0 and win the 2009 national championship in the BCS Championship Game at the Rose Bowl.

One has to believe there are more to come.

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