Astrodome Had Role In Tide History

There is talk – serious talk – that Harris County is going to demolish what was once considered to be the eighth wonder of the world – the Astrodome in Houston. Built essentially to house Houston's major league baseball team, the first of the domed stadiums has not had a tenant for many, many years.

In 1970, Alabama played a regular season game against the Houston Cougars in the Astrodome, and then came back later in the year as a participant in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl, played on December 31, 1970.

Alabama beating Houston may not seem like a very big deal. The Crimson Tide has a 10-0 all-time record against the Cougars. But in 1970 Bama was struggling and Coach Bill Yeoman's Houston team was setting all sorts of offensive records with his veer offense.

Alabama's secondary came up with big plays and the Tide was a 30-21 winner against the 15th ranked Cougars.

The 1970 team had a tough schedule, beginning with an opening game against third ranked USC. Bama lost that game and also lost to ranked teams Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU, and Auburn. Bama defeated two ranked teams, Florida and Houston for a 6-5 regular season record.

Alabama wasn't the only college football heavyweight that was suffering through difficult times in 1970. So was the Oklahoma team of Coach Chuck Fairbanks. The Sooners had taken the drastic step of switching to the wishbone offensive, which was gaining popularity because of the success Texas was having with the triple option.

Alabama and Oklahoma, which was 7-4 and ranked 20th in the nation, agreed to play in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl.

It was an interesting game. Scott Hunter threw for two touchdowns (one to tight end Randy Moore, the other to wide receiver David Bailey) and also caught a touchdown pass on a throwback from tailback Johnny Musso. Richard Ciemny had a 20-yard field goal.

Oklahoma got two long touchdown runs from Greg Pruitt and had a long drive capped by a Joe Wylie touchdown run. With just under a minute to play in the game, the Sooners tied the game at 24-24 on a 42-yard field goal by Bruce Derr.

After trying an onsides kickoff, Oklahoma probably expected Hunter to air it out, but instead he gave it to Musso on a draw play for a big gain to the Oklahoma 19. Two plays failed to gain much and the Tide called time out with five seconds to play.

Ciemny, "The Kansas Cowboy," had never missed a kick in the Astrodome. But as the clock ticked to 00:00, Ciemny's 34-yard attempt duck-hooked left. There were no overtime provisions in college football in those days, so the game ended in a tie.

There are two things I remember post-game. One, the New Year's Eve party in the adjoining Astrohall. It, too, was huge. Champagne was delivered throughout in full sized trucks (making it a small miracle that I remember anything). There were bands playing in every corner, and if you were in a place where you could hear one, you could not hear any of the others.

Of somewhat more importance, I remember the airplane ride back to Tuscaloosa. Today all seats on the team plane are assigned in order to have the weight evenly distributed. Back then, everyone got on board and took a seat. As it turned out, I was on the aisle about a row behind Coach Paul Bryant, also on the aisle.

The coach worked on yellow legal pads and he pulled one from the large, hand-tooled leather briefcase he carried. I watched as he began sketching out wishbone plays. At the time I didn't think much about it, believing it to be something of a personal debriefing following the game.

However, late that summer Bryant invited Darrell Royal of Texas to be the guest speaker at the Alabama Coaching Clinic. Royal also brought along his top offensive assistant, Emory Bellard, who had been credited with inventing the wishbone. Oklahoma had made the switch in mid-season 1970. Bryant decided in August that he was changing to the wishbone.

Bellard and Bryant's offensive staff, particularly new quarterbacks coach Mal Moore, spent the next few days with films and blackboard learned all they could from the Texas assistant.

Alabama first unveiled its wishbone offense in the opening game of 1971 against pre-season number one ranked Southern Cal in Los Angeles. Led by Musso, the Tide was a 17-14 upset winner, and that victory propelled Bama to an undefeated season and to the greatest decade in storied Alabama football history.

Alabama switched to the wishbone and The 1970s were the most successful in the history of the Alabama football program, amassing a record, 1970-79, of 103-14-1. During the decade the Tide won three national championships (1973, 1978, 1979) and dominated the SEC in an unprecedented manner, winning eight titles in 10 years. Bama posted back to back undefeated regular seasons in 1973 and 1974 and ended the decade in the midst of a school record 28 game winning streak. Alabama participated in a bowl every season during the decade.

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