Stuart McNair

Alabama’s remarkable bowl history continues against Washington

Alabama’s blueblood status in college football began in Rose Bowl

Bowl games have been going on for a couple of weeks now, but today we get to the big boys, the College Football Playoff National Championship semifinal games. First up is No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Washington in the Peach Bowl in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, ESPN televising beginning at 3 p.m. EST (2 p.m. central). After that from Glendale, Arizona, it’s the Fiesta Bowl with No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State.

Today’s winners advance to the CFP National Championship Game on Monday, Jan. 9, in Tampa.

Alabama’s extraordinary dominance of college football in the Nick Saban Era, along with the emphasis on the playoffs, has led to a decrease in the interest of the bowl season. That does not mean that the bowls are meaningless, as the defenders of players who quit their teams prior to bowl games in order to preserve their bodies.

Still, it’s difficult to imagine that the traditional Big Four – the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Cotton Bowl – are so little part of the bowl season conversation.

Just as Alabama has the nation’s top college football program today, and in the minds of many experts, the best all-time, the Crimson Tide has always been at the top of the heap when it comes to bowl tradition.

Alabama got its first bowl opportunity when there was only one – the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the Granddaddy of Bowl Games. And, interestingly, that first Bama bowl opportunity was against Washington, a team that was considered unbeatable.

Alabama won that 1926 Rose Bowl by a 20-19 score, and the Crimson Tide was launched into the upper tier of college football.

Today, the Crimson Tide can look back on a national record 64 bowl games and a national record 36 wins against 25 losses and 3 ties.

Alabama was the first team to play in all four of the traditional major bowl games, the first to play in all four more than once, the first to win all four, and the only team to have won all four more than once.

Alabama has played in 15 Sugar Bowls with a record of 8-7, eight Orange Bowls (4-4), eight Cotton (4-4), and six Rose (4-1-1).

Alabama has played in a total of 17 different bowls (not including the College Football Playoff Championship Game last year, which followed the Tide’s participation in the Cotton Bowl in the semifinal game). Bama has played 38 different opponents in its 64 bowl games, including Washington twice – that historic first Rose Bowl and in the Sun Bowl at the end of the 1986 season, won by Alabama, 28-6.

Alabama was the primary beneficiary of its early bowl success. The Crimson Tide was elevated to national blueblood status, a rare place it has maintained for nearly a century.

Interestingly, Alabama’s success also led to other Southern football teams riding the Crimson Tide coattails to recognition. Georgia Tech and Tennessee took advantage of the opportunity to greater extent than others.

Today Alabama is still carrying the water for the Southeastern Conference.

Beginning in 1965, the bowl games became more than just a reward for a good season. The Associated Press decided to include the bowl games in its final poll. That worked out well for Alabama, which defeated Nebraska, 39-28, in the Orange Bowl after No. 1 Michigan State had lost to UCLA in the Rose and No. 2 Arkansas had falled to LSU in the Cotton. No. 4 Bama defeated No. 3 Nebraska and the Tide had a national championship.

Alabama also won national championships with wins over Penn State in the Sugar Bowl for the 1978 title, over Arkansas in the Sugar for the 1979 championship, and over Miami in the Sugar for the 1992 crown.

With the advent of the BCS, Alabama under Saban won national championships in 2009 over Texas in Pasadena, in 2011 over LSU in New Orleans, and in 2012 over Notre Dame in Miami.

Alabama is the only team to have made it into all three College Football Playoff fields and last year won the championship over Clemson in Glendale, Arizona.

But don’t think the non-championship bowls are meaningless. Perhaps the happiest post-bowl lockerroom I’ve ever seen was in Memphis at the end of the 1982 season. It was Coach Paul Bryant’s final game and Alabama held on to defeat Illinois, 21-15, and send Bryant out with his 323rd coaching victory.

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So, yes, the championship playoff begins today, and those who follow the Crimson Tide are pleased to be in it again. There will come a time when Bama is not in the field, but hopefully there will be an Alabama in the bowl scene for years to come.


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