Title Talk

Following Alabama's very poor 6-5-1 season in 1970, the team had an "awards banquet" in which then-President David Mathews talked about tradition. "Tradition is the thing that sustains us," he told the somber assemblage, that included the head coach, Paul Bryant.

Today we are seeing the results of tradition. When teams like Alabama and Notre Dame and Penn State revive themselves, it revives talk of national championships and dynasties and–yes–tradition.

Last week part of the national college football discussions included whether Alabama's loss of junior wide receiver Tyrone Prothro to a broken leg might cost Bama the national championship. This is halfway through a season in which the Crimson Tide was not even ranked in the pre-season polls.

Last season it was noted that Auburn couldn't get into the national championship picture because it had started too far back in the polls, something like 17th. Bama didn't get to that point until running its record to 4-0 with a win over Arkansas, but because of its tradition the Tide is moving up quickly. (That is not to pick on Auburn. Mississippi State or Kentucky, for instance, couldn't do it either. Few teams have the Alabama advantage of tradition.)

After an open date last week, Alabama was to resume practice Sunday evening as the nation's sixth-ranked team by the Associated Press, seventh by the coaches in the USA Today poll.

This week Bama is on the road, to Oxford, Mississippi, to take on Ole Miss. The Rebels are rebuilding under new coach Ed Orgeron. Well, actually they are not rebuilding. Ole Miss is struggling. The Rebs got a win over The Citadel Saturday and opened the season with a victory over Memphis. In between were losses to Vanderbilt, Wyoming, and Tennessee.

There is little question that Alabama is the reason this week's game will be nationally telecast by CBS. CBS will televise a Southeastern Conference football doubleheader on Saturday featuring Alabama at Ole Miss, starting at 11 a.m. CDT followed by Florida at LSU, with a kickoff of 2:30 p.m. CDT. 

ESPN2 will televise the Georgia at Vanderbilt game, which will have a 6:15 p.m. CDT kickoff. 

The SEC schedule has just one other game Saturday–Auburn at Arkansas. Kickoff for the Tiger-Razorback tilt is scheduled for 6 p.m. CDT with no television. Jefferson-Pilot Sports will not televise a game this week.

It has been a few years since Alabama fans had to worry about how other teams were doing in order to give Bama a chance at the national championship. Alabama winning all its games this year would be difficult. It is an unlikely scenario for any team, and a particularly for a team like Bama that still has to face the likes of Tennessee, LSU and Auburn in regular season play. Running the table in the regular season would set up an SEC Championship Game match, probably against Georgia in the GeorgiaDome. And then the Tide would have to win a major bowl game. And after all that, Bama would be at the mercy of voters (and not some sort of People's vote).

It has been pointed out often how hard that is to do. Florida has never done it. Auburn has never done it. Tennessee and LSU have done it once each. Alabama has done it six times (1925, 1930, 1934, 1961, 1979, and 1992).

Alabama has also won national championships because others faltered. The most unlikely was in 1965 when Alabama overcame a loss to Georgia and a tie with Tennessee to climb back to fourth in the nation and meet third ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, being played at night. When LSU beat second-ranked Arkansas in the UCLA upset number one Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, Bama found itself playing for the national championship. It was as if someone had willed games to fall so Bama could win the title. The Tide's 39-28 win over the Cornhuskers brought the championship back to Tuscaloosa.

It is far too early for Alabama to start figuring national championship chances. But just as a warning, it seems unlikely that any of the top four teams (USC, Texas, Virginia Tech, and Florida State) will lose a game, and odds are certainly long against three of them having a loss. Anything less than that makes even the greatest Bama achievement difficult.

But don't count out tradition. Following that 1970 awards banquet in which Dr. Mathews talked to the team about the importance of tradition, Bama rebounded with 11 straight victories, including one over number one ranked Southern Cal to start the 1971 season. And national championships followed three times in the decade.


BamaMag Top Stories