Gene Stallings was a freshman at Texas A&M when he saw his first bowl game. It wasn't one the Aggies were playing in. Stallings got a ticket to the Cotton Bowl, being played in Dallas on January 1, 1954. Alabama played in that game.
Stallings last bowl game as a participant was the Outback Bowl in Tampa on January 1, 1997, when he concluded his football career as head coach of the Crimson Tide.
Stallings had a marvelous bowl record as a ahead coach. In his career as head coach of the Crimson Tide, his teams played in six bowls and Bama won five of them. After a loss to Louisville in the Fiesta Bowl at the end of his first Bama season, Stallings' teams had wins over Colorado in the Blockbuster Bowl, Miami in the Sugar Bowl to win the national championship, North Carolina in the Gator Bowl, Ohio State in the Citrus Bowl, and Michigan in his final game in the Outback Bowl.
On January 1, 1954, Alabama went to Dallas to meet the Rice Owls. It turned out to be one of the most notable bowl games of all times, though not for a good reason. That was the game in which Alabama's Tommy Lewis left the bench to tackle Rice's Dickie Moegel, who was awarded a touchdown. The Owls would finish with a 28-6 win over Bama.
(Lewis is also a part of "What It Means To Be Crimson Tide," and discusses the famous play and its aftermath in the book.)
In the book, Stallings said, " My first exposure to Alabama football came when I got a ticket to go to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, where Rice was going to play Alabama at the end of the 1953 season. I guess it was one of the most interesting Cotton Bowl games of all time with Tommy Lewis coming off the Alabama bench to tackle Dickie Moegel."
Following Alabama's 24-23 win over Auburn in 1996, Stallings announced that he would retire at the end of the year. That final game would be against Michigan in the Outback Bowl at Tampa. While it might not seem to be an important game, it was for Stallings. A win meant he would finish his seven-year Alabama career with 70 victories, an average of 10 wins per season.
Trailing 6-3 going to the fourth quarter, Alabama's Dwayne Rudd intercepted a pass and returned it 88 yards for a touchdown. Two possessions later, Shaun Alexander's 46-yard touchdown run put the Tide up by 17-6 with only 2:15 to play. The Wolverines got a touchdown and two-point conversion, but when Bama recovered the onsides kick the game was over, Alabama winning, 17-14.
And Stallings was involved in one of the most memorable Cotton Bowl games of all time. He talked about it in "What It Means To Be Crimson Tide," the book in which he wrote a substantial foreword touching on a variety of subjects.
This was not a game in which Stallings was on Alabama's side. He had been an assistant coach under Paul Bryant beginning in 1958, but had left after the 1964 season to become head coach and athletics director at Texas A&M. In 1967, the Aggies won the Southwest Conference championship and the Cotton Bowl berth that went with it. Alabama, and Stallings' former coach at A&M, Bryant, would provide the opposition.
In the book, Stallings said, "In those days there was a lot of interaction at the bowl game between the players and coaches of the two teams. The reason I wanted to play Alabama was because I wanted my players to be exposed to Coach Bryant, to get to hear him, maybe get to meet him.
"We were fortunate enough to win the game 20-16. Curley Hallman, who had come with us from Northport, had a big game.
"When the game ended I went to midfield to meet Coach Bryant and shake hands. He stooped down and picked me up. I was in complete shock. He was saying congratulations. Alabama had the best team, and I'm sure he was disappointed in the way his team played, but he was happy for me."
"What it Means to be Crimson Tide-Gene Stallings and Alabama's greatest players," is now available. The hardcover book is more than 300 pages in an oversized format with archival photographs throughout. It includes the stories of 62 former Bama players who played at The University over a 75-year period. To order your copy ($27.95 plus tax, shipping and handling) call 1-205-345-5074. You may request a personalized autograph from Kirk McNair.