Good Teams Find Ways To Win Ugly

There were more differences than similarities in Alabama's game against Kentucky Saturday than the Crimson Tide's contest against Florida State in 1974, but I couldn't help but think back to that uncomfortable afternoon 34 years ago.

Alabama in 1974 was in the midst an exceptional run of Southeastern Conference championships and national championship successes and near misses. The Crimson Tide was coming off a 1973 share of the national championship with an 11-1 record and was 4-0 and ranked third in the nation even though it was considered something of a rebuilding year.

Alabama had opened the season with a tough win over a Maryland team, which was favored to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. That win had come on the road. The Tide was coming off its first SEC road game, a win over Ole Miss in Jackson.

Alabama had won 15 consecutive regular season games, best in the nation. The FSU team that came to Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 12 had the longest losing streak in the nation.

As the game wound down, Bucky Berrey kicked a field goal to allow Alabama to escape with an 8-7 victory.

The next week Alabama righted the ship, going to Knoxville and clobbering Tennessee, 28-6. Bama went on to an 11-0 regular season record before dropping its second consecutive heart-breaking loss to Notre Dame. Bama was a 13-11 loser in the Orange Bowl.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban has an extra week to get his team back to the form that has elevated Bama to second in the nation in the Associated Press poll, fourth in the Coaches Poll. Most would agree that after six consecutive games in a competitive schedule, the break will do Alabama good. The Tide is coming off a 17-14 win over Kentucky, Leigh Tiffin hitting what proved to be a game-winning field goal after the usually sharp kicker has missed on two tries.

The tentative schedule is that Tide players had their regular off day Sunday, will be off again Monday, then practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

There is some history of great Alabama football teams having a struggle or two.

This is not to presume that 2008 Alabama will have the finish to be a great team. But it could. And if it is, it has at least two games to look back on and see where execution wasn't great but the outcome was a victory. After big wins, the Tide has has two struggles. Bama beat ninth-ranked Clemson (favored to win the ACC), 34-10, and followed that up with a 20-6 win over Tulane. Alabama's struggle against Kentucky followed last week's 41-30 win over Georgia in Athens.

Alabama is 6-0 and, as Saban said late Saturday, who would have bet on that? There are perhaps 15 undefeated teams in major college football today, but only four with six wins—Alabama, Penn State, Utah and Ball State.

Gene Stallings believed that a team should never have a "down" day, that the players had only a dozen or so games and they should be "up" for every one of them. That does not often seem to be the case, however. Almost every team will have an off day.

Great teams seem to have a way to "win ugly." And as has often been pointed out, an ugly win is better than any kind of loss.

Alabama's 1978 national championship team squeaked by unranked Washington, 20-17. In 1979, another national championship season, the Tide escaped from Baton Rouge with a 3-0 win over unranked LSU.

Alabama's 1980 team was going for a third straight national championship. The Crimson Tide was ranked first in the nation and had just come off a 45-0 win over Kentucky. Bama went to the Meadowlands to take on unranked Rutgers and barely got out with a 17-13 win. Later in the season the Tide took its best-in-the-nation 28-game winning streak and number one national ranking to Jackson to take on Mississippi State. The Bulldogs held Alabama at the goalline in the final moments and won, 6-3.

Back to that 1974 Alabama team, which was breaking in a freshman wide receiver who looked like he was going to be pretty good. I've thought about Ozzie Newsome quite a bit this season as I watch freshman Julio Jones.

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