Alabama Football Tradition Built On Post-Season Success

First of two parts

I recently received a copy of a text, which I have no way of verifying as truth, but which was interesting and entertaining. No wonder, since it involves the late coach Mike Leach, and a chance meeting. The author said that he ran into Leach standing alone outside a restaurant. It continues:

ME: Sorry to bother you, but you’re my fourth favorite coach. Can I get a photo?

LEACH (incredulously): Sure, but fourth?!

ME: Behind Saban, Stallings, and Bryant.

LEACH: S***, I’ll take fourth on that list.

Lists are a big deal. At this time of year I have memories of past post-season Alabama football games and how Bama success in bowl games and national championship games has played such a big role in the Crimson Tide being at or near the top of the nation’s all-time greatest programs.

Yesterday’s 45-20 win over Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl was sweet, but doesn’t rank among my all-time great post-season victories.

From this standpoint, however, the big news was the decision of all Crimson Tide players, notably quarterback Bryce Young and outside linebacker Will Anderson, not to join the growing list of me-me-me players who quit on their teams for so-called business reasons. (I suspect many of those decisions were based on the good for the agent business.)

At the time I believed that it sent a message to football, and particularly to potential future prospects, that the culture is different at Alabama.

Ordinarily, the lists of “best” or “most important” or just “most memorable” are subjective. My list of most memorable is those I have seen, and frequently regard that overriding goal of all Alabama football teams – the national championship.

I did not see, for instance, Alabama’s 1926 Alabama Rose Bowl victory over Washington, which started Bama’s unmatched bowl history. The first team from the South invited to Pasadena was expected to be easy pickings for the powerful Huskies, and the Tide’s 20-19 upset was national sports news and the impetus for Southern football’s enduring success and popularity.

I did not see Tommy Lewis come off the bench in the 1954 Cotton Bowl to tackle Rice’s Dicky Moegle, another game of national note.

Alabama’s 1945 team stomping Southern Cal, 34-14, is historically interesting because after yet another Crimson Tide win in Pasadena, the Pac-8 (owner of the bowl) decided to shut out all but the champions of the Pac-8 and the Big Ten.

The only reason Alabama’s 29-21 win over Texas A&M in the 1942 Cotton Bowl is notable that a series of miscalculations resulted in Bama claiming the 1941 national championship. If The University would make me athletics director for a day, the first thing I would do is delete ’41. It is used by the Bama haters as “an example” of Alabama’s national championships, whereas any mentally competent judge would recognize it as an extreme outlier. And then I would resign, my work having been done.

And even though I remember losses, including losses in well-played and entertaining games, I’ll redefine this list as “Most Memorable Alabama Post-Season Football Victories.”

For instance, Alabama’s loss to Texas in the Orange Bowl at the end of the Tide’s 1964 national championship season resulted in the Associated Press deciding to wait until after bowl games the following season to determine the national championship. Without that change, Bama would never have won the 1965 title. Also, Alabama already had the 1973 Coaches Poll national championship, which had continued to be based on regular season games only, so the Tide’s gut-wrenching 1973 loss to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl didn’t affect the national title. It was one of the greatest games ever, and I’m not kidding myself or anyone else who thinks it didn’t have an effect.

There.

This is not an easy task. Among the Crimson Tide’s national record 76 post-season appearances are 46 victories.

Alabama also had three tie games in bowl games. I might include the 24-24 tie with Oklahoma in the Bluebonnet Bowl at the end of 1970 if I knew for sure that playing against the wishbone offense of the Sooners had an effect on Paul Bryant switching to the triple option in 1971 and thereby postponing what seemed to be approaching retirement. Reinvigorated, he coached 12 more years, winning three more national championships.

It also doesn’t include extraordinary regular season Alabama wins, the first in the wishbone in 1971 defeating Southern Cal in Los Angeles, 2021’s four-overtime win at Auburn, Van Tiffin’s last second field goal to beat Auburn in 1985, Bama come-from – behind wins at Tennessee in 1972 and 1990, and on and on. Alabama’s 9-7 win over Pennsylvania in 1922 was as stunning then as if Penn would come to Tuscaloosa and defeat Bama today, but regardless, I didn’t see that one.

With a combined 41 years Hall of Fame coaching at Alabama, it will come as no surprise that most of my selections were delivered by Paul Bryant and Nick Saban.

Frequently, lists of a top 10 begin with No. 10 and proceed to No. 1. Oh, the drama!

I’ll save you the suspense.

No. 1 – January 8, 2018, College Football Playoff national championship game, in Atlanta

Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (OT)

Next: Ranking top post-season wins

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