Photo courtesy of Dunnavant’s Paydirt Illustrated.
The 1979 Sugar Bowl matched Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant and Penn State’s Joe Paterno for the second time.
In the history of college football, nine giant programs tower above all others.
How they rank is another story for another day, but no one can dispute that Alabama belongs to an elite fraternity of dynasties that includes Notre Dame, Southern Cal, Texas, Michigan, Oklahoma, Penn State, Nebraska, and Ohio State.
Over the last century plus of Alabama football, clashes against teams from this upper echelon have been rare, as evidenced by the Crimson Tide’s all-time 25-25-2 mark, heavily weighted to post-season showdowns, including several which factored prominently in the national championship wars.
So as Alabama goes in search of a third BCS national championship in four years against long-time nemesis Notre Dame, it’s fitting that we take this opportunity to explore the Crimson Tide’s signature victories against the sport’s leading powers (not including the 2012 season):
Alabama 34, Southern Cal 14
Jan. 1, 1946
Twenty years. That’s how long Alabama had been a national power by the time Frank Thomas took his last undefeated team to the Rose Bowl. But still, doubts lingered. The Crimson Tide had taken five previous trips to Pasadena, making a powerful case for Southern football by fashioning an impressive 3-1-1 mark. Yet some West Coast sportswriters continued to discount Bama, especially since the Tide would be facing perhaps the greatest Southern Cal team of them all. Once more, on the first day of 1946, undefeated, SEC champion Alabama found itself an underdog in the Rose Bowl. But with jump pass master Harry Gilmer leading an offensive assault that amassed 351 yards and the Trojans unable to record a first down until the third quarter, Alabama routed USC and forever silenced the California chattering class.
Alabama 17, Oklahoma 0
Jan. 1, 1963
Six weeks after a failed two-point conversion against Georgia Tech cost Alabama a second straight perfect season, and likely a second straight national championship, the Crimson Tide made a definitive statement in the Orange Bowl. Bud Wilkinson’s Sooners had dominated the 1950s, amassing winning streaks of 47 and 31 games while capturing three national titles. But the next-to-last daytime Orange Bowl felt like the passing of the torch, as Oklahoma started to recede and Alabama surged. Sophomore quarterback Joe Namath showed flashes of the brilliance looming in his future and senior linebacker Lee Roy Jordan proved to be a one-man wrecking crew, recording a school-record 31 tackles. Even President John F. Kennedy was impressed.