"Mama Called"The Bryant Era (1958-1982)

"Mama Called"
The Bryant Era (1958-1969)

The Late '50's

"Mama Called"...This is what Paul W. "Bear" Bryant was quoted upon saying after asked why he had left a successful Texas A&M program to return to his alma mater in 1958. Before coming to Alabama, Bryant was already known as legendary rebuilder of destroyed programs by turning around Maryland, Kentucky and Texas A&M. Folks in Tuscaloosa and elsewhere hoped he could do the same for their beloved Tide. The past ten years had been nothing but mediocre and losing seasons.

Paul Bryant, while playing with limited talent, signalled to the rest of college football that he was not kidding when he said he had returned to restore Alabama to its proper place with the mighty of the SEC and NCAA. While his first year had a 5-4-1 record, it included narrow losses to eventual national champ LSU, Tennessee, Tulane and Auburn. The 14 points by the Vols and Tigers were the most yielded in the entire season against the Crimson Tide, which showed the emphasis Bryant placed on defense. While there were no all-stars on the '58 team, the first building blocks of the Bryant era had been laid in the ground.

When Alabama's 7-2-2 squad finished the year ranked No. 10 in the country, it marked the first time since 1952 Bama had been listed among the nation's elite. A meaningful 10-0 victory over Auburn ended a streak of 5 straight Tiger wins. While the Tide did lose to the Nittney Lions of Penn State in the inaugural Liberty Bowl, it hardly lessened the enthusiasm for a better decade to come. The Alabama Crimson Tide was back on the winning track. For the decade of the 50's Alabama was 50-48-10. Bryant's two year record so far was 12-6-3.

Decade of the 60's

A 21-6 win over the Fran Tarkenton-led Georgia Bulldogs on national television began the 1960 season. This season included a celebrated 16-15 come-from-behind win over Georgia Tech and a 3-0 defensive battle vs. Auburn. The win over Tech was of folklore material, especially for backup QB Bobby Skelton and end Richard "Digger" O'Dell. Skelton came in for the injured Pat Trammell (pictured here) to lead the Tide to within two points and on the game's final play O'Dell kicked a game winning field goal, the only one he tried in his college career. He was subbing for regular Tommy Brooker who was injured. Two weeks later, Brooker would return and score the only points in the victory against arch rival Auburn. The season ended with a 8-1-2 record and once again Bama was in the final top-10, ranked in the ninth spot.

As far-fetched as it sounded back when he was recruiting his first class four years before, Paul Bryant's promise of a national championship proved as accurate as his precise demand for excellence. The 1961 squad, led by QB Pat Trammell, center-linebacker Lee Roy Jordan (pictured here) and two-way star Billy Neighbors, ascended to the pinnacle of the college football world, winning all eleven games and being named the Number One team in America. It was the Crimson Tide's sixth National Championship and Bryant's first at the Capstone. In only four years, Paul "Bear" Bryant had transformed a disparaged football program in the '50s into champions once again. Alabama had outscored its foes 297-25, with North Carolina State scoring the most against the Tide all season in the Sugar Bowl...7 points! Neighbors was a unanimous All-American (the first since 1954) while Jordan and Trammell were second team picks.

Only the anguishing 7-6 loss to Georgia Tech separated the 1962 team from a second straight title. Led by the incomparable Lee Roy Jordan and sophomore sensation Joe Namath, this 10-1 team was simply one of the best ever fielded by the Crimson Tide. For the fourth straight year, Bama had shut out archrival Auburn and it closed it all out with a 17-0 whitewashing of Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Jordan was a unanimous All-American and finished fourth in the Heisman balloting. Alabama finished fifth in the final polls.

With many of the stars of the '62 team graduated, 1963 loomed as a major rebuilding season. The Tide, however, went 9-2 which included a 12-7 upset victory over SEC Champion Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl. At the end of the 1964 season, a gimpy-legged Joe Namath aired his immense talents in the first ever night Orange Bowl game, a 17-21 loss to Texas. Namath and his teammates contended then and now that he had scored what would have been a game winner on a sneak play from the Longhorn six-inch line in the fourth quarter. One official ruled him in, the other out. Obviously the ultimate result went Texas' way. The ultimate irony was that loss afforded the '65 team the opportunity to win a national title because the Associated Press decided it would wait until after the bowls for its final vote in 1965.

Despite the controversial loss to Texas, as well as several other flagrant officiating omissions that night, Alabama was the AP and UPI National Champion. Joe Namath, halfback/kicker David Ray, tackle Dan Kearley and guard Wayne Freeman were named to different All-American teams. That year's Heisman winner was Notre Dame's John Huarte who would serve without distinction as Namath's backup with the New York Jets during the mid-1960's. Later, near the end of his career, Bryant would call Namath, "The greatest athlete he ever coached."

Actually, it was not until late on the eve on the first night of 1966 that the 1965 Alabama squad would crest and a series of improbable events catapulted the Tide from number four in the country to National Champions. By Orange Bowl kickoff, No. 1 Michigan State had lost to UCLA and No. 2 Arkansas had fallen to LSU leaving the No. 3 Nebraska Cornhuskers as the only team ranked above Bama. The final score of 39-28 hardly indicates the surprising ease in which Paul Bryant's pint-sized warriors shucked the Cornhuskers of coaching legend Bob Devaney. Despite a 9-1-1 record, Alabama was Number One in the AP polls for the second consecutive year. QB Steve Sloan and center-linebacker Paul Crane were selected as All-Americans.

Paul Bryant would later describe the 1966 squad as "his greatest team ever" and certainly there is evidence to support his claim. Unfortunately, both wire services voted Notre Dame and Michigan State ahead of this vaunted Bama unit. For the year, Bama was 11-0 and if there were any doubters during the regular season, their claims Alabama was overrated were convincingly dispelled in the Sugar Bowl when the Crimson Tide simply demolished Big 8 Champion Nebraska 34-7. Sleek QB Kenny Stabler was MVP of the bowl game but was aided by the sure-handed receivers Ray Perkins and Dennis Homan and All-American lineman Cecil Dowdy. Defensively, Bobby Johns picked off three Cornhusker passes and this Tide team proved its greatness to its masterful coach. Johns and defensive tackle Richard Cole also earned All-American honors in 1966. However, the most memorable game of the season occured on the Third Saturday in October against Tennessee. The skies erupted with rain in Knoxville as the Tide trailed the Volunteers 10-0 into the fourth quarter Stabler rallied Bama to a heart rendering 11-10 win by game's end.

Kenny Stabler's run in the mud to defeat Auburn 7-3 wrapped up an 8-1-1 regular season but a 20-16 loss to the Gene Stallings' coached Texas A&M Aggies in the Cotton Bowl ended the overall season with an unexpected disappointment. Besides the All-American passing tandem of Stabler to Dennis Homan, safety Bobby Johns also earned A-A honors. It was also the year ABC did a special closeup feature on Paul "Bear" Bryant which aired nationally.

A pair of narrow conference losses (8-10 to Ole Miss and 9-10 to Tennessee) were the only regular season blemishes for the 1968 Tide which excelled defensively but struggled offensively. The Tide peaked in a 24-16 win over Auburn, a game in which linebacker Mike Hall was National Player of the Week. All-American Hall not only had 16 tackles and a pair of interceptions, but he slipped jersey No. 82 over his usual No. 54 to play tight end. His TD snag of a Scott Hunter aerial clinced the win over the Tigers. Sophmore nose guard Sammy Gellerstedt joined Hall as an All-American. While offensive records were shattered by the 1969 team, this time it was the defense which struggled as Bama slipped to a dissapointing 6-5 season. One of the few highlights came when the Tide defeated Ole Miss 33-32 in Birmingham in one of the most electrifying games ever played on national television. Scott Hunter hit 22 of 29 passes for 300 yards in his fabled duel with Rebel quarterback Archie Manning, who compleated 33 of 52 for 436 yards while he rushed for 104 more. The Ole Miss win gave Bama an early 3-0 record but the rest of the season slipped away with defeat after defeat. The loss to Colorado in the bowl was a discouraging conclusion to an otherwise successful decade. For the decade of the '60s Alabama was 90-16-5 with eight of those losses coming in the final two years of the 1960s.

Click Here to Listen to Kenny Stabler's Comments About Coach Bryant

Click Here to Listen to Joe Namath's Thoughts About Playing for Coach Bryant and Alabama During his NFL Hall of Fame Induction Speech

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