Domination Of A Decade And The Making Of A Legend - The Bryant Era (1970-1982)

"Wishing" For A Change

That's what many critics had said about the Bear. After the 1970 season, some wondered if Bryant's magical touch had aged beyond repair. The 1970 squad went 6-5-1, subpar by Alabama standards. The season did show signs of a better tomorrow however, with the 30-21 upset of a good Houston team and a 35-6 thumping of Mississippi State. Senior quarterback Scott Hunter was slowed by injuries all season but junior Johnny Musso (pictured here) took up the slack and earned All-American honors. While their bowl game ended in a disappointing 24-24 tie with Oklahoma, the Tide certainly appeared headed back to its more accustomed slot in the SEC.

Before the first game of the '71 season, no one could fully realize what mystical adjustment was about to be made by the greatest coach of all time that would not only rescue sagging spirits but augment them to a divine level again. With all gates closed and manned, the Tide engineered the change in August from the pro-attack to the wishbone and when Bama entered the Los Angeles Coliseum on Friday night, September 10 to play Southern Cal, only those closest to the program knew what was to take place. Certainly, USC was surprised with the unveiling of the wishbone and the perfection of heavily underdogged Alabama operated it in ambushing the Trojans 17-10.

Hard-charging senior Johnny Musso whose twisting, turning, fighting for inch runs endeared him to Alabama faithful forever was a unanimous All-American. Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan had to share SEC Player of the Year honors with Musso who continually disregarded nagging injuries to lead Bama to victory eleven times. Most satisfying for the Tide was a 31-7 whipping of the Sullivan led Tigers of Auburn on national televison in a matchup of undefeated SEC powers. It was the first and last time both teams entered the Iron Bowl with undefeated records. Alabama's Cinderella season struck midnight however, as a powerful Nebraska team won in the Orange Bowl. Musso and junior John Hannah (pictured here) earned first team All-American honors. Bryant was named national coach of the year, and the USC win was his 200th. Certainly any talk of his demise had proved premature as the Bear had the Tide rolling again.

Two of the most improbable finishes in Alabama's history occured in the 1972 season-one a dramatic 17-10 win over Tennessee and the other a stunning 17-16 loss to Auburn. Lady luck smiled brightly on the Tide in Knoxville when Bama scored a pair of last minute touchdowns to defeat the Volunteers who had dominated from the opening kickoff. Wishbone quarterback Terry Davis (pictured here) scored the game-winner on a 22-yard dash after Mike DuBose had stripped the Vol's Condredge Holloway of the football in the final minute of the game. At the end of the season, lady luck bit back as the Tigers blocked a pair of punts in the final minutes of the game to shock the Tide 17-16. Probably no team had ever been whacked into submission all afternoon and still won like the '72 War Eagles who could manage but 80 yards in total offense on a fierce Tide defense. Despite the loss to Auburn, Bama still reigned as SEC Champions but no doubt the inexplicable defeat to the Tigers crushed some Bama egos and it showed painfully in a 17-13 loss to Texas in the Cotton Bowl. It was the year of the super lineman, John Hannah, called the greatest offensive blocker in the history of the game. Nineteen years later he would be named to the NFL Hall of Fame and to the all-time college football squad. Center Jim Krapf and defensive end John Mitchell joined Hannah as All-Americans.

Only an excruciating 24-23 loss to Notre Dame on New Year's Eve 1973 marred an otherwise glorious Crimson season. Not since 1945 had Alabama employed such an explosive offense which featured a pair of QBs in Gary Rutledge and Richard Todd (pictured left) and a stable of running backs including Wilbur Jackson and Randy Billingsley. When the season was over and done, the Tide had racked up 477 points and averaged 480.7 yards per game. Offensive guard Buddy Brown, receiver Wayne Wheeler and sophomore linebacker Woodrowe Lowe earned All-American honors. Alabama earned a tarnished version of the national crown by claiming the UPI trophy which was voted on before the bowl loss to Notre Dame. All votes on the polls would be after bowl games commencing with the '74 season.

A pre-season injury to QB Gary Rutledge, a season of nagging injuries to QB Richard Todd and the inablity to replace the talents of Wilbur Jackson summed up the season of the '74 squad. Despite the obvious handicaps the Tide trampled through 11 opponents before losing another heartbreaker to Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. Highlighting the season was a 30-0 smashing of LSU on national television and a cliffhanging win over Auburn, 17-13. Senior Mike DuBose preserved that win when he wrestled the football away from the Tiger's Phil Gargis late in the contest.

If not for an early season loss to Missouri in the '75 season, Bama might have been looking at another national championship. After the debacle against Mizzou, Bama went back to the basics of hard-nosed defense and option offense. The Tide finished 3rd in the national polls with an 11-1 record which included a 13-6 victory over Penn State in the first Sugar Bowl ever played in the Superdome. The victory ended a bowl drought dating back to the 1967. Expectations were high at the beginning of the '76 season but as Bryant warned, Bama was in the middle of a rebuilding year. The Tide went 9-3 on the season with highlighted victories over Tennessee, Auburn and 36-6 win over a heavily favored UCLA team in the Liberty Bowl. Defensive tacke Bob Baumhower and end Ozzie Newsome earned All-American honors as Bama enhanced its momentum for the stretch run of the 1970s.

Domination of a Decade

In 1977, an uncertain early season defensive unit matured into one of the most dominating teams in UA history. A 21-20 upset of No. 1 ranked USC in Los Angeles tuned the team into greatness. Barry Krauss' interception of a two point conversion attempt would ensure a win over the Trojans and sparked a second half evolution of sheer greatness. The "Wizard" Ozzie Newsome's (pictured right) magnificent catches of Jeff Rutledge's passes combined with a wishbone infantry attack speared on by the power of Johnny Davis and speed of Tony Nathan (pictured) combined to make Alabama's offense virtually unstoppable.A 48-21 win over Auburn set up a season finale in the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State and matched heralded coaching titans, Paul Bryant and Woody Hayes. The game was billed as the battle of Sugar Bowl Coaching Legends. The Bear would add another notch in his ledger after his Tide dominated in a 35-6 win. By the time the team had arrived back home, the news about the final rankings dampend the New Year's spirit. Notre Dame by virtue of its win over No. 1 Texas had catapulted from No. 5 to the top spot in the nation.

The dissapointing results of the polls for the '77 squad would pivot a different direction in '78. Facing one of its most difficult schedules ever, Paul Bryant's team went 11-1 and defeated No. 1 Penn State in the fabled Sugar Bowl game of New Year's Day, 1979. Barry Krauss, MVP of the Bowl and one of the many heroes of the infamous Goal Line Stand, earned All-American honors as did tackle Marty Lyons. During the '78 season Bama faced Nebraska, Missouri, Southern Cal, Washington, Florida, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn and Penn State. USC defeated the Tide 24-14 early in the season and finished second to Bama in the AP poll but leaped over Bama in the final UPI balloting. Still, the Crimson Tide had claimed their 10th National Championship...and more was still to come.

Alabama's 1979 squad concluded the most dominating decade in college football history on the first day of 1980 when the '79 squad clinched a perfect 12-0 season and Bama's 11th Natonal Championship with a 24-9 win over Arkansas. Alabama's national title team so dominated its opponents that the Tide allowed but 67 points for the entire season and shut out five opponents. Guard Jim Bunch, center Dwight Stevenson and cornerback Don McNeal earned All-American honors. For the decade of the 1970s, the Alabama Crimson Tide compiled an incredible 103-16-1 record. Considering 5 of those losses came in 1970 makes the final nine year stretch of 97-11-0 even more imposing.

The Making Of A Legend

After two consecutive national championships, Alabama entered the new decade with a legitimate chance of becoming the first team eer to claim three straight No. 1 rankings. Through seven games, the Tide held to its top spot but a 6-3 loss to Mississippi State followed two weeks later with a 7-0 defeat by nemesis Notre Dame eliminated Crimson hopes of a record three straight crowns. Bama finished the 1980 season with a 10-2 record and ranked 6th nationally after a 30-2 crushing of Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. Defensive end E.J. Junior and linebacker Thomas Boyd earned All-American honors.

Coach Paul William "Bear" Bryant ascended to the top on major college football's win list (315) November 28, 1981 when his Bama squad rallied for a pair of touchdowns in a 28-17 win over Auburn. Bryant surpassed Amos Alonzo Stagg's previoulsy unbrakeable record of 314 wins. Overall, the '81 squad finished 9-2-1, including a loss to Texas in the Cotton Bowl, in a season of intense media coverage and pressure on a team expected to lift Bryant even higher among mere mortals. Thomas Boyd and Tommy Wilcox were All-Americans in the Year of 315 which featured a 13th and final SEC title for Bryant at Alabama.

1982 was a season filled with high expectations which slowly evolved into the most disappointing year in a dozen years. After defeating eventual national champ Penn State 42-21, the Tide rose to No. 2 in the country but a string of losses slowly choked the breath of happiness from Bama fans. On December 15, 1982, Paul Bryant announced he was retiring. Only a date of destiny against Illinois in the Libery Bowl remained for the most revered sporting figure in Southern athletic annals. An all-star performance by Jeremiah Castille, which included 3 interceptions and a forced fumble inside the three-yard line, enabled Bama to beat the Illini and send the Bear away a victor.

The fabled Bama coach concluded his Tidecareer with a 232-46-9 record (.824 win %) and a combined career record of 323-85-17. Bryant won 6 National Championships at Alabama, was named national coach of the year 3 times, SEC coach of the year 10 times and was inducted into the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame in 1986. On January 26, 1983, Paul William "Bear" Bryant passed away at the age of 69, just 28 days after he had coached his final football game.

Click Here for a Halftime Speech Given by Coach Bryant

Click Here for the Intro to the Bear Bryant Show

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