Monday, August 29, 2011

Amazin's -- 39 and holding

Most anniversaries or events are celebrated or rehashed at five or ten year intervals. But one that happened 39 years ago is worth taking another look. Generally "39 years" is mentioned in jest in regards to some old Jack Benny routine or women approaching their mid 40's or hitting 50 trying to pretend they are just '39'.However, 39 years ago in Auburn the Tigers put together a season that was quite (A)mazin' and there are many similarities heading into the 2011 season.

Auburn didn't win the National Title in 1971 as they did in 2010 but they were in the hunt in what turned out to be a de facto Final Four in the regular season finale. The 1971 Heisman Trophy winner did come from Auburn has did the 2010 Heisman. In 1971 Pat Sullivan finished off an incredible three year career with the Heisman and in 2010 Cam Newton finished off an incredible one year career with the Heisman.

Pat Sullivan won the 1971 Heisman Trophy, but he had to share jersey number 7 with Florida's John Reaves in the Senior Bowl as "7S" to Reaves' "7R"

The 1971 Tigers flirtation with the National Championship ended with a 9-2 mark with losses only to Alabama and Oklahoma, who finished fourth and second respectively in the final polls. Auburn started off the '71 season ranked higher than the Tide and Sooners and rose to #4 in October of that season. In addition to losing Sullivan to graduation, Auburn also lost some more firepower from its offense losing leading rusher Tommy Lowry and their two leading receivers Terry Beasley and Dick Schmalz.

Much angst seem to emanate from the Plains about the prospects for the 1972 campaign. The biggest concerns centered around the offense. All teams lose key players from season to season but as Auburn coach Shug Jordan said,"not every team loses their Heisman Trophy winning quarterback." Quarterback stability was something Jordan had enjoyed for sometime. In addition to Sullivan's record breaking and award receiving senior season he was first or second team All-SEC in his sophomore and junior years as well(1972 would mark the first year freshman would eligible for varsity play).Jordan's predecessor, Loran Carter was UPI first team All-SEC quarterback in 1968 and led the SEC in total offense in 1967.Auburn entered Spring training with one quarterback that had ever taken a snap in a game, Ted Smith. But Smith would miss spring practice do to an injury. Jordan did express optimism in a recruit for the fall, ambidextrous Rick Christian.
Jordan had had solid quarterback play going back to Sullivan's predecessor, Loran Carter who was UPI All-SEC in 1968 and the SEC's total offense leader in 1967.Lots of players get in Lindy's, Athlons,etc. Only one got in Peek's Size

In addition to a lack of experience at quarterback and throwing the football, the departures of Beasley and Schmalz left the Tiger receiving corp about as devoid of experience. Of the 179 pass completions Auburn had in 1971, those two combined for 102. Throw in back-up WR Robby Robinett's graduation and his 22 receptions, Auburn was losing almost 70% of its passing offense. Only Sandy Cannon was returning at receiver with any game experience.

But while for the last few years, "Sullivan to Beasley" was synonymous with Auburn football, the Tigers did return their second leading rusher in '71 Terry Henley and some stars on defense tackle Benny Sively, LB Ken Bernich, end Danny Sanspree and defensive back Dave Beck .And the kicking game, always a strong unit under Jordan would be strong with place kicker Gardner Jett and punter David Beverly returning.

Still,the conventional wisdom was Auburn would struggle in '72.Jordan himself would sometimes vacillate between coach speak that the team might struggle some,yet saying it with almost a twinkle in his eye like he was expecting more than he was letting on to lamenting his lack of offensive firepower coupled with a seemingly brutal schedule in 1972.Jordan,also Auburn's athletic director, joked he needed to get with Auburn's AD about why he put together such a tough schedule.

Auburn did indeed have a formidable schedule which was judged not just the toughest in the SEC ,but in America. Whereas the NCAA began allowing schools to play 11 games a season in 1970, Auburn would play 10 again this year and begin playing 11 in 1973.Of those 10, conference foes Tennessee,Ole Miss,LSU,Georgia and Alabama played in bowl games in 1971 as did non-conference foes Georgia Tech and Florida State.

Jordan was honored after the 1972 with every SEC coaching award and recognition nationally,too

Fall practice rolled around much sooner than Jordan would have liked. Wanting to start practice at the same time as his opponents that fall, Auburn got its game with Mississippi State in Jackson moved from November 11 to September 9 "with the greatest reluctance" according to Jordan.

He added, "I abhor that we were forced into it by Alabama-Duke and finally the Georgia Tech-Tennessee," game schedules. Jordan added Auburn's game with Tennessee in late September forced Auburn to start practice at the same time the Vols did, necessitating the early playing date. Jordan went on that had they not moved the State game up, they wouldn't have been able to practice for ten more days falling behind Tennessee. He still didn't like it, though. "I think our forefathers who founded football in the South knew what they were doing and when the game should have been the winter .They played in January but we find ourselves mired deeper into the hot weather months."

Jordan made these comments as he addressed the SEC "Sky-writers Tour" stop at Auburn that year.The Skywriters Tour was the grandfather of today's three day 'SEC Media Days' at the Winfrey Hotel in Hoover,Al with fans from schools showing up by the dozens or hundreds depending on team as well as inordinate numbers of the media,local and national.Starting in 1965,then SEC media relations director Elmore "Scoop" Hudgins chartered a DC-3 propeller aircraft filled with about 45 media members that left SEC headquarters in Birmingham and flew campus to campus and spent a day at each member institution.Every school rolled out the red carpet with a reception and open-arms access to players and coaches.The media would spend a day on the campus and get a true feel of what was going on with each program.It wasn't unusual for a head coach to even invite the group to his home where the reporters would sit on the back porch and toss back libations with him while they asked questions.

The SEC Sky-Writers Tour started in 1965 with Scoop Hudgins renting a DC-3 for media members to fly to each member institution

The Skywriters Tour ended in 1983 and after a one year sabbatical,the first "Media Days" emerged in 1985 at Birmingham's Holiday Inn Medical Center as fewer than 100 reporters attended to hear the then 10 head coaches and two players from each school.Now its morphed into a behemoth with every medium imaginable in Hoover.

Auburn president Harry Philpot greeted the Sky-Writers with a quotation from none other than William Shakespeare, the poet and playwright, not the Notre Dame halfback of the same name who finished third in the inaugural Heisman Trophy vote in 1935,"I come not to praise Caesar, but to bury him." Philpot's point was he felt the media would take a look at the post Sullivan-Beasley Auburn team and relegate them to the bottom of the conference as they forecast the upcoming season(which they indeed would do).

Shug Jordan held quite a trump card in QB Randy Walls during the '72 season
After talking about the weather and early games, Jordan perked up talking about how hard the team had worked,and the experience on defense. But the difficult schedule was a concern and inexperience at quarterback. He announced that Auburn would not be in the "pro-set" it had run for the last three years but look to run first. He added that the quick strike Tigers were only on the field 41% of the time on offense the prior year and ball control would be key to a successful year "like what Alabama did(in 1971)". He also added that a player not mentioned in Spring practice would start at quarterback in Jackson vs Mississippi State,Randy Walls. Nonetheless, both Jordan and Philpot concluded their talks on the team with the Shakespeare theme imploring the press not to "bury us yet".

Auburn wasn't ranked in any pre-season top 20 polls,but did get mentioned in the "others receiving votes" category along with Ivy League power Dartmouth

At the conclusion of the Skywriters' tour Auburn was at best pre-season sixth in the SEC behind Alabama,LSU,Tennessee,Ole Miss and Georgia.Some dire predictions of as bad as 2-8 were predicted because of inexperience and the nightmarish schedule with wins over Mississippi State and Chattanooga, Auburn's first two opponents the only safe bets at victory.Auburn wasn't ranked in either the AP,UPI nor Sports Illustrated preseason top 20 polls for 1972 but did get a handful of votes to rate in the "others receiving votes" category.

Game week rolled around as Auburn as the Tiger traveled to Jackson to face Mississippi State. It would be Auburn's first season opening road game since 1963, first conference season opener since 1962 and first trip to the Magnolia State since 1968 even though the Bulldogs played Auburn every year. Mississippi Memorial Stadium wasn't to be confused with Neyland Stadium and State's home field in Starkville, Scott Field was even smaller.During the 1950's until the late 1970's due to simple economics, it wasn't unusual for Mississippi State to play its "home game" vs LSU, Alabama or Auburn on the road. In 1970, 'visiting' Auburn crushed Mississippi State 56-0 at Legion Field.

Shug Jordan could poormouth his team and butter up the opponent as well as anyone. Jordan expressed much concern about the Bulldogs and how improved they were. Auburn hadn't lost to State since 1963 when the Bulldogs were the Tigers' lone regular season blemish. And, State had gone 2-9 the previous year.

The Mississippi State faithful were hopeful,too as slightly over 40,000 showed up on a muggy night for the '72 season opener. Only 26,000 were in attendance in 1968 when Auburn and State last met in Jackson. In what would be Charley Shira's final season as Bulldog mentor the Auburn faithful left pleasantly pleased with a methodical win. Auburn scored first on Terry Henley's 3 yard run after he carried the ball 8 times on the 9 play drive.The other carry in the drive was a 15 yard scramble by starting quarterback Randy Walls as his receivers couldn't get open on what was to have been a pass attempt.

Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Davis did a masterful job all season starting with game one against Mississippi State where he was head coach from '62-'66
There were some anxious moments,though. After Gardner Jett missed a field goal in the late in the first half, State started the second half on fire.Melvin Barkum ran 53 yards on the first play of the third quarter.Auburn settled down and held State to a 43 yd Glenn Owens field goal to make it 7-3.But that was it for State as Auburn came right back with a nice 70 yard drive.James Owens, Auburn's first black football player, closed the scoring on an impressive,twisting ,turning 15 yard run after a 43 yard State field goal to make the final score Auburn 14-3.

Auburn's James Owens scores on a 15 yd run to close out the scoring in the season opening 14-3 win over Miss State in Jackson.QB Randy Walls (18) is in background

Auburn's offensive statistics were almost the opposite of the prior three years. The Tigers rushed for 232 yards on 54 carries with Henley leading the way with 136 yards on 32 carries.Walls himself ran for 54 yards. Auburn threw only 10 times in the game with Walls completing 4 for 38 yards and backup Wade Whatley completing one for 3 yards. While the gameplan worked as hoped with the running game excelling eating up clock and giving the defense some rest, there would be a time the passing game would probably need to help and with a week off and UT Chattanooga up next, the Moccasins might be a good one to pass on.The defense, coached by Paul Davis who came to Auburn in 1967 after a stint as Mississippi State's head coach where he was replaced by current State coach Charley Shira who unknown at the time was coaching his final season in Starkville.

Chattanooga would be the first of just five home games, with only 4 in Auburn in '72

Auburn had beaten UT Chattanooga 60-7 the previous year. The Moccasins had lost their first game of the year to SEC opponent Vanderbilt 24-7 after leading the Commodores 7-3 going into the final stanza.There would be no repeat of 1971 in 1972 against Tennessee-Chattanooga.

After forcing the first of Randy Beverly's 8 punts, Chattanooga behind do-everything quarterback Mickey Brokas led UTC 49 yards into Tiger territory before missing a 50 yard field goal.Auburn scored on the second play of the second quarter on a 22 yard Walls to Sandy Cannon pass and Auburn led 7-0 at halftime.The Tigers increased their lead to 14-0 after a short 50 yard drive culminating in a 29 yard Henley run to make the score 14-0 with 8:08 left in the third.

Late in the game Auburn started moving again but Chattanooga's Mike Bishop intercepted a Walls pass and raced 55 yards to the Auburn 21.Brokas hit Vince Stafford for a 15 yard touchdown pass and after Alabama native Creig Bell's conversion UTC trailed just 14-7 with 2:08 left.Bell's onside kick was recovered by Auburn and with Harry Unger ,who missed the State game with an knee injury, Auburn ran out the clock. Unger joined Henley in the 100 yard club with 101 as Henley got 152. Walls was only 4 of 10 passing for 83 yards with one touchdown,but one costly interception. (oddly enough later that night Vanderbilt who opened with Chattanooga hosted Auburn's first opponent Miss State later that evening.Vandy and Auburn hadn't met since 1955 and wouldn't play again for six more years until 1978)

After the game Jordan appeared as frustrated as relieved. He did joke that Auburn had beaten the two teams they were supposed to beat and complimented the Moccasins effort saying they played Auburn tougher than State had.Whereas he thought Auburn should have scored more he chastised statewide reporters for seemingly helping his team overlook Tennessee-Chattanooga for Tennessee-Tennessee who would play the Tigers the next week in Birmingham."They've been reading all week they had no business playing a team like (Chattanooga) and it was a shame we had to schedule people like that.That kind of talk tends to erode people," he added,"and we're glad to get out of trouble."

Tennessee was going to be a formidable foe. The Vols ranked fourth in the country after blowout wins over Georgia Tech and Wake Forest sandwiched around a 28-21 win over top ten Penn State in the first night game at Neyland Stadium were looking for their first win against Auburn in Birmingham since 1966.The Vols' 36-23 loss in 1970 was Tennessee's only loss that season denying them a possible SEC and National Title.Tennessee's 28-14 loss in 1968 (which was moved to November as the second game of a day-night Legion Field double header after LSU-Alabama, Auburn's second double header that year after a September game vs Miss State in Jackson followed by Kentucky-Ole Miss) denied the Vols a share of the SEC title.31 year old Bill Battle in his third year at the helm in Knoxville had an incredible 24-3-0 record heading into the game.Two of his three losses were to Ralph Jordan and Auburn.

Tennessee's defense wasn't statistically has impressive as it had been in previous years, but their offense was averaging almost 36 points again with sophomore Condredge Holloway from Huntsville directing the attack.But Auburn came in with the SEC's number one defense, and the leading rusher, Terry Henley.The Tigers indeed had a solid defense which could match up with UT, but they would need some help from the offense and their ability to run and therefore work the gameclock. Still, Tennessee would take the field that afternoon as a hefty 13 1/2 point favorite as well as having a 10 game winning streak, the longest in the country at the time.

There was somewhat of a mini-controversy heading into the game.Three months after the infamous break-in at the Watergate Hotel in Washington (which had yet to gather much traction)Tennessee and Auburn had their own little "JerseyGate".It wasn't unusual for both teams to wear dark, or "home" uniforms in the 50's and 60's or even the home team wearing white, besides LSU.But starting in 1971 the SEC implemented a "Gentlemen's Agreement" where the home team had the choice of jerseys.If the home team chose the jerseys in school colors, the visiting team had to wear white.The rule was blamed on black and white television. The vote passed 9-1 with only Tennessee voting against it. Tennessee wearing orange meant as much to the Vols as LSU wearing white jerseys. Only three times from 1950 before the rule went in in 1971 had Tennessee worn white. Once against Alabama in 1963 and two Cotton Bowls vs Texas. All three games resulted in Tennessee losses. UT complied in 1971 including a trip to Birmingham to face the Tide.But Tennessee maintained Auburn had violated the league's "Gentlemen's Agreement" on scouting ,which was never elaborated, and chose to wear its orange on September 30.The UT players wouldn't be alone; longtime UT athletic official Gus Manning announced Tennessee had sold 16,514 to Vol faithful which would result in "the largest crowd ever to follow the Vols for a regular season out of town game,"Manning proclaimed.

James Owens (43) leads the way for Auburn against the orange clad Vols at Legion Field in 1972. Tennessee elected to wear orange going against the league's "gentlemen's agreement" issued the prior year.

 This would turn out to be Auburn's finest game from start to finish.The Vols never could get on track and Auburn did what it set out to do, control the ball with a good ground game and play good defense.Tennessee's defense played well itself but Auburn's defense played great defense which was the difference.Auburn only allowed Tennessee 80 yards rushing, forced a fumble, intercepted three passes and nine times eight different Tigers got to Vol backs behind the line of scrimmage for 37 minus yards.

The defining drive of the year came in this game ,one that started in the middle of the first quarter and carried into early in the second quarter.After both teams couldn't captialize after recovering fumbles on each team's opening possession, Tennessee's Neil Clabo punted to the Auburn 19 yard line.On third and six Randy Walls on a quarterback draw eked out a first down by inches.Again on third down , Walls hit Dan Nugent for a ten yard gain and first down and after the officials marked off an additional ten yard for a late hit by Tennessee, Auburn had the ball on the Volunteer 42. From there it was all Terry Henley as the Oxford,Al senior carried 8 straight plays,the final play a dive from the one to climax a 16 play 81 yard drive that took 7:24 off the clock. Gardner Jett's extra point gave Auburn a 7-0 lead after the second play of the second quarter.

Neither team scored again until there were seven seconds left in the third quarter. The only big plays were fake punts by each punter. Auburn's Beverly ran for 11 yards and a first after Henley's score which led to a missed 43 yard field goal by Jett by a foot.Early in the second half Tennessee's Clabo ran out of the endzone for 22 yards and a first down before the Vols turned the ball over at midfield. Tennessee then held the Tigers on downs but then running back Bill Rudder fumbled the ball to Sanspree, who was having a monster day at the 20.UT stiffened and Auburn settled for a 30 yard Jett field goal with :07 left in the third as Auburn took a 10-0 lead into the fourth.

But as in the UTC game the week before, UTK wasn't ready to surrender yet. Battle replaced Holloway with Gary Valbuena, who would return to Legion Field two years later as a member of the magenta and orange clad Southern California Sun of the short-lived World Football League, moved the Vols to midfield but had a pass picked off by Dave Beck.After holding Auburn and forcing a punt, Valbuena led Tennessee quickly down field and hit a wide open Chip Howard for a 30 touchdown to cut the lead to 10-6 with 4:31 left.Even after a procedure penalty pushed UT back to the 8, they still went for two and Sanspree batted down the two point conversion attempted pass at the line of scrimmage.
Tennessee back-up quarterback Gary Valbuena's next trip to Legion Field would be as back-up to Tony Adams (11) for the WFL's Southern California Sun vs the Birmingham Americans in the summer of 1974

Tennessee actually got the ball back twice. The first time David Langner picked off a Valbuena pass and ran it back 41 yards before Valbuena himself knocked him out saving a touchdown. Auburn then turned the ball over on downs where this time Beck picked Valbuena off and the game ended shortly afterwards. Auburn, unranked in the pre-season and a choice for 6th in the SEC had just knocked off nationally ranked Tennessee 10-6.

The Auburn locker room was ecstatic afterwards. The offense praised the defense and the defense praised the offense. Dave Beck was awarded the game ball. Jordan said everyone who played was a hero.He added that this was indeed one of his greatest wins at Auburn as "no one in the United States thought we could win except these players." He added they were determined to not beat themselves and they didn't.Henley added,"a lot of people didn't think we could win after losing Sullivan and Beasley, so I guess we'll have to whip everybody and show them.We're one big happy family."

The big win over Tennessee garnered national attention and propelled Auburn into the polls as #17 in the nation.But up next was another ranked team, the Ole Miss Rebels, the 18th ranked team as the two would square off where Auburn's season started, Jackson's Mississippi Memorial Stadium.Whereas Auburn and Ole Miss had met in the 1965 Liberty Bowl and Gator Bowl following the 1970 season, this would be the two teams' first regular season meeting since 1953, in Jordan's third year when captain Vince Dooley led Auburn to a 13-0 win.

SEC scheduling to this point was very disjointed.Two week's earlier Alabama's game with Kentucky was the two's first meeting since 1947.Three years earlier when Auburn met LSU in Baton Rouge the 1969 meeting was the first meeting since 1940.This wasn't unusal. When Tennessee hosted Georgia to open the 1968 season on which was the first conference game played on an artificial surface, it was the two schools first meeting since 1937 even though geographically they are two of the closer schools in the league.The odd scheduling also led to an often uneven number of conference games played by particular teams.The departure of Georgia Tech and Tulane in the mid-sixties made this worse and for a brief period from 1965-1968 teams would sometimes have out of conference games designated as conference games. In 1968, LSU only played 4 member SEC teams but had games vs Tulane and TCU count as SEC games.That practice ended the next year,which would hurt the Bengal Tigers as they finished second to Tennessee even though they both only had one loss, coincidentially to Ole Miss in Jackson. LSU lost a squeaker 26-23 and Tennessee was blown out 38-0, but the Vols had a 5-1 mark and LSU had a 4-1 mark. The league champion was based on winning percentage so an unbeaten team with one fewer games wouldn't be penalized such as LSU's 6-0 record in 1961 made them SEC co-champ along with 7-0 Alabama. But as the 1969 season indicated a team with one loss with more conference wins than another conference foe with one loss would be champion. This would be something Auburn would face later,but not now.
The 1972 Auburn-Ole Miss game would be the two teams' first conference meeting since Vince Dooley(25) was a SR on Jordan's third Auburn team in 1953
For the second week in a row Auburn would face the team with the nation's longest winning streak,this time Ole Miss with the ten game winning streak going back almost a year to this very field when Georgia took them to the woodshed.Ole Miss would not be an easy out but not quite as daunting as Tennessee was.In his second season after taking over for legendary head coach John Vaught, Billy Kinard guided Ole Miss after that Georgia beatdown and the Rebels' second in two weeks to a 10-2 mark including a win over Georgia Tech in the Peach Bowl.Ole Miss came down to Jackson 3-0 with wins over "Southern Independents" Memphis State, South Carolina and Southern Miss.The Rebels were led by junior quarterback Norris Weese and tailback Greg Ainsworth.

This game would follow the script for the most part, although there were a few new wrinkles and even more drama in the waning moments. For the first time this season Auburn trailed in a game.Neither team did much in the first half as Jett's 43 yarder with :11 in the first gave Auburn a 3-0 lead. But late in the second quarter Weese engineered a quick 81 yard drive and hit Burney Veazey on a 28 yard touchdown pass late as the Rebels took a 7-3 into halftime much to the delight of the majority of the sellout crowd of 46,421 in Jackson.
Terry Henley (23) led Auburn to their second win in four games at Jackson's Mississippi Memorial Stadium,this time a 19-13 over Ole Miss
Auburn regrouped and came out for the second half on fire. Langner returned the kickoff to the 47 and the Tigers moved to the Ole Miss 27 on runs by Henley and Walls. But a penalty knocked Auburn back to the 37. No problem. Walls promptly threw the ball for Thom Gossom who outraced the Ole Miss defense for a 37 yard touchdown. Jett's conversion made it 10-7, Auburn with a little over 12:00 left in the third.Auburn kept the intensity up by nailing Mike Barlow on the Rebel 3 on the kickoff. On third down Weese was tackled in the endzone and dropped the ball on the way down. Initially ruled an Auburn recovery and touchdown, but the umpire overruled the referee saying Weese had possession.Still, Auburn had a safety and extended its lead to 12-7.Auburn held Ole Miss again and Walls scored from 5 out to end a 64 yard drive highlighted by runs by Henley . Jett's extra point with 4:17 left in the third gave Auburn a seemingly safe 19-7 lead.

But like the prior two opponents, Ole Miss didn't think it was over.The Rebels blocked a Beverly punt and recovered on the Auburn 5. On fourth down, Weese hit Veazey again to cut the lead to 19-13,which stayed that way after a missed extra point with 4:46 left in the game.This time the Rebels held and took over with 2:00 left.

Statistically, this was not one of Auburn's better defensive games.Ole Miss had 16 first downs to Auburn's 14 and had 323 total yards to Auburn's 271 total yards. But when the going got tough, will Auburn's defense got tough.After Weese quickly moved the ball to the Auburn 10 with a first and goal with passes to Veazey and Bill Barry,the Auburn defense rose up.Weese ran to the six on first down and escaped a rush and threw one away on second down.On third down Bill Neel busted threw and dumped Weese for a nine yard loss back to the 15 with :53 left.On fourth down Weese looked for Veazey one more time but Bill Luka batted the ball away at the goal line and Auburn survived 19-13 giving Jordan his 150th career victory.After the game Jordan joked with reporters who said he should quit now since at 4-0, the four wins were what many said Auburn would win in 1972."I'm not ready to quit yet," he said."I have a feeling we'll win some more."

Auburn's success was having friend and foe take notice, but also confound those as well.As well as Henley was running the ball, as he led the SEC and was 7th nationally, as a unit Auburn's offense had indeed sputtered as many had predicted. After the Ole Miss game, Auburn was dead last in the SEC in scoring offense with 57 total points. In the season opener in 1969, Pat Sullivan led Auburn to a 57-0 win over Wake Forest.Yet, as rugged as Auburn's defense was it just seemed to make the offensive statistics just a piece of the puzzle.

The Tigers couldn't take too much time off as another road trip to a ranked team was up next,this time to Baton Rouge and the LSU Tigers.Amazingly after disposing of Tennessee and Ole Miss on consectutive weekends,LSU now had the nation's longest winning streak,this one at 8.For the third week in a row Auburn would face the team with the current longest winning streak in college football.

LSU was SI's preseason #1 in 1972 even though Nebraska made the cover of the September 11,1972 issue. Still,the SI cover jinx was alive and well as on September 9th, UCLA upset the Huskers, 17-14

Unlike the Tennessee and Ole Miss streaks, LSU's unbeaten streak would continue after playing Auburn.Auburn at least got its money's worth out of its first loss with no 'what ifs' or 'almosts'. LSU defeated Auburn soundly 35-7 in a game as bad as it sounds.A then Tiger Stadium record crowd of 70,132 was as surprised as anyone as the 8th ranked LSU Tigers were never threatened by the 9th ranked Auburn Tigers.LSU led 14-0 after one period, 21-7 at halftime and 28-7 after three.

Early in the second quarter,though, Auburn did seem to have regained its footing. LSU seemed on their way to a 21-0 lead,but Paul Lyons in for All-America candidate Bert Jones had a pass intercepted by David Langner who returned it to the LSU 45.Walls quickly hit Gossom for 30 to the Bengals' 15 and Henley carried over from one three plays later and it was 14-7. Auburn then blocked an LSU punt and had the ball at the LSU 43, but then the LSU defense knocked Auburn back to its side of midfield forcing a punt. Then LSU quickly marched 79 yards in five plays to score with :09 in the half as split end Joe Fakier lobbed a 19 yard pass into the endzone where Brad Davis wrestled the ball away from Dave Beck for a touchdown and 21-7 lead.LSU took the second half kickoff and went 80 yards in 13 plays with Jones hitting Gerald Keigley, an All-SEC baseball as well as football selection for a 19 yard score to make it 28-7 and that took the starch out of Auburn.

Auburn and Langner didn't win this game, but this photo won the 1972 AP "Best Sports Photograph". Langner's agility did pay off nicely eight weeks later in Birmingham
For the first time all season an opponent outrushed Auburn with LSU outgaining Auburn by a whopping 259 to 95 . In total yards LSU had 477 to Auburn's 211. Also for the first time in 1972 Auburn had more passing yards than rushing with 116 passing to 95 rushing.As with Jordan's milestone win the prior week, LSU's win gave Charles McClendon a milestone, his 84th, making him LSU's winningest coach.One bright spot for Auburn was Chris Linderman, who spelled Henley in the second half when the trainers decided Unger's ankle wasn't ready for action.The sophomore from Chamblee,Ga responded with 57 yards on 10 carries.

Both squads afterwards said LSU was just red-hot. Auburn players took it in stride saying they have won as a team and this was a team loss. Both coaches commented on the LSU touchdown right before halftime with McClendon saying "it swung things back our way" while Jordan "wonder(ed) how long you have to hold on to the ball for it to be considered an interception."Afterwards reporters seemed not to wallow in Auburn's loss but the opportunity to use puns directed towards the ever growing 'Cinderella' references headed into Baton Rouge."This time the prince's glass slipper didn't fit, The Three Little Pigs didn't have a brick house, nobody was hiding in the closet to save Little Red Riding Hood from the wolf,the fairy tale has ended."

The clock may have struck 12 in Tiger Stadium, but Auburn was only 4-1 with five games left and most likely a bowl game, which six weeks earlier seemed far-fetched to assume a bowl for the Tigers at the midway mark. With only the Chattanooga game in their first five games at Auburn, the Tigers would return to Cliff Hare Stadium for their next two games, independents Georgia Tech and Florida State.Like Auburn told the 'Sky-writers' before the season started, "don't bury us yet."

Tech seemed to have found its offensive stride after a miserable season opening loss to Tennessee 34-3 on national television.The Yellow Jacket program in general was also trying to find its stride after leaving the SEC in 1965 and longtime legendary coach Bobby Dodd retiring after the 1966 season.Georgia Tech fired his replacement, Bud Carson after prior season and new coach and former Tech player Bill Fulcher was now at the helm.Under quarterback coach Steve Sloan's tutelage, Tech QB Eddie McAshan had led Georgia Tech to a 3-1-1 mark and scoring 31 points a game since the Tennessee debacle.

Now, for the second week in a row, Auburn found itself down 14-0 early in the second quarter.Neither team could move the ball in the first but in the second after not having a 15 mph wind in his face McAshan hit his favorite receiver Jim Robinson for 26 and 15 completions which moved the ball to the AU 4 where Kevin McNamara scored from the two. On Auburn's next possession, Tech All-American Randy Rhino picked off a Walls pass and returned it 43 yards to the Auburn 15. Rob Healy scored from the 5 and it was 14-0 Yellow Jackets.

No one knew at the time, but that would be all of the scoring for Georgia Tech. Not that Auburn suddenly became reminiscent of Sullivan's Tigers,either. But they did score on a Henley run near halftime to trail only 14-7,which was set up by a Johnny Simmons interception of a McAshan at the AU 38.Walls had runs of 30 and 23 on the scoring drive. In the third Auburn scored again, this time a Jett 37 yard field goal culminating a drive in which Linderman, the prior week's bright spot, rushed for 54 yards in that possession. But Auburn still trailed 14-10 going into the fourth quarter-- and late in the fourth quarter.

Auburn got the ball back after Tech decided to punt after facing fourth and inches.With 2:00 left Walls scored from the one and Auburn led 17-14.But the scoring wasn't over. Dave Beck picked off McAshan at the Tech 40 and ran it back to the 8. Walls hit Gossom for an 8 yard touchdown with under a minute left to make the final score Auburn 24-14.
Thom Gossom (49) is congratulated after his 8 yd td near the end of the Tech win

After the loss to LSU, Auburn dropped to 14th but moved back up to 12th after the big comeback over eventual Liberty Bowl champion Georgia Tech.Next up was 17th ranked Florida State who would be Auburn's homecoming opponent in a game moved up for regional television on ABC.

The Seminoles were 6-1 with their only loss a stunning 42-13 home loss to an "improving" Florida team. They had played in the inaugural Fiesta Bowl the prior year and were led by record breaking quarterback Gary Huff, who would go on to finish 10th in the 1972 Heisman race.While Florida State was indeed a quality opponent, Auburn faithful enjoyed a happy homecoming all the way around with a 27-14 victory.While the scores themselves with Tech and Florida State were similar, the way the games unfolded couldn't be anymore different.

It was a Happy Homecoming for Auburn in 1972 as the win over ranked Florida State was one of the less dramatic of the year

Whereas Auburn trailed 14-0 in the second and took its first lead with 2:00 left in the game and tacked on one more following and interception for a deceptive ten point win, Auburn led from the start against the Seminoles and led 27-0 in the fourth quarter before Florida State scored two touchdowns to account for the final score.

Auburn played a flawless first half taking a 21-0 lead into halftime. Huff, who came into the game with 1,874 yards and 16 touchdowns was 6 of 12 with 28 yards at intermission.Terry Henley scored all three first half touchdowns but they were set up by many teammates. The first came on a one yard drive after James Owens caught a pass out of the backfield and raced 58 yards to the Florida State one.Linebacker Bill Newton set up the second score with an interception at the Seminole 33 and third was aided by a 30 yard Gossom reception where he took it to the 15 and Henley scored three plays later for the 21-0 lead.

The Tigers didn't have as much intensity in the second half but Gossom hauled in a 29 yard Walls' pass to close out the scoring for AU early in the 4th to make it 27-0. Huff got going in the second half and while he did have 4 interceptions for the game, he completed 19 of 29 for 213 in the second half and directed the Seminoles to a quick score following Gossom's td and one more with 3:20 left. Walls had a fine game himself with a career high 150 yards on only 6 completions. (Florida State would win only one more game that season and proceeded to lose 20 straight going late into the 1974 season which included an 0-11 mark in 1973)

After the successful two game homestand, Auburn returned to the road this time to Gainesville to face the much improved Florida Gators under third year head coach Doug Dickey.Auburn had not lost to Florida since 1966 on a late Steve Spurrier field goal and had won the last three meetings in blowouts by a margin of 47-11.The Gators came into the game 3-2 with a shockingly easy upset of rival Florida State and convincing wins over Mississippi State and Ole Miss, the latter giving the Rebels their first shut out loss since a 31-0 beatdown in Knoxville in 1968 by Tennessee.Florida's losses were by a touchdown to a good SMU team and a competitive 24-7 loss at Alabama.

Dickey tried to use the prior year's game as extra motivation. He felt Auburn had run the score up by keeping Sullivan and Beasley in the entire game in the 40-7 Auburn trouncing.While Dickey didn't make too much out of what he felt was somewhat of poor sportsmanship was rather ironic coming from him especially after what happened between the Gators and the Miami Hurricanes just one month later and less than a year from the '72 kickoff with Auburn .Gator star quarterback John Reaves, the "7R" to Sullivan's "7S" in the Senior Bowl six weeks afterwards trailed former Stanford QB Jim Plunkett's career passing yards by 14 as the Gators led Miami 45-8 in the season finale at the Orange Bowl stadium that the Hurricanes shared with the NFL's Dolphins.Reaves' teammates convinced Dickey to let him (Reaves) break the record. The only problem was Miami had the ball and there was only 1:20 left in the game.So the Gators proceeded with the "Florida Flop" where 10 defenders fell to their stomachs and allowed Miami QB John Hornibrook to score untouched for a td. After a two point conversion made it 45-16 and the Gators recovered the onside kick, Reaves hit Carlos Alvarez for a 15 yard completion and NCAA record.If that wasn't enough as the game ended soon after Reaves was carried off the field by his teammates and thrown into the pool behind the scoreboard where the Dolphins' mascot Flipper stayed as the rest of the team followed suit.

Regardless of what coach or team was more honorable, the '72 game started out like another Auburn blowout of Florida as the now 11th ranked Tigers led 26-0 midway through the second quarter.AU took the opening kickoff and score in under three minutes after a 47 yd touchdown run by Henley.After a Jett field goal made it 10-0,the Gators fumbled the ensuing kickoff on their 27 and three plays later Walls hit Henley on an 11 yd td to make it 16-0 which the scored stayed after Jett missed the conversion.Unfortunately Henley twisted his ankle on the td and wouldn't return.Auburn scored 10 more in the second quarter with the last score coming on a 4 yd Walls run with 2:39 left in the half to make it Auburn 26-0.That would be all Auburn would score.

But the Gators wouldn't be shut out,nor go down without a fight. David Bowden, like Walls at Auburn replacing an All-Star in Reaves,hit Nat Moore for a 52 yd td before halftime to make the score 26-7 Auburn.Florida scored on another Bowden to Moore pass ,this time from the ten after recovering an Auburn fumble at the Tiger 35 to make it 26-13 after a try for two failed.

At the start of the fourth quarter, Florida turned the ball over deep in Gator territory at the 18.But Auburn's offense was stagnant in the second half hampered by Henley's injury.Walls was picked off by Jim Revels who returned the pass 79 yards and after the conversion Auburn led only 26-20 with plenty of time left.

After two Auburn punts and one Gator punt, the Gators moved the ball into Auburn territory and had first down at the Auburn 47 and the rain soaked crowd sensed an upset.After a run on first down got yards,Dickey called for a pass on second and three. Bowden underthrew his target Moore in the endzone and Dave Beck intercepted on the Auburn 6 with under 3:00 left. Auburn got one first down but had to punt away with :26 left.

Beverly booted one 52 yards,but Florida's Tyson Sever almost slipped through the return defense and was knocked out of bounds at the Auburn 43.On first down Bowden hit Hank Folberg for seven to the Auburn 36 but AU linebacker Ken Bernich hit him and recovered Folberg's fumble with :10 left and back-up QB Wade Whatley (who took over for an 'exhausted' Walls) took a knee and Auburn had survived 26-20 and would take a much needed week off and get ready for Georgia.

Auburn would take some time off and let Henley,James Owens and Bill Newton in particular recover from injuries in the Florida win. Henley's injury in particular looked like he could be lost for the Georgia game.There was one "loss" during the open date that did prevent an improbable SEC Championship for the Tigers. Alabama would play 8 SEC games to Auburn's 7 SEC games in 1972. On the day of Auburn's off game, Alabama defeated LSU 35-21 at Legion Field to win the SEC Title.Oddly enough had LSU won the game over Alabama and then lost to either Miss State or Florida and Auburn was to defeat Georgia and Alabama, Auburn would have won the SEC at 6-1 because LSU only played 6games. But the Tide victory coupled with Auburn already having a loss and playing one few game secured the title for Alabama.

Regardless, Auburn still had a lot to play for considering how the season had unfolded versus the poor season forecast by the media. Georgia, which led "The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry" overall series 35-34-6. With bowl invitations to be awarded at 6:00 pm the day of this game, Auburn was virtually assured of a bowl regardless and a trip to Jacksonville for the Gator if they won.Georgia needed to win this game to secure a trip to one of the bowls scouting the Bulldogs, the Fiesta,Liberty and some interest by the Peach Bowl.

The Tigers took the field a 6 point favorite on ABC regional television but without workhorse Terry Henley.Auburn was also looking for its first win in Auburn vs Georgia since 1964, in Vince Dooley's first year as Bulldogs' head coach after a stellar career as halfback for Jordan's Tigers and tenure as an assistant coach under Jordan.Georgia won a share of the SEC title in 1966 in Auburn, defeated Auburn for the SEC title in Auburn in 1968 and as a huge underdog limping into Auburn at 4-4 in 1970 vs Auburn in a game also on ABC regional television pulled off a stunning 31-17 upset over then #8 Auburn.At least Auburn had Sullivan and Beasley in the '70 game. Now Auburn was without team leader Henley to face a Georgia team in a similar situation as the last meeting in Cliff Hare Stadium but a Bulldog team with a bowl bid with a win over Auburn.

Auburn was looking for its first win over Georgia in Auburn since 1964 in Dooley's first year as head coach shown here after 7-0 Sun Bowl win over Donny Anderson and Texas Tech to culminate his inaugral season in Athens

No problem.Whereas the talkative Henley was the team leader, he wasn't the only good football player. As a record crowd of 61,348 in addition to the ABC viewers on "Jeff Beard Day",honoring the former Auburn AD who had hired Shug Jordan as head coach in 1951, the Tigers got things going earlier.Chris Linderman who gained playing time in the loss to LSU started in place of Henley and on the game's first play ran for 26 yards to the Georgia 47. On the game's second play in ran 47 yards for a touchdown. With 14:15 to go in the first quarter, Jett's extra point made it Auburn 7-0.Bill Newton forced a fumble on Georgia's first possesion and after Georgia stiffened,Jett booted a 34 yd field goal to make it 10-0 with 10 minutes still left in the opening stanza.

Both teams later moved 75 yards on scoring drives. Georgia with its share of banged up players such as QB Andy Johnson and running back Jimmy Poulous led Georgia to a score to end the first quarter at 10-7.Linderman started off Auburn's 75 yd drive with some good runs while Walls got some passing in with completions to Rob Spivey and a 12 yd pass to James Owens to extend the lead to ten again at 17-7 midway in the second.Georgia drove down to the Auburn 7,but on 3rd down Johnson was sacked for a ten yard loss so Kim Braswell connected on a 33 yd field goal with :27 as Auburn took a 17-10 lead into halftime.

Second halves had been full of drama so far for Auburn as the Tigers had held on for dear life in five of the previous seven wins so this one wasn't over yet.But as it turned out Georgia's scoring was over. Auburn forced a fumble on Georgia's first drive of the half and Jett added another field goal with less than five minutes gone to go up 20-10.Late in the third a Ken Bernich interception and return gave Auburn the ball at the Georgia 7. On the first play of the fourth quarter Walls scored from four out and Jett's kick made the final score Auburn 27-10.Linderman, with 149 yards on 20 carries was named Offensive MVP and Danny Sanspree was named Defensive MVP.Georgia's bowl hopes ended.But the Bulldogs would go on to defeat Georgia Tech 27-7 in their season finale to end their season at 7-4.Tech, had already accepted a Liberty Bowl bid and finished its regular season at 7-4.

After the game across the street at Memorial Coliseum the Gator Bowl invitation would become official.Jordan praised the "magnificent leadership" of the seniors on the squad adding "they are out of this world." As for the Gator Bowl being Auburn's fifth trip to Jacksonville since 1953, Jordan noted that the Gator is never "Old Hat" with him."Its a new experience each time we go there and the people in Jacksonville are just great." He did quip that he hopes to make this trip. After the 1970 regular season, Paul Davis guided Auburn to a win over Ole Miss in the Gator as Jordan stayed back recuperating from appendectomy surgery.Oddly enough Ole Miss was also with an 'acting head coach' Frank "Bruiser" Kinard filling in for John Vaught who had suffered a heart attack earlier in the season.

Now 8-1 and ranked 10th, Auburn would take a week off before playing unbeaten 10-0 and second ranked Alabama on December 2nd. This time during the open date Auburn benefited from LSU's game. LSU and Florida tied 3-3 in a driving rainstorm which knocked the Bengal Tigers out of the top 10 and moved Auburn up one more spot, this time to number 8.Still,Alabama was going to be a formidable opponent with not may outside of the 'Auburn Nation' thinking they had much a chance.

Whereas a win is a win, Alabama's 10-0 was with a scoring average of 37-12 coming into the game.The only close call was incredible comeback in Knoxville versus Tennessee where the Tide scored twice in :38 in the final 2:00 to win 17-10. Bryant,in fact, had been uncharacteristically boisterous about the '72 team since the end of the LSU game saying Alabama and not Southern Cal should be number one.A generation before the BCS , with Southern Cal and the Pac 8 tied to the Rose Bowl, if the Trojans finished unbeaten, in all likelihood an unbeaten Alabama team would finish second.So, if Alabama won vs Auburn they'd need Notre Dame to upset Southern Cal in Los Angeles later that same afternoon.

The All-SEC selections came out between the open date and the Iron Bowl. Alabama was loaded with 7 first team and 3 second team selections.But Auburn was well represented,too with Henley and tackle Mac Lorendo making first team offense and Sanspree and Dave Beck on the first team defense.Gardner Jett, Benny Sively and Ken Bernich made second team.Rob Spivey, David Beverly, Bill Luka, David Langner, Johnny Simmons and Randy Walls were included in the "Honorable Mention". Four Tiders,though also received National Recognition with John Hannah being named consensus first team All-American and John Mitchell and Jim Krapf being selected All-America on a select list.QB Terry Davis finished 5th in the Heisman Trophy.

The Tide was a ten point favorite which didn't seem to concern Auburn too much.After gloom and doom predictions of 2-8 or 3-7, 8-1 vs a heavily favored Alabama wasn't too daunting.Alabama didn't do much on their first drive and Greg Gantt,under heavy pressure barely got his punt off for a paltry 21 yards.Auburn actually had a chance to score first in the game. David Langner intercepted a Davis pass at the Tide 25. Alabama forced a field goal try from the 5 a few plays later, but John Croyle tackled holder Dave Beck back at the 29 after he tried to retrieve a poor snap that bounced back way too fast and far.The first quarter ended scoreless as the Tide was in the midst of a 14 play 71 yard drive after the botched field goal attempt.Steve Bisceglia who rushed for 48 yards on the drive scored from the two but Roger Mitchell blocked the conversion and Alabama led 6-0 with 11:16 left in the half.Alabama closed out the half on a 24 yd Bill Davis field goal with :52 set up after an Alabama interception return from the Auburn 38 to the Tiger 13 and it was Alabama 9-0 at halftime.

Alabama's defense did all it could in the game as Mike Raines (91) and company held Henley and Auburn to 80 total yards.

The Tide scored the first time they had the ball in the second half on a 77 yard drive in 12 plays with Wilbur Jackson scoring from the six. This time Bill Davis' kick was good and Alabama led 16-0 with under 9:00 left in the game.The Tide then missed a 50 yard field goal early in the fourth and instead of taking over at the line of scrimmage, the rules of the day gave Auburn the ball at their 20.Finally Auburn put a drive together with runs by Linderman and a 14 yd Walls pass to Gossom that stalled on the Tide 25 where Gardner Jett put Auburn on the scoreboard to make it 16-3 with 9:15.

Auburn 'blocked' the two punts as dominating and solid as any punts have been blocked without just tackling the punter. Gantt never had a chance.

Then it happened,twice.Alabama got two first downs and then on 3rd and 5 and midfield, Terry Davis fumbled the snap and Alabama was forced to punt.Gantt never had a chance. Bill Newton led a jail break and slammed Gantt's punt back towards the goal where Langner picked up at the 25 and without breaking stride scored.Jett's conversion with 5:30 cut Alabama's lead to 16-10.Again, Alabama got two first downs and faced another crucial 3rd down near midfield.This time Davis was sacked for a five yard loss and Alabama would punt from their 43.Once again, Newton busted through and blocked Gantt's punt and Langner picked it up ,this time from the 20 and Jett's conversion gave Auburn a 17-16 lead with 1:34 left.

Somehow, someway Auburn's amazin(g) season went to new heights as Newton and Langner's second block and score put Auburn up 17-16

Even with the unbelievable turn of events, all Alabama needed to win was a field goal. But as stout as Auburn's defense had been in the second half, the Tide was going to need some help with a good kick return.It didn't happen.Joe LaBue was leveled at the 20 by Auburn's Lee Carpenter.Alabama got to their 32 but Langner intercepted a Davis pass. Using all three timeouts,Alabama now forced an Auburn punt with :19 left.Mike Washington and  LaBue came 'oh so close 'to blocking one themselves. but David Beverly got his punt off and the game ended on the next play as Davis was tackled trying to find a receiver.Auburn, with only 80 total yards had won 17-16.Alabama's defense had basically shut down Auburn but other than Alabama's two scoring drives which accounted for 148 yards , the Tide only racked up 87 yards . Terry Davis completed only one pass out of seven for 16 yards. Not exactly the complete domination which has surrounded this game over time. In fact Bryant, who repeatedly took 100% responsibility for the loss and especially the kicking game did say "our offense read too much about how good they were."

After the blocked punt blitz, Alabama started on the 20 after a solid thumping of Joe LaBue by Lee Carpenter

Whereas there wasn't much talk in the Alabama locker room other than Bryant taking the blame for the kicking woes, everyone seemed to talk in the Auburn locker room saying just about anything.Henley, who had 39 yards on 16 carries maintained "Chattanooga hit harder than Alabama.Those boys up there must tackle telephone poles." Captain Mike Neel suggested if Auburn awarded a game ball "it should go to the Lord".Jordan,almost speechless, said this was "our greatest team" which included a national title in 1957.

Auburn folks themselves disagree about how much rolling at Toomer's was done prior to December 2, 1972,but no one disagrees this is what jump started it as a tradition known far and wide

Jordan was almost giddy in praise of the team,especially the seniors, went on to say"in 22 years (of being head coach) I have always hesitated to put one of my teams ahead of any others,but I'm putting this one at the top of the list." 1972 was the first season that he had "never had to bring one of these boys into my office for a reprimand or to fuss at them for breaking rules and regulations.They have been dedicated to the proposition that we could be winners despite the toughest schedule in the United States and foreign countries as well."

There was still one game left, the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville vs the Colorado Buffaloes of the Big 8.There were only 10 bowls at the time and the Fiesta was only in its second year. So in addition to the 'Big Four' (Rose,Cotton,Sugar and Orange) the Gator was considered "the fifth major". Colorado came into the game 8-3 having handed now #2 Oklahoma its only loss and was ranked 13th.Still, the 9-1 #6 Auburn Tigers were slight underdogs to Colorado.

Two weeks before the Gator Bowl during a light "dummy scrimmage" quarterback Randy Walls was injured when he blocked downfield and another player fell across his leg.The diagnosis was a torn ligament not so bad that Walls couldn't play in 1973,but he wouldn't be able to play in the Gator Bowl.Wade Whatley who had played all of 18:53 during the season would now start the bowl game.Whatley wasn't a complete unknown,at least to the staff as he had started the Spring as the number one quarterback before suffering an injury himself.This moved the point spread to an larger one,with Colorado now an incredible 11 point favorite.

But this was a team predicted by many to battle for a break even season. Tennessee, almost a two touchdown favorite fell, Georgia desperately needing a win fell by 17 and second ranked Alabama lost to Auburn on two blocked punts.Whereas no one wanted to see Walls out, his loss was just another log on the fire for the 1972 Tigers.

Actually the log burned pretty hot two nights before the game at the official banquet with the two squads,bowl officials and Jacksonville civic and business leaders.The Auburn team was just enjoying the ride while Colorado felt a little chippy.Part of the Buffaloes' discontent may have been due to a disappointing season after such high expectations. After finishing the 1971 season ranked third in the nation behind fellow Big 8 members Nebraska and Oklahoma,Colorado started off the 1972 season ranked #2.While Colorado did hand Oklahoma the Sooners only loss of the season, they did lose to Oklahoma State,mid 1970's giant killer Missouri and behemoth Nebraska.The Gator was a step up from the Bluebonnet and Liberty Bowls where the Buffs had spent the last three post seasons,but Colorado was expecting more than 8-3 especially with a team loaded with future NFL stars such as Charlie Davis, Cullen Bryant, J.V. Cain, John "Bad News" Stearns, Huntsville,Al native Bo Matthews and John Keyworth who would play for Denver down the road in Super Bowl XII.

During the banquet the Colorado team didn't endear themselves to their opponents by their cockiness and referring to Auburn players as farmers and taking shots at their Southern ways.Perhaps Colorado was just having good-natured fun,but the way they went about it with smugness and over confidence didn't make it appear that way.And, if Colorado had fallen out of favor with the Auburn team ,they saved their best for last.

Perhaps the attitude of the Colorado team was expressed by a few players.Before the banquet one complained to members of the media that practice had lasted too long.The schedule 50 minute practice lasted 90 minutes (a future Colorado coach may have suggested the young man play intramurals).The banquet ran late,too.35 minutes past the schedule closing time of the banquet Colorado's tri-captains were called to the front to receive bowl watches on behalf of their teammates.Bud Magrum, All-American nose guard was asked if he had anything to say, a seemingly innocent question that was quickly regretted.

Magrum said,"I'd just like to say there's been too much talking already.Let's blow out of here."Cullen Bryant added,"the only thing I'd like to say is no comment."The program ended in a matter of minutes leaving the large audience talking about Magrum and Bryant's comments as they exited and the Gator Bowl officials speechless.

What made Magrum's comments more unfortunate was he was no ordinary slug playing college football.He was a Vietnam Marine veteran with two purple hearts and medals for heroism under fire.While he said what many may have been thinking it could have been left alone.Such a statement in front of college presidents, coaches, both teams,hundreds of guests and dozens of reporters,certainly wasn't protocol by any stretch of the imagination.

The first quarter of the game before a sellout crowd of 71,114 and an ABC audience ended 0-0 after Gardner Jett missed a 52 yarder and Colorado's Fred Lima, the nation's kick-scoring leader (and second barefooted kicker Auburn faced,the other Tennessee's Rickey Townsend)missed a 51 yarder. But Auburn's defense started to do its thing as Johnny Simmons intercepted a pass on the Colorado 24 and after the drive stalled, Jett's 27 yard field goal was good and Auburn led 3-0.On Colorado's next possession Eddie Welch and Sanspree caused a fumble deep in Buff territory at the CU 21. After a run and catch by Henley, Whatley scored from the one and it was 10-0 as that was the halftime score.

Barefooted Fred Lima, from Chile', provided Colorado with their only points on a 33 yard field goal.Earlier that season he made a school record 57 yarder vs Iowa State and played a policeman in "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes."

Auburn could do no wrong . Late in the third Auburn scored on a 22 yard halfback pass from Mike Fuller to TE Rob Spivey after a mixture of runs and passes from the Auburn 44.Colorado finally put together a nice drive but Dave Beck intercepted a Ken Johnson pass in the end zone as the third quarter soon ended with Auburn up 17-0.Colorado moved one more time this time down to the Auburn 7 after a one handed catch by Keyworth. But Auburn rose up and knocked the Buffs back to the 16 and they settled for a Lima 33 yard field goal with 7:31 left.

Auburn wasn't done yet. This time Auburn moved down to the Colorado 16 before stalling. Jett was sent in for a field goal, but holder Beck passed to Dan Nugent for a 16 yard touchdown and Jett's conversion made the final 24-3.In typical fashion, Colorado statistics were better, but Auburn had the most points and a comfortable win.Colorado's Davis who shredded SEC foe LSU in '71 season opener with 174 yards and was named 1971 Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl MVP had more rushing attempts than rushing yards carrying 14 times for 12 yards. Oh, the 1972 Gator Bowl MVP was Auburn back-up quarterback Wade Whatley, getting his first start after only playing 18:53 in the first ten games.It was the perfect ending to an almost perfect season.

Colorado's Charlie Davis, shown in the 1971 Bluebonnet Bowl where he was named MVP gained 12 yards on 14 carries in the 1972 Gator Bowl

After the game Jordan was asked to describe his team in one sentence. He responded with "this group of ugly-ducklings, ragged muffins or whatever you want to call them just got together and said we're not going to have a losing season." The second sentence concluded the first with,"(T)he morale grew from there."However,somewhat tired of the tired 'Cinderella' comparisons Jordan said,"the name Cinderella was all right for a while.But it isn't appropriate now !Cinderella kinda reflects fantasy and let me tell you this team is for real;and they're surely not going to turn into pumpkins."
Auburn finished the season at 10-1 and fifth in the nation after being ranked sixth in the SECbefore the '72 kickoff. This team was "all-in".So perhaps no one should look at the 2011 edition of Auburn "and bury them just yet."

Monday, July 18, 2011

1971: Bear and 'Bama's Renaissance

Its hard to believe but this fall will mark the 40th anniversary of Alabama football's revival as well as Bear Bryant's own revival as Alabama ended a four year period of mediocrity and running in place. The 1971 edition of the Crimson Tide won the SEC Championship but came up short in what amounted to a National Title match in Miami at the end of the season. Nonetheless that season marked the resurgence of the Tide and laid the foundation for a run through the decade of the '70's that has not and probably will not be matched again in SEC football.
Bear Bryant and a young defensive coach to his left, Pat Dye, size up an opposing offense in 1971

While Alabama's 6-5 mark in 1969 and 6-5-1 record in 1970 jump off the page, Alabama's slump actually went back to game one of 1967. 'Slump' of course is a relative term but considering that from 1961 through 1966 Alabama won three National Titles, four SEC titles and played in either the Sugar or Orange each year, an 8-2-1 mark in 1967 which ended in a loss to an unranked 6-4 Texas A&M team in the Cotton Bowl would be considered indeed a slump.The 11-0-0 1966 Tide that somehow was denied the National title (which should always silence any distractor wallowing in revisionist history questioning the '64 National Title with a bowl loss while Arkansas was in the old Southwest Conference was unbeaten and did win its bowl game) allowed only 37 points in the entire regular season. In game one of the 1967 season Alabama and Florida State tied 37-37. The Seminoles' point total was the most Alabama had given up since the Auburn game in 1957. Alabama did settle down on defense and the most they gave up after that was 24 to Tennessee. The defense did indeed bail Alabama out against LSU and Auburn as the Tide eked out 7-6 and 7-3 wins respectively where a bounce here or there could have ended the season 6-3-1.

The roots of the Tide's swoon went back to the 1967 season opener when Alabama and Florida State tied 37-37. The Seminoles' 37 points matched what the Tide gave up in the entire 1966 regular season

Alabama was 8-3 in 1968. Again, nothing wrong with '8-3.' And, the regular season included only two losses-- 10-8 to Ole Miss and Archie Manning in Jackson and 10-9 to Tennessee in Knoxville.However the season ended with a 35-10 loss to Missouri in the Gator Bowl handing Alabama its first three loss season since Bryant's first year in 1958. Missouri's quarterback Terry McMillan threw for only one touchdown -- an interception return for a touchdown by Donnie Sutton.McMillan's second interception led to the Tide's last points, a 25 yd field goal by LB Mike Dean who picked off the interception.Those were the only two passes "caught" from balls thrown by McMillan. But the Tigers rushed for an astonishing 404 yards.

Missouri QB Terry McMillan (18) rushed for 76 yards and three touchdowns as Mizzou walloped Alabama 35-10 in the '68 Gator Bowl.McMillan's only "touchdown pass" was an interception return by Alabama's Donnie Sutton

Things got worse in 1969. After a heart stopping 33-32 win over Manning and Ole Miss at Legion Field, 3-0 Alabama lost the following week in Nashville to 0-3 Vanderbilt, 14-10.Oddly enough Alabama took the field that night ranked #13 even though they were unbeaten with a win over the preseason choice for conference champ Rebels. The Tide had not been ranked in the top 10 since week game one of the '68 season even with an 8-2 regular season mark and narrow losses that season to eventual bowl teams.Others were starting to notice things amiss with the Tide,too.
Alabama's 1969 swoon started with au upest loss to Watson Brown (12) and Vanderbilt in Nashville, 14-10. The Tide and Commodores each had helmet decals with a football with "100" inscribed to commemorate college football's centennial

The next game was back at Legion Field vs Tennessee on "the third Saturday in October".Going back to Bryant's days as Kentucky's head coach he viewed the game vs the Vols as a measuring stick to gauge how well his team was playing.Any hope for any 'Bryant magic' or 'returning to Alabama football' never materialized as the 20th ranked Tide played the #7 Vols. Tennessee destroyed Alabama 41-14 taking a 21-0 lead after the first quarter and leading 34-0 in the fourth before emptying its bench enabling two late scores for the Tide. Two dubious 'firsts' took place that day. The Vandy - Vol losses were Bryant's first back to back losses since 'Mama called' in 1958 and the loss to Tennessee was the Tide's third straight to the Big Orange, the first time Bryant had lost three straight to the same team since he arrived back in Tuscaloosa.

'Smash mouth football' no longer applied to the Tide. Alabama had become more of a passing team and not gearing toward running as much and the Tide's defense was becoming an embarrassment. While the Vols didn't match Missouri's Gator Bowl rushing totals they did rush for 242 yards, totals that from 1964 through 1966 would have typically have taken three games for the Tide defense to yield. Of course Tennessee's special teams and defense joined in the scoring as well. Bobby Majors, Johnny's little brother, scored on a 71 yd punt return in the first quarter and a member of Tennessee's incredibly talented linebacking corp returned an errant Neb Hayden pitch out 27 yards for a touchdown.

Tennessee's Jackie Walker scored a touchdown vs Alabama at Legion Field 11 months before Southern Cal's Sam Cunningham did

The Vols' defense was led by All-Americans Steve Kiner and Jack Reynolds.The touchdown return was scored by a sophomore starting in his first varsity season, Jackie Walker, a black player. The Vols had two other blacks, Lester McClain a junior who started off and on at Wide Receiver and was Tennessee's first black letterman the year before and Andy Bennett.Alabama didn't have any blacks on its football team. Meanwhile the ever talkative Kiner shouted at the Tide offense as he was replaced by reserves in the fourth quarter.Kiner had thrived on playing Alabama and Bryant while at UT feeling they were the toughest and best they would face each year. He scolded his foes for letting Bryant down as he left the field.

Now 3-2, the Tide regrouped with an easy win over Clemson and came into the Iron Bowl 6-3 with the only loss after Tennessee to top 10 LSU 20-15 in Baton Rouge.Auburn, 7-2 and ranked #12 was looking for its first win over 6-3 Alabama since 1963. The Bluebonnet Bowl bound Tigers were led by Pat Sullivan and had only lost to Tennessee and LSU, the top two teams in the SEC. The Tide, Liberty Bowl bound, was looking for one more shot at a win over a quality team.

Didn't happen. After scoring late in the first half to take a 14-10 lead into halftime, Auburn then exploded for 35 points in the second in a 49-26 rout of the Tide. Auburn's 49 points were the most any Alabama team had given up since Sewanee put up 54 in 1907. Alabama did put up 484 yards passing in the loss, but also gave up 349 yards rushing and 541 total.

Things didn't get any better in Memphis vs Colorado in the Liberty Bowl. The Tide did fight back from a 31-19 halftime deficit to take a 33-31 lead into the fourth quarter.Colorado went on to outscore the Tide 16-0 to win, 47-33. The Buffaloes rushed for 473 yards led by bowl MVP Bob Anderson's 254 yards.

One person of interest who attended that game was Bo Matthews, a HS senior running back from Huntsville that had committed to Bryant and Alabama to come to Tuscaloosa in the fall of 1970.Bryant had invited Matthews to Memphis for the bowl game to spend some time with the team and the young man complied.Nothing unusual about any of that in and of itself except one thing. Matthews was black.Unfortunately for Alabama and Bryant , Matthews spent most of his time with Colorado's seven black players and listened to them try to discourage him from being a 'pioneer' at Tuscaloosa. He soon changed his mind about Alabama and signed with Colorado and the Buffaloes going on to a good career and brief NFL career with the Chargers.

Huntsville's Bo Matthews was Bryant and Alabama's first black commitment but signed instead with Colorado and played in the NFL with San Diego

The off season after the 1969 campaign was rather active for Bryant and Alabama.First Bryant flirted with and almost took the Miami Dolphins' job. In fact he had told owner Joe Robbie he would pending working things out with Alabama in Tuscaloosa.Needless to say that never happened. Shortly thereafter at NCAA meeting in January of 1970 in Washington, D.C. the NCAA voted 162-98 to allow member schools to schedule an 11th regular season game starting with the '70 season ending the rule capping the schedule at ten games since 1954.Some schools decided since it wasn't mandatory and that their schedules were set,they'd wait until 1971 or later. Initially Bryant wasn't in favor of an 11th game but on a recruiting trip out West he scheduled a quick meeting at Western Airlines' Horizon Room at Los Angeles International Airport with an old friend of his John McKay of Southern California and the two agreed to two game 'home and home' to start immediately with game one in Birmingham on September 12th and a return game to Los Angeles on September 10, 1971. Also, Bryant and Alabama not only got a 'commitment' from a black recruit, but Wilbur Jackson of Ozark indeed signed with the Tide and would enroll that fall in Tuscaloosa.(Alabama's first black scholarship athlete, Wendell Hudson had signed with C.M. Newton's basketball team and would begin varsity play that fall as a sophomore.)

Bryant revealed in his autobiography,"Bear" that Southern Cal had been his dream job at one time.He was approached about his interest in December of 1950 about an opening at the time while in New Orleans with his Kentucky team preparing for #1 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.The timing was not good as he told them he would have to pass because they wanted a quick answer and he wanted no distractions in preparation for the Sooners, whom the Wildcats stunned 13-7.

While this blog entry is about Alabama's 1971 season, there is no way to brush off the ramifications, rather real or imagined, about the 1970 Southern Cal - Alabama game in Birmingham. A literary cottage industry has sprung up on that game so there is no need to rehash every minute detail. Southern Cal won the opening game of the season 42-21 (the first game played on Astro Turf at Legion Field) and were led by quarterback Jimmy Jones and Sam Cunningham. Jones and Cunningham were black, making this the first time Alabama had faced a team with a starting black backfield. There were 23 Trojans who were black and Alabama had zero (Jackson was a freshman and freshmen were ineligible to play varsity until 1972).

Sam Cunningham rushed for 135 yards on 12 carries and had two touchdowns.Over time this game has been embellished as if Bryant had scheduled the game after watching the Selma March in '65 and with tears streaming down his face, 'Miss Mary Harmon' dialed McKay for him.Didn't happen that way as the game had only been in the works for 9 months.Somehow Cunningham's performance grew over time to 235 yards and three touchdowns.And the story goes Bryant went into the victorious Trojans' locker room took Cunningham to the Tide locker room and told his team, "Boys,this is what a football player looks like." Good stuff,but it didn't happen. Now, former Bryant player at UK and coach at Alabama under him , Jerry Claiborne, while preparing his VPI team the following week for the Tide has a comment attributed to him while with some hyperbole, had some validity, "Sam Cunningham did more for integration in the South in sixty minutes than Martin Luther King did in twenty years."Over time that quote has been attributed to Claiborne, as "an Alabama assistant."(Claiborne had played for Bryant at Kentucky and had coached for him, but had become a head coach in 1961) It was no secret after the recent beatings by Tennessee, Colorado and now Southern Cal with black players in key roles, Alabama would have to recruit,sign and accept black players. Regardless of the all ,how and why Bryant and McKay put that game together, quality team, large payday(s)(Southern Cal's payday in 1970 of $175,000 was at the time larger than any Rose Bowl payout they had received), unless one was on the Casey Anthony Jury its hard to dispute Southern Cal's domination of that game changed some minds about black players in Alabama and the South.

Southern Cal's Sam Cunningham in the famous/infamous 1970 Southern Cal-Alabama game at Legion Field

(Statistically, the black running back in that period who ran roughshod over all-white SEC team(s) wasn't Southern Cal's Cunningham,but Houston's Paul Gipson.In 1967 Gipson rushed for 229 yards out of the Cougars' famed 'Veer' --the other popular offense along with the Wishbone-- vs the #5 Georgia in a 15-14 win and another 87 yards a few weeks later vs the other SEC Bulldogs of Mississippi State in a 43-6 blowout. In 1968 Gipson rushed for 210 yards in Jackson in a 29-7 win over Ole Miss and 230 yards later in the season against eventual SEC Champion Georgia in a 10-10 tie in Athens. To show how truly dominating Gipson was in '67 and '68 vs SEC teams ,Ole Miss' Steve Hindman led the SEC with 829 yards rushing. In 1968 Tennessee's Richard Pickens led the SEC with 736 yards rushing. Those two average out to 783 yards. In four games against SEC teams in 1967 and 1968 Gipson rushed for 756 yards.For good measure, in the season opener which was also Texas' debut of the Wishbone, Gipson rushed for 173 yards in a 20-20 tie in Austin.)

Houston's Paul Gipson (46) rushing for 229 yards vs Georgia in 1967

Regardless of skin tone, for Alabama the 1970 season started off right where 1969 ended: A solid thrashing administered by an opponent scoring over 40 points and running at will on Bryant's once feared and famed defense.There was no shame in losing to the Trojans themselves.Southern Cal came into the game ranked #3 and had played in four straight Rose Bowls finishing second in the nation the prior two years after winning the National Title in 1967.But Alabama didn't hardly compete. The Trojans rushed for 485 yards ,punted only one time and led 32-7 late in the third quarter.

Alabama's passing offense remained the strength of the team .Quarterbacks Scott Hunter and Neb Hayden alternating at times and SE David Bailey's impressive career carried over into 1970 with big yards in the season opener with Alabama passing for 250 yards. But the Tide running game was almost as anemic as the defense was at stopping the run.The Tide's passing attack was the focus and the running game needed work. If the passing game didn't work, that also meant the beleaguered defense returned to the field much sooner,too.

The Tide bounced back with easy, high scoring routs of VPI 51-18 in Birmingham a week later and a 46-15 over #13 Florida and former coach Tennessee coach Doug Dickey in Tuscaloosa.With nearly 600 total yards against the Hokies and nearly 500 yards vs the Gators, it seemed that maybe Alabama was back to its old, winning ways.

The feeling of being 'back' went away a week later in Jackson's Mississippi Memorial Stadium with 4th ranked Ole Miss and Heisman candidate Archie Manning. After a solemn moment of silence and prior to kickoff in tribute to Wichita State players who were killed in a plane crash the night before near Denver en route to a game vs Utah State (the first of two plane crashes killing members of football teams that year, Marshall being the second later in the season),Ole Miss methodically got revenge from the heartbreaking 33-32 loss to the Tide in '69. As like the 1969 game, this one was on prime time national television and the Rebels romped 48-23.The Tide was hindered by Scott Hunter's injured shoulder late in the week in practice which precluded him from dressing out and Hayden was frazzled by the Rebs' defense all night.Manning was more methodical this night with modest passing stats and 171 yards passing. But the Rebels romped anyway and added a score on a 101 yard Vernon Studdard kickoff return for good measure.

The loss to Ole Miss put the Tide at 2-2 and they continued their up and down ways the rest of the year. The Tide blew out Vanderbilt , Mississippi State and Miami(Fla) and pulled off a gutty come from behind fourth quarter victory at #15 Houston.On the other side Tennessee handed Alabama its first shutout since 1959 in a 24-0 win as Hunter and Hayden combined for 8 interceptions. The Tide played eventual SEC Champion LSU tough in a 14-9 loss and closed the season with a 33-28 loss to Auburn after blowing an early 17-0 lead.Somewhat fittingly the season ended in a 24-24 tie back in Houston vs Oklahoma in the Bluebonnet Bowl as a modest 34 yard field goal by Richard Ciemny ,"The Kansas Cowboy" was deflected as time expired.

Somewhat fittingly the 1970 Bluebonnet Bowl between Alabama and Oklahoma ended in a 24-24 tie . In 1971 with explosive Wishbone offenses, both teams played Nebraska, in effect, for the National Title.

Alabama needed to change some things up in a hurry if they were going to return to their dominate ways instead of continuing to wallow in mediocrity.On offense,the Tide was losing senior quarterbacks Scott Hunter and Neb Hayden.(The two also battled in the classroom,too. Hunter was SEC All-Academic QB in 1968 and 1969 and Hayden wrestled that away in 1970)While Hunter was the quarterback from 1968-1970 (with Hayden playing a good bit as back-up) the Tide's slide cannot be pinned on him.Hunter had a fine career in Tuscaloosa and his single game passing record of 482 yards vs Auburn in 1969 was also the SEC single game record until 1994 and even in this day and age of explosive offenses and passing game, his yardage vs Auburn remains the SEC's 10th all time highest.

Still in that era for Alabama, that may have been a case of "more is less". Through the 1987 season the quarterbacks in the SEC's top ten single game passing yardage list compiled only a 2-7-1 mark against those defenses they racked up those passing yards against.Hunter and Hayden were passing quarterbacks and the one returning quarterback, Terry Davis was more of a running quarterback.

Getting back to running more was one thing Bryant committed to do in the offseason.Recruiting was another. In addition to having Wilbur Jackson eligible for varsity play that fall, another black player would be joining the team, John Mitchell a junior college transfer from Mobile.The decision had been made that blacks would be recruited, no if ands an buts. Bryant had been ready himself since his days in Kentucky when he saw two black Lexington boys sign football scholarships with Big 10 teams, one even was the son of one the cooks in the UK athletic dining hall.(Kentucky would go on to sign the first black football player in the SEC Nat Northington in the spring of 1966)Bryant also would take a more firm approach in discipline as well as the type of players to recruit in the first place as he felt some of his 'lenient' decisions led to a moral decline which contributed to the team's decline.And the defense would have to improve and hopefully an improved running game would keep the defense off the field for longer stretches at a time.

There was no doubt the Alabama fanbase was starting to grumble and in some quarters suggest that maybe a changing of the guard at the top was in order. The great philosopher O.A. "Bum" Phillips, who would coach the Houston Oilers after among other stops coaching under Bryant at Texas A&M once opined, "He (Bryant) can take his'n and beat your'n. He can take your'n and beat his'n." Lately that wasn't the case as Alabama was beating only the have nots.

Enter Bryant's old friend, Texas' head coach Darrell Royal. Royal had faced similar circumstances three or four years earlier. The two had struck up a friendship when Royal was an assistant at the time at his alma mater, Oklahoma when Bryant ,then at Kentucky, spoke at coaching clinic.The two remained close. After a National Title in 1963 and a 10-1 record and Orange Bowl win after the 1964 season against Bryant's own 1964 National Title team, the Longhorns floundered into mediocrity.Royal had spread himself too thin and recruiting suffered, similar to Alabama and Bryant after the 1966 season.Similar to rumblings in Alabama, Royal heard the same in the Lone Star state that maybe the game had passed him by.

Texas' recruiting fortunes improved dramatically in 1967 and in particular at the running back position.As the 1968 season approached Royal wanted an offense where he could feature three running backs all at the same time. His offensive coordinator Emory Bellard developed a hybrid offense similar to the triple option. The triple option featured two backs so Bellard added a third back who would play fullback (and actually be involved as a runner unlike today's glorified guards wearing a jersey with a "40" on it) which looked like a 'Y' hence the term 'wishbone'.

Texas coach Darrell Royal explaining the wishbone offense

Royal kept the new offense under his hat but did call his good friend Bryant before the opening game vs Houston in '68 and told him about it.After an opening season tie and loss, the Longhorns went on to win 30 games in a row and National Titles in 1969 and 1970.

In the summer of 1971, Bryant called Royal. Bryant felt the wishbone offense was conducive to his returning offensive personnel.Royal accepted Bryant's request to come to Tuscaloosa with Bellard that August and teach Bryant and his staff Wishbone 1001. In a Holiday Inn meeting room in Tuscaloosa after speaking at Bryant's annual coaching clinic for high school coaches, Royal ,Bellard and Bryant and his staff spent all day going over the wishbone offense.Royal and Bellard explained the theory and mechanics of the offense and even went so far as to get down in stances to run plays and show blocking schemes to the Tide staff.

Holiday Inn North in Tuscaloosa where the private meeting with Royal and Emory Bellard, creator of the wishbone met with Bryant and his staff.All that was missing was the white smoke coming from the chimney

A few weeks later when the Tide arrived for fall practice they were greeted with the news about the wishbone.They were also instructed not to tell anyone about, friends,family and especially media.Even in 1971 before the internet, twitter, and cable news, Southern Cal coach John McKay got wind of the wishbone talk but passed it off as some type of decoy rumor.It wasn't until the Tide arrived in Los Angeles to face the Trojans that they found out indeed the wishbone would be THE offense they would run vs Southern Cal. No series or two, all or nothing. Bryant would sink or swim with the wishbone.

Starting the season with a new offense versus such a formiddable foe was risky in and of itself.After the easy win in Birmingham, the Trojans struggled to a 6-4-1 mark but along the way they tied eventual national champion Nebraska 21-21 and handed Notre Dame a regular season ending 38-28 loss for the Irish' lone loss in 1970 denying them the title.The Trojans were loaded again and many were saying this may be John McKay's best team ever, including National Title teams in 1962 and 1967.

September 10, 1971 was the rematch of the two game series between these two. September 10 was on a Friday in 1971. Through the 1981 season Southern Cal and UCLA shared the Los Angeles Coliseum. Unlike Birmingham's Legion Field when Alabama and Auburn played an occassional double-header or particulary Jackson's Mississippi Memorial Stadium where Ole Miss and Mississippi State played double-headers until the late 1980's, the Trojans and Bruins only played three double-headers from the inception of UCLA football in 1929 until they headed north to Pasadena in 1982. The last double header had been in 1942.On Saturday at the Coliseum UCLA would host Pittsburgh which had finished 5-5 the year before.

Today it wouldn't be out of the ordinary to see Alabama and Southern California play one another on a weeknight(besides a Saturday) to kickoff the college football season.However in 1971 teams could only be on television (and ABC was the only network which showed games) a limited time each season. This game would not be televised. A week before the new fall line-up on the three major networks ABC, the network of college football , had among other shows that Friday night, "The Brady Bunch visits ABC" where the Brady's up the road from the Coliseum in "City" would venture to the studio lot to see the new shows for the fall.ABC did kickoff its college football season the next night at Yankee Stadium with Grambling and Morgan State squaring off, the first time two all-black teams had been on network television.

In a sign of the times, with the '71 Tide-Trojan game on a Friday night, the home of college football at the time ,ABC showed "The Brady Bunch visits ABC". But when you throw in that the Brady Bunch got to meet the Jackson 5, The Brady's over Alabama and Bryant vs Southern Cal and McKay makes perfect sense

So 67,781,well below the anticipated 80,000. gathered at the Coliseum to see #5 Southern Cal take on #16 Alabama. To add to the intrigue of this game, 12 point underdog Alabama would hand Bear Bryant his 200th victory with a win ( a day before his 58th birthday to boot), something only five other coaches had done at the time. While on the big stage in Los Angeles, Alabama did just that ,oddly enough on a Friday night wearing white helmets and not the traditional crimson headgear, holding off Southern Cal 17-10.

The Tide took the opening kickoff and marched 59 yards with Johnny Musso taking a pitchout around right end 13 yards for a touchdown. A while later a Steve Wade interception of a Jimmy Jones' pass led to a Bill Davis 37 yard field goal to push the lead to 10-0.Early in the second quarter the Tide marched 91 yards in 11 plays with Musso again scoring,this time on an 8 yard run. Davis' second conversion made the score 17-0. That would be all of the scoring for the Crimson Tide.
Hard to believe Alabama's resurgence started on a Friday night, with white helmets in a game not televised. Here Terry Davis (10) hands off to Ellis Beck in the 17-10 win over Southern Cal

Southern Cal did all of its scoring in the second quarter.First, Jones hit Charles Young on a 7 yard touchdown pass to complete a 73 yard drive.Then Mike Rae booted a 37 yard field goal on the last play of the first half to cut Alabama's lead to 17-10.The halftime score would become the final score.

The Trojans didn't go down with out a fight. Three times in the fourth quarter they crossed midfield only to turn the ball over on a fumble, an interception and finally on downs.Future NFL Hall of Famer Lynn Swann returned a punt 57 yards to the Alabama 28 before finally being tackled by a diving David Bailey. But a few plays later a disputed personal foul penalty on the Trojans negated a first and ten at the Alabama 12 and the Trojans later turned the ball over on downs back at the Alabama 30.Shortly thereafter Musso, who had two touchdowns, rushed for five yards on fourth and three with 1:00 left in the game which enabled the Tide to run out the clock. The five yard run by Musso was hailed by the Tide staff as their biggest play in years.

The new offense was a success with Alabama rushing for 302 yards on 58 carries. The Tide had the ball for 64 plays compared to the Trojans' 57.Alabama's running game also enabled the defense to not have to spend as much time on the field,too.Terry Davis had a tremendous game in not only his first start at QB,but with the new offense passing for 38 yards and rushing for 47 yards himself. Southern Cal rushed for a solid 203 yards on 44 carries, but if was less than half of the 485 yards the Trojans racked up in Birmingham the prior year.This time none other than Lou Harris led Southern Cal in rushing with 116 yards.(Harris was a "good" running back for Southern Cal but not as celebrated as players immediately before him like OJ Simpson, Cunningham, Anthony Davis or Rickey Bell.He did play for five years in the Canadian Football League for the British Columbia Lions where he was a teammate with Johnny Musso in 1973 and 1974).

Musso had 85 yards rushing with two touchdowns and the huge fourth down conversion and was rewarded with the game ball in the jubulant Alabama dressing room.Musso promptly tossed the ball back to Bryant saying,"..we've had a year to think this game over." Southern Cal's McKay who all week had tried to warn fans and his own player that Alabama was "100% better" than last year said after the game the Tide was "200% better." He lamented his defense trying to tackle quarterback Terry Davis too soon allowing him to pitch the ball to a trailing running back --the very key element of the 'triple option' or 'wishbone'.

The victory seemed to also revive the more jovial Bryant with the media who after asking them where they had been the last few years said his team didn't play that well (vintage Bryant poormouthing), but did heap huge praise on them by adding,"this was oen of my most satisfying victories for an opener.I've been with better teams before ,but I've never been associated with a more prouder team."

Oddly enough, where it was very obvious Bryant had ditched his "pro-style" offense, looking to throw first which they had done over the better part of the last four years with only six passing attempts vs Southern Cal, very little was made about any 'new offense' and while Texas had become synonomous with "wishbone football" the term or usage of 'wishbone' to describe the Tide's offense was almost non-existent. References to the "newly installed Veer-T offense", or "wishbone T offense or triple option" described the offense in the aftermath of victory in Los Angeles gearing up for Southern Miss in the home opener in Tuscaloosa .

Southern Miss, coached by its own 'Bear', P.W. "Bear" Underwood in his third season back at his alma mater, had lost its opener to Florida State in week one. But Southern Miss usually played Alabama tough whether it be in Mobile,Montgomery or Tuscaloosa,the site of the 1971 game. The Golden Eagles led late in the '68 game before losing by 3. Also, just one year earlier Southern Miss shocked not only the Magnolia State but the whole college football world by defeating then #4 Ole Miss and Archie Manning 30-14 in Oxford, two weeks after the Rebels had crushed the Tide in Jackson.

There was no letdown for the Tide after the trip back from Los Angeles.Alabama did go three and out and punted on its first possession giving rise to angst about overconfidence but that was short lived as Alabama ,now in the top 10 at #9,dominated the Southerners, 42-6.Alabama rushed for 276 yards on 63 carries spread around 9 different running backs with Steve Bisceglia joining Musso with 65 yards. The Tide had 193 yards passing for 469 total yards.Southern Miss could only manage 147 total yards.

Next up was a trip to Gainesville to face Doug Dickey and the Florida Gators.Incredibly, it would be Alabama's first trip to Gainesville since 1949. Bryant had been there more recently having taken his Kentucky Wildcats there in 1952.SEC conference scheduling was all over the board with little guidance and guidelines as when to play a particular team. Until 1972 some teams played as few as 5 SEC games and some as many as 8 in a year.With Tulane and Georgia Tech's departure in the mid 1960's some teams were forced to play non-conference teams as "designated conference games." It wasn't unusual for a particular team to not play another particular team throughout the late 50's until schedule revamping took place in '72.When Alabama played Kentucky the following year in 1972, it would be the two team's first meeting since 1947 when Bryant was in Lexington.

Regardless, Alabama figured to win this game without too much trouble and were a ten point favorite at kickoff time. Now #8, the 2-0 Tide faced an 0-2 Gator squad.Three years earlier in 1968 Florida was the preseason pick for SEC Champ.The following year they went 9-1-1 and finished #13 in Ray Graves' final year. Now under former Gator QB and Tennessee head coach Doug Dickey, the Gators had started going the wrong way.While Florida did go 7-4 in '70 they lost their three SEC games to Alabama , Tennessee and Auburn by an average score of 49-12. Their two losses in '71 had been by a field goal each time, but the opponents were Duke and Mississippi State.

This would be the Gators' first home game as the Duke game was played in Tampa.The game vs Alabama would be Florida's first game with the newly installed Astro-Turf.The Gators took the opening kickoff and marched to the Tide 9 where Dickey eschewed a field goal attempt on 4th and four where Alabama stopped All-America candidate quarterback John Reaves cold.The Tide then moved to the Gator 11 and settled for a Bill Davis field goal.The 3-0 lead would be all Alabama needed but Musso became the first Tider since 1950 to score 4 touchdowns and Alabama led 31-0 after the first drive of the third quarter as Bryant pulled the starters.Alabama only threw four passes and completed two. One of those was an 11 yard pass from reserve Billy Sexton to Dexter Wood to close out the scoring and make the final score 38-0.

Alabama rushed for 363 yards on 66 carries. Florida just did get over 200 yards total offense for the entire game. The Gators' Tommy Durrance, a fine player in his own right, played his first game after being injured in the offseason but was held to 21 yards on 9 carries. Reaves had a terrible game throwning three interceptions and was lifted for Chan Gailey who would go on to be the head coach of the Birmingham Fire of the WLAF, Samford, Dallas Cowboys, Georgia Tech and Buffalo Bills.The blanking of the Gators was Alabama's first shutout since 1967 when they blanked South Carolina 17-0. (that 1967 shutout was the Tide's second in two weeks. Earlier, Alabama blanked Mississippi State 13-0 as a particular SEC vintage blogger's tenth grade geometry teacher was crowned Homecoming Queen.)

Now ranked #7 ,the Ole Miss Rebels were up next in the Tide's first trip to Legion Field in Birmingham.Ole Miss had some new faces from the ones Alabama had faced in the past, especially over the last three years.Archie Manning who had an amazing three year career in Oxford and was 2-1 vs the Tide with the one loss the epic 33-32 game was now a New Orleans Saint.And the head coach was Billy Kinard replacing the legendary John Vaught,one of the best coaches in SEC history.Unfortunately his career basically paralled Bear Bryant's which took a lot of attention and superlatives away from him but didn't diminish any of his accomplishments.

The Rebels came into the game 3-0 themselves with wins over some lighweights. A then record crowd of 72,871 at Legion Field saw the two teams battle to a 6-6 tie near halftime before Terry Davis completed one of his three passes for the day to David Bailey for an 11 yard touchdown with :08 left in the half for a 13-6 Alabama lead.

Ole Miss took the second half kickoff and moved to the Tide 11 but missed a field goal under heavy pressure.And that was it for the Rebels, at least in a good way.Alabama then went 80 yards in seven plays with Joe LaBue scoring from 29 yards out.On their next possession Musso went over from the seven and tied the SEC scoring mark and the third quarter ended with Alabama up 27-6.

The rout was on as Alabama scored twice more to win 40-6.The only concern was for quarterback and holder Terry Davis, who rushed 18 times for 74 yards, was leveled by Ole Miss All-SEC tackle Elmer Allen on the conversion try at 33-6.Problem was the ball hadn't been snapped yet.Allen was ejected and future Boston Red Sox player Butch Hobson spelled Davis in the fourth quarter.
Musso and Alabama ran all over Ole Miss in a 40-6 rout at Legion Field

The Tide was for real. Alabama set a school record at the time, as well as conference record in a game with opposing SEC schools, with 531 yards rushing on 73 carries. Against the Rebels the year before Alabama had 27 yards rushing.The Tide only punted one time in complete domination. The Tide defense got in on the act holding then conference rushing leader Randy Reed of Ole Miss to 19 yards on 11 carries.Musso had 193 yards on 22 carries.

Next up was a trip to Nashville and Vanderbilt.The Tide's last trip to Music City resulted in a stunning 14-10 loss.This trip resulted in a methodical 42-0 win. Alabama led only 13-0 at haltime as Vandy moved nine men to the line of scrimmage making it difficult to run wide. Musso ,with 113 yards on 21 carries,did score one touchdown in the first half giving him sole possesion of the SEC touchdown record from Georgia's Charley Trippi.Alabama solved the Commodores' strategy of defending a wide field by running up the middle more and passing more and wound up gaining 353 yards on the ground.The Tide's passing wasn't anything record setting, but productive. While Alabama only completed 8 passes they were spread around to four receivers for 72 yards and a 9 yard average.The defense was superb holding Vandy to only one field goal try by Taylor Stokes, Vanderbilt's first black football player, that missed badly from the Alabama 30.

Now the famed Third Saturday in October would be where Alabama hoped to end its four game losing skid vs Tennessee and also defeat the Vols in Birmingham for the first time since 1963.Tennessee came to town ranked #14 and 3-1 with only a 10-9 loss to unbeaten Auburn, whom the Tide had just supplanted as #4 in the country. UT was coached by Bill Battle, in his second year in Knoxville and had been a starting end at Alabama on Bryant's first National title team in 1961.

The 1971 game would start a new streak in the series which at kickoff time was tied at 23-23-7 in the overall series. Alabama won a wild, "rock 'em, sock 'em" game 32-15 that while the Tide was seemingly in control for most of the game, they did score 10 points in the final :57 to make the margin what it was.After a hard hitting first quarter where both squads turned the ball over twice on fumbles, the Tide trailed for the first time all year, 7-6 when George Hunt booted an extra point after a Curt Watson touchdown run.(Hunt would conclude his collegiate career later in January at the 'Lions American Bowl' in Tampa, one of many "All-Star" games in that era in addition to the Senior Bowl in Mobile.The American Bowl in Tampa was a "North" vs "South" match-up.Tennessee's Hunt, who grew up in nearby Clearwater, Fl played for the North.The South was coached by Florida's Doug Dickey who had recruited Hunt to Knoxville while still at Tennessee and was his coach in 1969 on the varsity. Hunt wasn't too thrilled about reuniting with his old coach and was granted the switch.)

Musso ,headed towards Johnny's little brother Bobby Majors , rushed for over 100 yards vs the SEC's leader in total defense at the time

Tennessee came into the game leading the SEC in total defense and rushing defense allowing only 80 yards a game.Alabama rushed for 283 yards on 76 carries with Musso leading the charge with 115 yards on 22 carries. The Tide defense was just as impressive. Tennessee,with a solid ground game themselves led by Watson, was held to just 53 yards on 37 carries.UT passed for 108 yards completing only 5, but one was for 57 yards setting up Tennessee's final points to narrow the lead to 22-15.After the Vols' failed on a fourth down attempt inside their own 25, Bill Davis booted a field goal with :57 left to make the lead 25-15.On Tennessee's first play after the kickoff, a harried Dennis Chadwick fumbled on his own five and Robin Parkhouse recovered for Alabama. Musso busted in on the next play to make the final 32-15.

On his Sunday show following the Tennessee game, Bryant declared Musso the best player in the country as well as Birmingham needed to expand Legion Field

After the game,Bryant was downright giddy. He knew this team was special and a win over a quality Tennessee team was always satisfying to him. Bryant used his show to campaign for Johnny Musso for the 1971 Heisman Trophy.And, with a new attendance record at Legion Field at 73,828 for the second Alabama game in a row in Birmingham, Bryant also encouraged the city leaders to expand the stadium to 80 or even 90,000 as the Tide had some "big games coming up in the next few years."Legion Field was increased to nearly 78,000 for the 1978 season when heavyweights Nebraska and Southern Cal came to town.

Now 6-0 and ranked 4th in the nation behind Nebraska, Oklahoma and Michigan, the Tide could start thinking about playing for a national championship an addition to an SEC championship.Having played Ole Miss and Tennessee in Birmingham, the Tide had one game left at Legion Field: Auburn, who also was unbeaten and ranked one spot below Alabama at 5th.But both squads had work to do before a late November showdown. Alabama's next game was against a very talented Houston team.

Houston at the time was an independent and was granted acceptance into the Southwest Conference that summer but wasn't to begin play until 1976.The Cougars' offense, the "Veer" was somewhat similar to the wishbone but with only two running backs. Houston coach Bill Yeoman invented it and perfected it. Three years earlier they put up 100 on Tulsa and had shut out SEC foe Mississippi State 74-0 in 1969 along with a two touchdown win over Manning and Ole Miss.

But the Tide was too much in 1971 and won 34-20.Statisically Houston was impressive actually outrushing Alabama 300-258 and having more total yards. But after tying up the game 7-7 early in the second quarter, the Tide would go on to stretch its lead to 26-7 at one time and 34-14 before a late Cougar score made the final 34-20. WR David Bailey, an All-SEC selection in 1970 but not looked to nearly as much with the ever impressive wishbone got in on the act with two touchdowns including a fingertip 25 yard reception.Mississippi State fell the next weekend in Jackson 41-17 in game two of a double-header in Jackson where in game one Ole Miss upset the Tide's next opponent LSU, 24-22.

The Tide won over #18 LSU in Baton Rouge, 14-7 in a tight one. In another reflection of that era vs today's, this would be Alabama's first game on television all year and it would be at night on ABC.All season long Bryant knew eventually someone would key on Terry Davis and make him beat them. Until Alabama took on LSU, it hadn't happened. The Tigers keyed on Davis repeatedly denying backs the opportunity to get pitches.At halftime it was 6-0 on two Bill Davis field goals. Finally in the third, Alabama put togethor a quick 4 play 52 yd drive where Musso laid a perfect block for Terry Davis who ran 16 yards for a touchdown and 14-0 lead. LSU scored on its next possession, a 16 yard drive that ended in a 7 yd touchdown pass from Paul Lyons to Andy Hamilton. Alabama only got one more first down the rest of the way, but the closest LSU could get was the Alabama 43 with 2:00 left and the Tide left atop Baton Rouge with a hard earned victory.

Even with Musso sidelined for Miami,the Tide was a 24 pt favorite.Miami fell at homecoming in Tuscaloosa, 31-3. The Hurricanes actually scored first after an Alabama fumble on the game's first play. Wilbur Jackson started in place of Musso rushing for 90 yards which included a 67 yard touchdown run, the longest run of any Tider in 1971.

The Tide was unbeaten and 10-0 with one game left, Auburn. Earlier that afternoon in a game between two unbeatens, Auburn behind their own Heisman candidate Pat Sullivan pulled away from #7 Georgia, 35-20. Now the 1971 Iron Bowl would be for more than just state bragging rights, the winner would win the SEC and then have a shot at the National Title.Had Georgia won, the Bulldogs would have gained at least a share of the SEC title. Now whoever won between Alabama and Auburn would win the league title outright.

Alabama and Auburn were unbelievably two of six teams at that point of the season that were unbeaten along with #1 Nebraska, #2 Oklahoma, #3 Michigan and #6 Penn State.All would certainly play in one of the 'Big Four' bowls as the BCS and its forerunner, Bowl Alliance were 21 years away.The question was where would each team go? Michigan was tied to the Rose Bowl, but no other unbeaten team had a conference tie-in where the champion would play in a particular bowl.It just seemed like the then Big 8 champion went to the Orange Bowl and the SEC champion went to the Sugar Bowl.All of the unbeatens had games left and wanted to know before their final regular season game where they would be going.

While Penn State had indeed gone unbeaten in 1968 and 1969 with Orange Bowl victories, the Nittany Lions still had the stigma in 1971 of playing soft competition and with so many other unbeaten teams, they fell down the pecking order of desirability. The Orange Bowl held the cards with their lucrative contract with NBC. The Orange did have a tie-in with the Big Eight from 1954 through the 1964 Orange (where oddly enough Nebraska played Auburn) but now they in effect had two 'at large' teams.(The Orange and Big 8 would officially reunite starting with the 1976 Orange Bowl a few years later.) The Sugar Bowl could pick whomever,too, but its contract with ABC wasn't as generous and it limited the payout to the teams. The Sugar was often the first game on New Year's Day and viewers would often turnover to CBS' Cotton Bowl once it started. The Orange and NBC had New Year's night to themselves.

Nebraska let the Orange know it wanted to return to Miami where they had beaten LSU to win the 1970 National Title after a crazy New Year's Day filled with upsets. The Sugar quickly gobbled up Oklahoma. The Huskers and Sooners would meet in Norman Thanksgiving Day. Barring a tie the winner would be #1 headed into the bowl game.So the Orange and Sugar had a potential #1 lined up. Their opponent could very well be #2. But where would Alabama and Auburn go ? The Tide would go to the Orange and the Tigers would go to the Sugar.(Penn State would go on to the Cotton Bowl as SWC Champion Texas' opponent even as the Lions' lost their final game badly to Tennessee in an early December game) Depending on the final games, the Sugar or Orange could indeed have a battle for the National Title.

In the what amounted to the first semifinal game in the Final Four, the Orange breathed a sigh of relier as #1 Nebraska defeated #2 Oklahoma 35-31 in a 'Game of the Century' that truly lived up to its billing and is still discussed 40 yrs later. Later that evening during the halftime of another thriller, this one between Georgia and Georgia Tech, ABC television showed the presentation of the 1971 Heisman Trophy to Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan.(Alabama's Musso finished 4th)

Never has an Iron Bowl had such pre-game drama as the 1971 game. Both teams unbeaten and untied and the winner could very well play for the National Title, at least the AP title (The UPI poll, which was the coach's poll at the time awarded Nebraska the title after the regular season) and now the Heisman winner would be quarterbacking one of the teams.

Auburn came into the game 9-0. The Tigers would not schedule 11 regular season games until the 1973 season.Regardless, the Tigers had an outstanding team themselves. In fact due in part to their 9-2 overall record in 1970, they started out the 1971 season ranked above Oklahoma and Alabama, two teams ranked ahead of them at the start of game week. Yet after rising to 4th in the polls after a road win over Tennessee,Auburn would slip to fifth the following week and vacillate between sixth and fifth the rest of the season.But with so many unbeaten teams even the huge road win over unbeaten Georgia didn't help Auburn make up much ground.

But unlike the Nebraska-Oklahoma game two days earlier which lived up to its hype a nationally televised audience and sell out crowd at Legion Field saw the Tide, er roll to a surprisingly easy 31-7 win over Auburn. The Tide's gameplan was to try and keep Sullivan (whom had torched Alabama in 1969 and 1970) off the field as much as possible. The plan worked to perfection as the Tide rushed for 278 yards while the potent Auburn passing game only had 152 yards and one touchdown, and that was on a 31 yard pass from Harry Unger, a running back. Even with two shutouts during the season, considering the quality of the opponent, this was Alabama's finest game. The gameplan to keep Sullivan silent worked incredibly well. In addition to the rushing yardage, Alabama ran 81 plays to Auburn's 43 and held the ball an amazing 41:19 to Auburn's 18:11. This was the same Auburn that put up 35 points on #7 and unbeaten Georgia in Athens two weeks earlier as the Bulldogs came into the game with the SEC's second best defense statistically behind Alabama.

The scoreboard actually indicated a close game through three quarters as Alabama's 14-0 first quarter lead was reduced to 14-7 on the first play of the second quarter and stayed that way at the start of the fourth quarter.But the 4th was all Alabama as Johnny Musso scored two touchdowns for good measure as Sullivan 119 yards passing was his lowest total in his career and only the second time he didn't throw a touchdown.(starting with the Heisman presentation in 1972, the award was presented once the regular season was completed.)

Sports Illustrated had Alabama and Musso on the cover following the Iron Bowl win instead of Nebraska and Johnny Rodgers' stirring win over Oklahoma

Now it was on to Miami for the Orange Bowl against #1 Nebraska. Oddly enough while the regular season concluded with Auburn who hadn't taken advantage of the 11 game schedule yet, the Cornhuskers would come into the bowl having played 12 games. In addition to the 11 game schedule Nebraska ended its regular season in Honolulu taking advantage of the NCAA's "extra game" rule with a 45-3 rout of Hawaii.

After upsets in the Cotton and Rose on New Year's Day 1966, the Orange Bowl that night between Alabama and Nebraska became the National Title game.This one was for all the marbles from the start with #2 Alabama vs #1 Nebraska

But all of the laughter turned to sorrow on the first day of 1972. The clock struck 12 on Alabama's brilliant season as Nebraksa romped over Alabama 38-6 to win its second straight national title and the Huskers' tremendous coach Bob Devaney's first bowl win over Bryant after two crushing back to back losses after the 1965 and 1966 seasons. The Tide trailed 28-0 at halftime as the Huskers were propelled by Johnny Rodgers' 77 yd punt return in the first quarter to give Nebraska a 14-0 lead. (Rodgers would go on to win the 1972 Heisman Trophy).

As in the epic 'Game of the Century' that Thanksgiving between #1 Nebraska and #2 Oklahoma, the 1972 Orange Bowl had and electrifying punt return by Johnny Rodgers between #1 Nebraska and #2 Alabama

But the foundation was laid for the rest of the decade of the 1970's. In addition to the SEC title in '71, Alabama would win the league title every year through 1979 except for 1976. The Tide would also win a share of the National Title in 1973 and 1978 and was consensus champion in 1979.The Tide had near National title misses in 1974 , 1975 and 1977 as well.