On Sep 27, 1958, Paul 'Bear' Bryant stepped onto the field for the first game as Alabama’s head coach. The Crimson Tide may have lost to LSU that day in Mobile, Alabama, but it was the beginning of a 25-year reign resulting in more than 200 wins for Alabama. When asked why he returned to his alma mater to coach the football program, he famously replied: "Momma called. And when Momma calls, you just have to come runnin'."
The Alabama houndstooth-wearing legend created a number of memorable moments for the Crimson Tide. However, today, we throwback to six -- one for each of Bryant’s national championships at Alabama -- of the Tide’s best moments under arguably the greatest college football coach in history.
1959 Alabama vs. Auburn
For the first time since 1953, the Crimson Tide took down the Tigers. According to sports-reference.com, Alabama left Birmingham that year tallying a fifth win on its streak, shutting Auburn out, 10-0, in the process. While the still rebuilding program of the Crimson Tide finished that year tenth in the final AP poll with a 7-2-2 record, Bryant led the team to make an appearance in the Liberty Bowl that year, according to sports-reference.com.
Bryant’s First National Title
Just a few years after Bryant had told his team that if they believed in themselves, they would be national champions in 1961, according to the Bryant Museum, the Crimson Tide traveled down to New Orleans, La., to compete against the Razorbacks in the 1961 Sugar Bowl. Alabama defeated Arkansas, 10-3, according to sports-reference.com, and Bryant took his first national championship title back to Tuscaloosa.
Breaking Race Barriers
According to the Huntsville Times, in 1963, when Bryant was working under former Alabama President Frank Rose, he pushed for Alabama to move forward quickly when it came to desegregating the college, for the Huntsville Times reported that Bryant knew it would benefit the athletic programs overall. However, seven years after Bryant’s push for desegregation, Wilbur Jackson signed with Alabama as a wide receiver. Bryant offered Jackson a scholarship, making him the first African-American to be recruited at Alabama, according to the New York Times.
reported that Bryant waited to put an African-American man on the field because he was unsure of how people would react, and, The Huntsville Timesaccording to the New York Times, Bryant used the game against Southern California, who had an African-American running back, to convince Alabama fans that desegregation on the field was necessary.
According to Alabama Athletics, Jackson posted the 1971 season record for the longest run from the scrimmage line with a 67-yard run for a touchdown against Miami. Also, according to Alabama Athletics, over his years at Alabama, he averaged 7.2 yards per carry.
The Goal Line Stand
In the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1979, Alabama defeated Penn State, 14-7, to claim the national title, according to the Bryant Museum. The Nittany Lions entered the forty-fifth Sugar Bowl ranked No. 1 with the Crimson Tide tailing at No. 2. While the game remained fairly low scoring, Alabama was able to gain the lead. However, late in the fourth quarter, Penn State trailed by a single touchdown and extra point, and the Nittany Lions moved down the field, according to Ron Higgins for SECSports.com.It was fourth-and-inches to Alabama’s goal line. And, according to Ron Higgins for SECSports.com, Penn State attempted to run the ball in, but Alabama’s senior linebacker Barry Krauss leaped over the mass of players to push the Nittany Lion running back away from the goal line. From there, Alabama won the national championship and walked away as the No. 1 team in the country that year.
This is one of the few games where Bryant didn't wear his trademark houndstooth hat -- the reason? His mother told him it was rude to wear a hat inside.
1979 SEC Title Match
On Dec. 1, 1979, Alabama traveled to Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. to take on No. 14 Auburn for the SEC title. According to Alabama Athletics, the Crimson Tide average 33.4 points per game on offense, and its defense allowed only five touchdowns all season.
While Alabama gained an early lead in the game, Auburn gave the eventual 1979 national champions a solid fight, losing by a single touchdown and extra point with a score of 25-18, according to Alabama Athletics.
The Tide fell to No. 2 in the polls after the game but went on to defeat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, which later was posted as Bryant’s last, and sixth, national championship.
Bryant’s Last Game
On Dec. 15, 1982, Bryant announced that he would be retiring from Alabama, but first, he had one more game to coach—the 1982 Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn. Here, the Crimson Tide took on Illinois, defeating the Fighting Illini 21-15, according to the Bryant Museum.Also, The Bryant Museum states that Craig Turner, Alabama’s sophomore running back, scored the last touchdown of the Bryant Era, and “Bear” Bryant walked away with a record of 232-46-9 for his career with the Crimson Tide.
The Bryant Museum reports that a little less than a month after his last game, Bryant died at 69-years old after being admitted to a hospital with chest pains. He rests in a cemetery in Birmingham, Ala.