1964-82 Crimson Tide
There was joy in a 1972 season that saw the Tide score two last minute touchdowns to overcome Tennessee and rip off ten consecutive wins as they entered the annual Iron Bowl game. This was followed by heartbreak as the regular season finale ended in a 17-16 loss to fifth ranked Auburn as the Plainsmen blocked two fourth quarter punts and ran both in for touchdowns. The 17-13 defeat at the hands of the third-ranked Texas Wishbone in the Cotton Bowl put a final damper on an otherwise very successful 10-2 SEC Championship season that found Alabama ranked at number seven despite the two late losses. All Conference quarterback and co-captain Terry Davis who was called the “savior of Alabama football” by Bryant and completed a 21-3 record as the Tide’s starting quarterback, continued to direct the powerful Wishbone with running backs Ellis Beck, Joe Labue, Wilbur Jackson, and Fresno (CA) JC transfer and All SEC honoree Steve Bisceglia combining to take the place of the departed Johnny Musso. While many in the media pushed the story, one that is very much continued to this day, that the ’70 game versus USC at Birmingham’s Legion Field led to the integration of Alabama football, Jackson had been the first African American scholarship player in the school’s history, playing for the freshmen team in 1970 and thus having already been recruited and in the football program prior to the USC game. He played sparingly as a sophomore in ’71 due to the talent ahead of him, totaling but thirty-seven carries for 211 yards which placed him down the list of Tide backs and beneath the consciousness of many fans and media members. Defensive end John Mitchell actually appeared on the field prior to Jackson in ’71, starting as a defensive end and while Jackson received more work in ’72 with eighty carries for 566 yards and a huge 7.1 yards per carry average, it was Mitchell that truly came into his own, putting the exclamation point on Bryant’s attempts to successfully integrate the squad. Despite the ground and pound of the Wishbone, Alabama did pass enough for end Wayne Wheeler to pull in thirty receptions and make the All Conference team. The stalwarts of the offensive line fully matured as a working group with guards John Hannah and Halver “Buddy” Brown, and center Jim Krapf, the SEC Heavyweight Wrestling Champion, a formidable group. Hannah was everyone’s All America and went on to a storied pro career that earned him entry to the Pro Football Hall Of Fame after thirteen seasons with the Patriots. Krapf too was All American and played guard with the BC Lions in ‘73 while Brown was an All Conference choice. As expected the nation’s number two total defense had many stars. It was anchored by Co-Captain Mitchell and John Croyle, who had followed up his High School All American honors in both football and basketball as an All SEC selection, at the other end spot. All SEC picks DB Bobby McKinney and linebacker Chuck Strickland, who led the team in tackles were obvious talents as was linebacker Mike Dubose. Mitchell was named All American and went on to an extremely successful coaching career at both the collegiate and pro levels, spending more than twenty seasons on the Steelers staff. With punters now named to the All Conference team, Greg Gantt proved to be a worthy choice.
SPOTLIGHT ON JOHN HANNAH:
That John “Hog” Hannah came to play for Alabama was not
totally unexpected as his father had starred for the Crimson
Tide from 1948 through ’50 and then played for the N.Y.
Giants in 1951. His Uncle Bill also played at the Capstone
in 1957, ’58, and ’59. That John Hannah played well for the
Crimson Tide was also not unexpected as he had been an All
State performer at Albertsville, Alabama High School after
beginning his athletic career at the Baylor School in
Chattanooga, Tennessee and he had a slew of discus, shot
put, and wrestling awards to display, including the National
Prep Championship of 1967. That Hannah would be considered
one of the best, if not the best offensive lineman to ever
play the game at both the collegiate and professional levels
could not have been assumed but the emotional make-up was
there, the willingness to work as hard as possible to
improve was immediately noticeable, and one could not miss
the 6’2”, 265 pounds of speed and power. Hannah was an All
American in 1971 as Alabama turned their two consecutive
sub-par seasons around and leading the Wishbone blocking up
front, Hannah was a Consensus All American in 1972 with
performances that led to his induction to the College
Football Hall Of Fame. Honored as a member of College
Football’s All Century Team, the 1970’s Team Of The Decade,
and described by Bryant himself as “the greatest lineman I
ever coached,” John Hannah truly did it all as an ultimate
team player as an offensive guard and tackle for the Tide.
There were few surprises in the pro ranks as he was selected
as the fourth overall pick in the 1973 draft which led to
thirteen years of accolades that brought him to the Pro
Football Hall Of Fame in 1991. In no particular order Hannah
was called “The Best Offensive Lineman Of All Time” by
Sports Illustrated, was a ten-time All Pro, eleven-time All
AFC choice, four times the NFL Lineman Of The Year, was
named to nine Pro Bowls, had the unique distinction of
making the NFL’s All Decade Teams in both the 1970s and
‘80s, and was named to the NFL 75th Anniversary
Team. His thirteen year career found him playing injured or
ill with this team oriented player demanding the best of
himself and missing but five games to physical ailments. He
followed his professional career as a high school football
coach and later established a faith centered retreat for
fathers and sons.
THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON OF 1973
Bryant’s 1973 high-powered offensive machine was second in the nation in total offense and rushing, and put up dizzying totals: 5288 total yards gained, an average of 41.3 points and 477 yards per game, fifty-five touchdowns, and against Virginia Tech they rolled up over 800 yards in total offense and set an NCAA record by rushing for 748 yards. Quarterbacks Gary Rutledge, an All Conference pick, and Richard Todd led the charge with a warehouse of good backs that included Willie Shelby, Ellis Beck, and All SEC Wilbur Jackson who set Bama records with his 7.2 yards per carry average, went on to a good nine-year NFL career with San Francisco and Washington before he began his long established and successful Three Star Service building maintenance business. Steve “Grapes” Bisceglia completed a second All Conference season and returned to his family’s long established and highly respected vineyard and wine making business in California. The backs had a convoy thanks to center Sylvester Croom, All SEC tackle Steve Sprayberry, and consensus All American guard “Buddy” Brown who played with the Birmingham Americans of the WFL in ’74 and Winnipeg of the CFL for another five seasons. End Wayne Wheeler was recognized as an All American but injury limited his career with the Chicago Bears, making his entry to teaching and coaching a bit earlier than expected. The tight defense shut out four opponents on the way to an 11-0 record with strength in the linebacking of All SEC Mike Dubose, Wayne Hall, and young Woody Lowe who had a school record 134 total tackles and was named to some All American teams. Defensive end John Croyle, whose son Brodie played quarterback for both Alabama and the Kansas City Chiefs, completed his career and founded a successful residential home for children in need with Bryant and John Hannah who pledged his rookie signing bonus as a donation, early investors and contributors. Rangy 6’5” defensive All Conference tackle Mike Raines was a three-time CFL All Star in his eight year career spent with three teams north of the border, after a rookie season with the Niners. He completed his pro career in the USFL. Punter Greg Gantt averaged 48.7 yards per kick and spent time with the Jets, and joined defensive backs Mike Washington and David McMakin as All Conference honorees as the Tide entered the Sugar Bowl that shaped up as the fight for the National Championship. The UPI Coaches Poll bestowed the title on Bama prior to the bowl match-up against Notre Dame that saw the Irish win 24-23 after six lead changes. The Associated Press which had also ranked Alabama first, took a follow-up poll after the New Year’s Eve battle and moved the Irish up to split the championship. This led to a change in the voting procedure beginning in ’74, but 1973 would mark an enviable run of titles for Bryant and the Crimson Tide.
1974 highlighted another 11-0 regular season but was followed by a loss to Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl contest and a missed opportunity for another National Championship. As a parting gift to Irish head coach Ara Parseghian, his team prevailed by a 13-11 margin. Once again the Alabama offense was sterling averaging 388 total yards per game, even with injuries hindering both Gary Rutledge and Richard Todd who shared the quarterback duties. Todd’s exceptional running abilities in the Wishbone limited the national perception of his excellent passing talents. The many effective running backs were led by Calvin Culliver’s 700-plus yards and the 541 that Willie Shelby added to the total. Credit team captain and center Croom with much of the footwork up front and he was rewarded with the SEC Jacobs Blocking Trophy. The son of the University’s chaplain who himself was an All American player at Alabama A&M, Croom was named a Kodak All American and after a one year stay with the Saints, coached at Alabama and then in the pro ranks becoming the first African-American head coach in the SEC when he took the Mississippi State job in 2004. Linemate and All SEC guard John Rogers was under rated. Freshman split end Ozzie Newsome’s twenty receptions provided a new wrinkle to the attack. The defense ranked third in the nation versus scoring and was as stubborn as usual with defensive end Leroy Cook, the Orange Bowl MVP gaining All America mention as did cornerback Mike Washington. Considerable support was given by defensive tackle Charles Hannah, who was carrying on his family legacy, and linebackers Woody Lowe, another All American, and Mike Dubose. Dubose served as Alabama’s head coach from 1997-2000 and then turned around the program as the head coach at Millsaps College. Co-captain and DB Ricky Davis proved to be a steady leader, later playing in the NFL for four seasons before becoming a highly successful attorney.
Instead of blowing through the regular season schedule and landing in a major bowl with an 11-0 record, Alabama reversed their trend in 1975 by losing the opener 20-7 to Missouri and then defeated Penn State 13-6 in the Sugar Bowl. The loss no doubt cost them a National Title and knocked them down to third in the final polls. Nine of twelve opponents scored a touchdown or less as the defense finished the year top-ranked in the country against scoring and number two in total defense. The stars had familiar names and made their presence known with their thirteen sacks in the Tennessee game. Standouts were All American defensive tackles Cook and Hannah and linebacker Lowe who was a lynchpin for the Chargers for eleven seasons. Cook was also the SEC Defensive Player Of The Year and a member of the Alabama Team Of The Century but a knee injury cut short a pro career. Gus White, a solid vet at middle guard and Bob Baumhower who was All SEC and the team’s leading tackler filled out the front line. Linebacker Corley Duncan was All Conference as were three of the Tide’s four defensive backs. Wayne Rhodes, Alan Pizzitola, and Tyrone King were harsh tacklers and stifling cover men. King later coached at Birmingham’s A.H. Parker High School and his son Tyrone Jr. played in the mid-2000’s for Head Coach Nick Saban. Pizzitola later joined with ‘74’s standout Ricky Davis to pool their resources and donated a Defensive Backs Meeting Room in the new athletic complex. The “other” defensive back had a familiar name, Johnny Crow, son of Bryant coached Heisman winner John David Crow who was on the Bama staff as an assistant coach. Center and middle guard Terry Jones completed his playing career but would seal his connection to Bama after seven seasons with the Packers, serving as a Tide Strength And Conditioning Coach for many years and having his son play for the program before entering the NFL. As usual, the Wishbone ran the entire field to the tune of 361 points with All Conference Richard Todd the trigger man. The hard running quarterback would become more famous for his arm as the Jets first-round choice, playing in New York from ’76 through 1983 and then another two seasons with the Saints. Running back Johnny Davis put up 820 yards and Shelby remained reliable, later playing with the Bengals and Cardinals. All agreed that if Alabama were inclined to throw on a more frequent basis, Newsome would be a cinch All American. Seemingly out of obscurity, Californian David Gerasimchuck blossomed into an All SEC caliber guard, matching his success in the shot put.
Coach Bryant knew he had a lot of rebuilding to do in ’76 but after winning five consecutive SEC titles, fans were disappointed with the 9-3 finish, even with a 36-6 thumping of UCLA in the Liberty Bowl. Quarterback Jeff Rutledge ran the attack with backs Johnny Davis and young Tony Nathan, who rushed for 480 yards, the focus of the ground game. Gerasimchuck repeated as an All Conference guard and split end Newsome finally received All American recognition after hauling in twenty-five passes and had the talent to double that in a program that passed the ball more frequently. The defense had strength in the two tackles with All SEC Charles Hannah enjoying a twelve season pro career with the Bucs and Raiders prior to a successful entrance to the home building business, while All American Bob Baumhower played ten with the Dolphins, named to five Pro Bowls before opening a string of successful chicken wing restaurants. Linebackers Barry Krauss and Rich Wingo matured quickly and the secondary was capable.
THE UNCROWNED NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON OF 1977
Rebounding strongly with an 11-1 record, the November 28th final regular season polls had Alabama ranked at number three with only a second week loss to Nebraska sullying the 1977 record. When Number one Texas fell to number five Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl, number two Oklahoma lost to number six Arkansas in the Orange Bowl, and number four Michigan dropped the Rose Bowl to Washington it was assumed that the Tide’s dominating performances all season would place them as the top team in the nation. Once again it seemed as if the Notre Dame public relations machine won out as the Irish were handed the National Championship and somehow, Bama was stuck in second place. It was a terrific season despite the snub with quarterback Rutledge passing for 1207 yards and as usual, All American end Ozzie Newsome the ready-made target. “The Wizard Of Oz” remains one of the legendary figures in Alabama football history. Whatever national acclaim he missed in the run oriented attack, and his numerous awards indicated he did not miss much, was made up for in the NFL while playing for the Browns from 1978 through 1990 and he was voted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. He has since become one of the most respected NFL personnel evaluators and front office executives in the league. Able-to-do-everything Tony Nathan and All SEC fullback Johnny “Bull” Davis, who received some All America notice headed the ground game with some support from Johnny Crow. Davis went on to a steady and very solid ten year pro career with Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and Cleveland, where he teamed with long time best friend Newsome and has spent his past years working in the school system of West New York, N.J. and as a jazz pianist. Running behind All SEC picks center Dwight Stephenson and Conference Sophomore Of The Year tackle Jim Bunch made things much easier as did 275 pound guard Bob Cryder. Very much underpublicized, Cryder traveled from Illinois to Alabama to play for Coach Bryant, made some All America Second Teams, and became a New England Patriots first round draft choice. He played 1978 through ’83 for the Patriots and completed a respected career from ’84 to 1986 with Seattle. The defense was the strength of the squad, yielding but 12.1 points per game. Linebacker Krauss led the tacklers with ninety-one with Rich Wingo almost as active. Tackle Marty Lyons joined Krauss on the All Conference team and was formidable as were middle guard Curtis McGriff and linebacker Neil Callaway who later became a long time offensive coach at a number of southern powers and served as head coach at UAB. Defensive end Wayne Hamilton won numerous honors as a sophomore including All SEC and Academic All American. Don McNeal led a tough secondary that featured All Conference pick Mike Kramer.
SPOTLIGHT ON OZZIE NEWSOME:
What could have been legendary careers in baseball or basketball turned into one of the greatest careers in Alabama’s storied football history because Ozzie Newsome of Muscle Shoals, Alabama decided to play football in eighth grade. He didn’t particularly like nor understand the sport his first two years of participation and was close to walking away in order to concentrate on the more enjoyable pursuits of baseball and basketball. An outstanding prospect who led his Colbert County High School team to the finals in the Alabama High School 3A-4A Baseball Championship game as a catcher and first baseman, this was his primary sport although Newsome had won quite a bit of acclaim as a forward on the Colbert County team that captured the Class 3A Basketball Championship. As a sophomore and junior he teamed with Phil Gargis who later quarterbacked Auburn, and Thad Flanigan, a receiver he later joined at Alabama and both a year ahead of him, to forge a 10-0 State Playoff team and then a 13-0 State Championship squad in football for his junior season. Newsome’s achievements later earned him the honor of selection to the National High School Hall Of Fame and a scholarship to Alabama. Even on run-oriented Wishbone teams, the 6’2”, 220 pound tight end and split end became what Bear Bryant himself called “the greatest end in Alabama history” and he included by name, his former roommate and Hall Of Fame member Don Hutson among those Newsome bypassed. A four year starter from his very first game, two-time All Conference, and 1977 All American, numerous Lineman Of The Year awards, an Alabama Player Of The Decade for the ‘70’s, a member of Bama’s Team Of The Century, he entered the College Football Hall Of Fame with his 102 receptions for 2070 yards, sixteen touchdowns, and an incredible 20.3 yards per catch average which set a record that stood for more than twenty years. A natural hard worker and leader, Newsome was the Browns first round draft choice and became their 1978 Offensive Player Of The Year as a rookie. Predictably for most, he excelled in the pros as he had at Alabama, named as a First or Second Team All Pro five times, a Pro Bowl member three, set a team record that stood for twenty-nine years with 191 reception yards, played in 198 consecutive games over a thirteen year career, named to the Browns Ring Of Honor, the NFL Team Of The Decade for the 1980s, and ultimately to the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. As importantly, Newsome won both the Byron White NFL Man Of The Year Award and the Walter Camp Man Of The Year Award for his ongoing commitment to and involvement with community service. After retirement as an active player, he entered the Browns front office, assisted with the team’s relocation to Baltimore as the Ravens, and served in a number of administrative positions until being named as Ravens General Manager in 2002. He is considered to be the architect of their Super Bowl XXXV team and was the first African American to fill the General Manager office in the NFL. A leader on and off the field, Newsome is an icon for all Alabama fans.
THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON OF 1978:
Since switching to the Wishbone, Coach Bryant had won seventy-four games in seven seasons and finally, in 1978 with an 11-1 record against one of the most challenging schedules in school history, he would be able to claim a National Championship within the decade. He had a top ten rushing and scoring offense and put up thirty points per game while his balanced squad led the SEC against the rush and scoring, demonstrating a defense every bit as potent as the offense. Yet Bryant described this team as “a bunch of average players who don’t know they’re not supposed to be able to play as well as they do.” The 583 yards from Major Ogilvie and 568 from Billy Jackson demonstrated the lack of huge but constant numbers the backs totaled in the multi-faceted Wishbone. Tony Nathan was still the most dangerous weapon and in his four seasons with the Tide had career marks of 1,997 yards on the ground, 6.4 yards per carry average, and twenty-nine touchdowns. His kick return ability truly separated him from others allowing him to complete his college play with 3362 all purpose yards. He was later productive in his nine years with the Dolphins [see HELMET HUT]. Quarterbacks Jeff Rutledge and Steadman Shealy balanced the run with enough passing to remain dangerous, especially with All SEC center Dwight Stephenson, All SEC tackle Jim Bunch, guard Buddy Ayadelette, and tackle Mike Brock, a former walk-on, clearing the way. Rutledge had been a High School All American at L. Frazier Banks High School and led the Tide to three SEC titles before enjoying a fourteen year NFL career with the Rams, Giants, and Redskins. The excellent defense had big-gun All Conference honorees Wayne Hamilton and Marty Lyons up front and All American linebacker Barry Krauss who was the Colts first round draft choice and rostered through ’88 before finishing with the Vikings in ’89. Lyons, like Krauss an All American and first round NFL pick was a vital cog in the Jets’ defense for eleven seasons before becoming a respected broadcaster. Less heralded players like defensive backs Murray Legg and the emerging Don McNeal, middle guard Curtis McGriff and linebacker Rich Wingo didn’t get the headlines but were key performers. Wingo played five seasons for the Packers, recorded 151 tackles in one season, served as the Tide strength coach from ’86 through 1989, and was voted to the Alabama House Of Representatives in 2014. E.J. Junior gave indications of future greatness at the other end and all of the defensive players would be called to arms in a Sugar Bowl stand-off that became legendary. Number one Penn State versus number two Alabama came down to a last gasp Nittany Lion quest for the goal line in a 14-7 game. With the entire sequence immortalized in numerous photos and video clips, Wingo first stopped Penn State back Matt Suhey from the one-foot line. On fourth down, after Bama tackle Lyons warned the Penn State quarterback, “You better pass,” to get the ten inches needed for the winning score, fullback Mike Guman was famously turned away while leaping over the pile, with Barry Krauss the most visible Tide defender. Alabama was now the undisputed National Champion!
THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON OF 1979:
A perfect 12-0 season ended with Alabama going into the Sugar Bowl as the number two ranked team in the country behind Ohio State. The Tide’s decisive 24-9 victory over Arkansas in the Bowl game left them as the National Champion when the Buckeyes lost the Rose Bowl to USC who moved into the second slot for the end-of-season rankings. The victory also left them with a nine year 97-11 record that made them “the” dominant team of the decade after introducing the Wishbone in 1971. The defense was great, holding nine of their twelve opponents to seven points or less with five of those shut-outs, yielding a total of sixty-seven points, and being rated near the top in every defensive category. There were a number of players garnering national honors. All Conference players setting up the roadblocks up front included defensive end E.J. Junior, and tackles Byron Braggs and David Hannah whose knee injury prevented him from following his brothers into the pro ranks. Middle guard Curtis McGriff who had an eight year career with the Giants and Redskins was just as tough up front. All Conference Tommy Boyd and his ninety-two tackles led the linebacking corps. The secondary which finished second in the nation against the pass, was led by All American Don McNeal who was the Vikings first pick and had a fine pro career. With All SEC DB’s Tommy Wilcox, also the SEC Freshman Of The Year, and Jim Bob Harris, no team threw well on the Tide. Junior and Boyd joined McNeal on the All American lists. The offense was potent with All SEC quarterback Steadman Shealy running the show behind a line that featured All American center Dwight Stephenson who had a Pro Football Hall Of Fame career with the Dolphins and tackle William “Buddy” Aydelette who played in both the NFL and is considered to be the most highly decorated offensive linemen in the three seasons of the USFL. In what should have been recognized as one of the all-time best collegiate offensive lines, Jim Bunch and Mike Brock also made All America teams. Bunch completed his Capstone career as the SEC Freshman Of The Year, a three-time All Conference and Consensus All American performer and later entered the restaurant and hotel business. Brock became one of the most high powered corporate litigators in the nation. Major Ogilvie, another All Conference member, and Billy Jackson were star rushers.
The 10-2 season of 1980 ended with a comfortable 30-2 Cotton Bowl defeat of Baylor and the defense led the SEC in every major statistical category. Hopes were high that the Tide would be the very first college football team to capture three consecutive National Championships but despite their usual overpowering rushing attack that was third in the nation, a 6-3 loss to Mississippi State which snapped a twenty-eight game win streak and 7-0 defeat by Notre Dame prevented the historic event to play out. Most of the “All” awards went to the defense but Major Ogilvie as team scoring leader and Billy Jackson as rushing leader with 606 yards kept the Wishbone dangerous. Jackson spent four years with the Chiefs. Ogilvie became the first collegiate player to score touchdowns in four consecutive New Year’s Day bowl games and his son Morgan became a Tide quarterback in the early 2000s. Receiver Jesse Bendross only caught eleven passes but had great potential. The defense was anchored by All American E.J. Junior, the number one draft pick of the Cardinals who played for them from 1981-’88 and another five seasons with the Vikings, Bucs, and Seahawks, making two Pro Bowls. Junior had an extensive coaching career, serving as the head coach at Central State University (Ohio) in 2009 when they reinstituted a dormant program. He is also an ordained minister. Linebacker Tommy Boyd’s 120 tackles also brought him All American notice while defensive backs Tommy Wilcox and Jim Bob Harris as well as 290 pound defensive tackle Byron Braggs were named to the All SEC squad. Wilcox received some All American votes also while Braggs had a four year NFL career before becoming a Criminal Investigator for the U.S. Department Of Homeland Security.
1981’s opening day 24-21 loss to Georgia Tech looked worse at the end of the year when that major upset turned out to be Tech’s sole victory in a 1-10 season. The stumble of a 13-13 tie with Southern Mississippi was a bit unsettling but the Tide won Bryant’s thirteenth SEC Championship crown as they were undefeated in the conference and entered the post-season Cotton Bowl with an excellent 9-1-1 record. Even the close 14-12 loss to Texas in the bowl game took nothing away from the historical victory over Auburn in the November 28th rivalry game. The 28-17 Iron Bowl win was the record-breaking performance that all fans were awaiting, one that gave the great Coach Bryant his 315th win that set a new record for career victories. The year’s winning formula was typical Bryant; running back by committee, led by fullback Ricky Moore, with six of them rushing for more than three hundred yards, combined with a stifling defense. The blocking was provided by a grouping of All Conference linemen that included tight end Bart Krout who was the player that handed Coach Bryant the game ball following the historic win at Auburn, guard Doug Vickers, center Steve Mott, and tackle Bob Cayavec. Despite being dismissed from the team for a DWI incident Thanksgiving morning and thus missing both the Auburn and Cotton Bowl games, Cayavec was still named to the All SEC team. Receivers Bendross and Joey Jones caught but twenty-five passes between them but were dangerous in the open field with Jones averaging over thirty yards per reception. All Americans Thomas Boyd at linebacker, who was All American for a second year and had a five year pro career that spanned the CFL, USFL, and a year with the Detroit Lions, and Tommy Wilcox at safety led a solid defense with assistance from All SEC selections defensive end Mike Pitts, middle guard and co-captain Warren Lyles, and DB’s Harris and Jeremiah Castille. Hard-hitting linebacker Robbie Jones, a Second Team All Conference choice, flashed lots of hustle.
In what would be Coach Paul Bryant’s final season, the Crimson Tide of Alabama completed the the1982 regular season at 7-4, 3-3 with a sixth place finish in the SEC, and then defeated Illinois 21-15 in the Liberty Bowl, the very last game Bryant would coach. Expectations were higher and received a boost after an October 9th win over eventual National Champion Penn State which placed the Tide at 5-0 with a number two national ranking. Even a loss the next week to Tennessee in a 35-28 battle did not dampen spirits but the wheels came off the wagon with three consecutive losses to finish the regular season. Three defenders were named to All American teams; defensive end Mike Pitts, cornerback Jeremiah Castille, and safety Tommy Wilcox whose neck injury ended a two season United States Football League career but paved the way to his televised hunting and fishing show. Pitts was productive with the Falcons after being their first round pick, and played a total of twelve seasons in the NFL with three teams. Castille had a six year pro stay, gaining notoriety by stripping the football from Earnest Byner in the famous Broncos vs. Browns 1987 AFC Championship game. Castille had two sons who played football for the Tide and a third who played an Alabama football player in the movie Woodlawn about Bama star Tony Nathan. Defensive tackle Jackie Cline played with Birmingham of the USFL for three seasons before spending another three in the NFL and having a son who played college ball at Jacksonville (AL) State University. Needless to state, the Tide Wishbone was powered by the offensive line and both center Steve Mott who spent six seasons with the Lions and tackle Joe Beazley earned All Conference notice. Bryant as usual employed a swarm of running backs with Ricky Moore, Linnie Patrick, and Paul Carruth the primary carriers. Quarterback Walter Lewis was the team’s second leading rusher and threw for 1515 yards. Receivers Joey Jones and Bendross were excellent though underutilized in the Bama offense with Bendross playing three years in the NFL. Jones too had a brief pro career with the USFL Birmingham entry and a year with the Falcons but he made his impact as a coach, successful at the high school level in Alabama and then starting a program from scratch at South Alabama University, building it from a Division III participant to a bowl attending member of the Division 1/FBS Sun Belt Conference that began the 2016 season with a major upset of the SEC’s Mississippi State.
Although the day would have to arrive sometime, there was still shock across the state of Alabama on December 15, 1982, two weeks after the 23-22 loss to Auburn, when Coach Bryant announced his retirement. For the past few years of his reign, opposing coaches had used his age and declining health against him during recruiting and in truth, the talent level of the Tide had fallen off compared to past years. Hidden from the public, the preceding three years had brought a minor stroke and a bout of heart failure. At age sixty-nine, he believed it was time to step down, stating “This is my school, my alma mater. I love it and I love my players. But in my opinion, they deserved better coaching than they have been getting from me this year." He would remain as athletic director “for a few more months” until a new head coach had been chosen but the man who “inspired fear as well as intense devotion and loyalty” in his players and assistant coaches also stated when asked how he would utilize his time in retirement, “probably croak in a week.” His spirit was further dampened when his recommendation to hire either Gene Stallings or future Alabama Athletic Director Mal Moore from his current staff, was ignored by Dr. Joab Thomas, the University President. Sadly, the man who many believed had the capacity to live literally forever, the man whom University of Kentucky and pro great George Blanda once described as “this is what God must look like,” passed away but four weeks after coaching his last game. He entered the hospital on January 25, 1983 and suffered a fatal heart attack on the following day. Eight players from his current squad served as his pallbearers as he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal Of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian award. To the present day, Paul “Bear” Bryant is lionized as one of the game’s greatest mentors, completing his Alabama career with a 232-46-9 record and a winning percentage of .824. At the time of his death, he held the record for the greatest number of victories with an overall record of 323-85-17 with one Southwestern Conference Championship at Texas A&M. At Alabama he had twenty-five winning seasons that included six National and fourteen Southeastern Conference Championships, attendance at twenty-four consecutive bowl games, awards as the National Coach Of The Year three times, twelve SEC Coach Of The Year honors, and election to the College Football Hall Of Fame. His approach that “separated the survivors from the rest of the players” with an emphasis on extreme physical conditioning and attention to detail and discipline on the defensive side of the ball altered the landscape of the entire collegiate game in the early to mid-1960s. The toughness he displayed as an Alabama player in the 1930s where he played with a broken leg as a senior was expected and encouraged and his teams reflected that attitude. He changed with the times, altering his offense to accommodate his material, and changed with the times socially, thus maintaining the love and respect of his players through his entire, lengthy career.
With Ray Perkins selected as the new head coach, Alabama
appeared for the 1983 season in their white helmets once
again and honored Coach Bryant with a small houndstooth
hat decal on the rear of the helmet. After the season,
it seemed as if almost every Bama player eligible to
play professional football was selected in the
territorial draft for the inaugural season of the United
States Football League. In ’84 white shells were worn
for away games while the crimson headgear was chosen for
home contests. Results were successful under Perkins and
then Bill Curry but no one could actually replace “The
Bear” in the hearts and minds of Alabama fans. It took
the hiring of former Bryant player, assistant, and
protégé Gene Stallings in 1990, records of 11-1 in ’91,
13-0 and the National Championship in 1992, and a seven
year 70-16-1 mark before Tide fans believed they were
really back to the levels of Bryant type success. With
the hiring of current head coach Nick Saban in 2007,
Alabama once again has achieved the dizzying success of
the Bryant era with four National and six SEC
If interested in any of these Alabama helmets please click on the photos below.