And so it came to pass that I was asked how many Alabama bowl games I had seen in person. To my surprise, this will be my 34th (assuming I make it to Monday night, when the Crimson Tide takes on Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game).
The first bowl game I ever attended in person was as a fan, sitting in the stands with my wife, Lynne, and her parents, the late Henry and Melba Steele. It was Jan. 1, 1966, and Bama was playing Nebraska for the national championship.
Because Alabama lost to Texas in the Orange Bowl after the 1964 season, the Associated Press elected to wait until after the bowl games in 1965 to award the national championship. To be honest, we didn’t give the national championship a thought in days leading up to Jan. 1. But that New Year’s Day had exraordinary results, top-ranked Michigan State losing to UCLA in the Rose Bowl and second-ranked Arkansas losting to LSU in the Cotton Bowl. Thus, third-ranked Nebraska and fourth-ranked Alabama were playing for the crown when the game kicked off that night with the other results already known.
Steve Sloan led Alabama to a 39-28 win for Coach Paul Bryant’s third national championship in five years. Nick Saban will be going for his third in four years when Bama and Notre Dame kick off at 8:30 p.m. EDT (7:30 central time) Monday at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
This will be the third stadium in Miami in which I have seen Alabama play. I was in the Orange Bowl stadium for two more games in which Bama could have won national championships. At the end of the 1971 season, the Tide was somewhat in the situation Notre Dame is in this year, a proud program that hadn’t been part of the national conversation for a few years. But Alabama’s first wishbone team went 11-0 in regular season play and met undefeated and top-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
I rode to that game sitting next to Pat Dye, who was Alabama’s linebackers coach, and he was quite confident. It proved to be misplaced confidence as the Cornhuskers – one of the greatest college football teams of all time – were 38-6 winners in the 1972 Orange Bowl.
At the end of the 1974 season, Alabama was ranked first by United Press International and second by the AP, and the Crimson Tide was meeting Notre Dame for the second time in history in the Orange Bowl. Alabama fell behind by 13-0 in the first quarter, fought back, but suffered a late interception and lost 13-11.
I also witnessed the 1991 Outback Bowl win over Colorado (30-25) and the 2000 Orange Bowl loss to Michigan (35-34 in overtime), both played in Joe Robbie Stadium.
I have seen Alabama play for the national championship in bowl games nine times with a record of 6-3. (Off-setting that, I have seen all six previous games against Notre Dame, and have the same miserable 1-5 record as the teams.)
In addition to the 1965 team beating Nebraska, the 1971 Tide losing to the Cornhuskers, and the 1974 team falling to Notre Dame, the others are:
• The most famous, perhaps, the loss to Notre Dame at the end of the 1973 season in the Sugar Bowl. Alabama had already been awarded the UPI championship, which was based on regular season play, but the first meeting of the two most storied programs in college football resulted in a dramatic 24-23 win for the Irish.
Alabama won back-to-back national championships in the Sugar Bowl in 1978 and 1979, wins over Penn State (the extraordinary goal line stand game) by 14-7 and Arkansas coached by Lou Holtz by 24-6.
Coach Gene Stallings 1992 team shocked Gino Torretta (now a member of the Orange Bowl committee) and Miami in the Sugar Bowl, 34-13.
The greatest Alabama season ever for me was 2009 as Alabama defeated old nemisis Texas in the most storied venue, the Rose Bowl, and won the national championship, 37-21, behind the Tide’s only Heisman Trophy winner, Mark Ingram.
And last year wasn’t bad as Bama destroyed LSU in the Louisiana Superdome for the Tide’s second BCS National Championship, a 21-0 win.
I have seen Alabama play in the four major bowls – Rose, Sugar, Orange and Cotton (even though it’s not one of the Big Four now); bowls in Jacksonville (Gator), Orlando (Citrus and Capital One and maybe some other names), and Tampa (Hall of Fame and Outback). In El Paso (Sun) and Houston (Astro-Bluebonnett); Independence in Shreveport; Liberty in Memphis and Music City in Nashville.
I skipped the Aloha (although I saw Bama’s two regular season games in Hawaii), the Fiesta, and a couple of Sun Bowls, and missed on Sugar Bowl. But I have also seen two bowl games in Birmingham and covered the Sugar Bowl when Archie Manning and Ole Miss defeated Arkansas.
One thing I’m not sure about. I saw Jamie Christenson kick a 45-yard field goal on the final play of the game against Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl to give Bama a 13-10 win on Jan. 2, 2006. Later the NCAA vacated that win.
I’ll have to check with the NCAA to see if I can count that among my 33 previous Alabama bowl games.