You never forget your first time. For me it was in Miami on January 1, 1965. Alabama defeated Nebraska, 39-28, in the Orange Bowl. With number one Michigan State losing to UCLA in the Rose Bowl and number two Arkansas losing to LSU in the Cotton Bowl, the Tide jumped from fourth to first in the first Associated Press national championship awarded after bowl games.
Either as a reporter or as a member of Alabama’s sports information staff (a staff of three – Charlie Thornton, me, and our secretary Vera Dowdle), since the 1970 season I have seen Alabama in 33 bowl games.
Number 34 comes tonight when Alabama, 11-1 and ranked second in the nation, takes on Oklahoma, 10-2 and 11th, in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Kickoff in the Louisiana Superdome is at 7:30 p.m. CST with television coverage by ESPN.
My guess is that this Bama bowl game against the Sooners won’t be much more memorable than the first one I saw, the 24-24 tie at the end of the 1970 season in the Houston Astrodome in what was known that year as the AstroBluebonnet Bowl, but which goes down in history as only the Bluebonnet.
A case can be made that I have seen Alabama play in nine bowl games that were for the national championship – the Orange Bowl win over Nebraska for the 1965 title, the Orange Bowl loss to Nebraska for the 1971 championship, the 1973 Sugar Bowl loss to Notre Dame for 1973 (even though Bama won the UPI version based on regular season games only), the Sugar Bowl win over Penn State for 1978, the Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas for 1979, the Sugar Bowl win over Miami for 1992, the BCS win over Texas in Pasadena for 2009, the BCS win over LSU in New Orleans for 2011, and the win over Notre Dame in Miami Gardens for 2012.
I stayed up all night in celebration after two of those – the win over Miami for the 1992 championship and the win over Texas for the 2009 title.
The two most exciting bowl games I have seen – both in the Sugar Bowl -- included one loss and one win. The loss was excruciating, at the hands of Notre Dame to conclude the 1973 season. The win was the Goal Line Stand game by the 1978 team over Penn State.
My personal lists of seeing Alabama in bowl games is:
Sugar 7, Orange 4, Cotton 4, BCS 3, Independence 3, Sun 2, Music City 2, Liberty 2; and Bluebonnett, Hall of Fame, Blockbuster, Gator, Citrus, Outback, and Capital One 1 each.
I saw the last Alabama Sugar Bowl in Tulane Stadium (the Notre Dame game at the end of the 1973 season) and the first Sugar Bowl game played in the Superdome (a 13-6 win over Penn State at the end of the 1975 season).
I saw the Liberty Bowl at the end of the 1982 season, a win over Illinois that marked the end of Coach Paul Bryant’s extraordinary career. I saw 13 of the 24 Crimson Tide bowl games played under Bryant.
Since 1970 I have missed four Alabama bowl games – 1978 Sugar Bowl win over Ohio State because I had duties with the Crimson Tide basketball team, playing in Birmingham that day; the 1985 Aloha Bowl because it would mean not being home for Christmas; and the 1988 Sun Bowl and 1991 Fiesta Bowl because other reporters wanted to go and I didn’t.
I have also been to other bowl games. My first as a reporter was in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 1969 season when Archie Manning-led Ole Miss upset Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. I have seen a couple of bowl games played at Legion Field in Birmingham, the only one I remember being Vanderbilt in the early 1980s. That was because I was about to begin publishing “GO GOLD,” something like our ’BAMA Magazine. (’BAMA has been in existence since 1979. We folded GO GOLD about the same time our daughter started at Vanderbilt. Vandy AD Roy Kramer was not happy.)
So I have seen 37 bowl games, 34 of Alabama’s 60 bowl games. Pretty good for such a young fellow.