One of a series
Alabama football teams have won 971 games on the field and some victories are personal favorites. Officially, owing to capricious NCAA rulings, Crimson Tide teams that won 29 times had those victories either vacated (21) or forfeited (8, and also 1 tie). So while “officially” Bama has 942 wins, tied with Ohio State for second al-time to Michigan’s 976, we prefer to believe our eyes and we saw those games.
All victories are not created equal. And sometimes – quite a few, actually – a favorite win over a team can be supplanted by a later triumph.
In this series we look at some victories that we consider the greatest/most favorite against other teams. There is no particular order.
“Washington,?” you say. Capital, maybe. President, perhaps.
With the Pac-12 generally held in low esteem insofar as football, many of us may not realize that the Huskies have a strong football tradition. It has not been helped, however, by playing against Alabama. The Crimson Tide is all-time 5-0 against UDub.
“Remember the Rose Bowl we’ll win then.” That’s right, Alabama’s first ever bowl game was historic, Coach Wallace Wade’s Crimson Tide the first Southern team ever invited to play in the only post-season game in town, the Rose Bowl. It came against Washington on January 1, 1926, in Pasadena, and was the first of five meetings between Bama and the Huskies.
Most of what I know about this game is what I’ve read, but I did have conversations about it with one of the stars of the team, Hoyt “Wu” Winslett. His primary memory of the game was the same as the write-up by famed sportswriter Damon Runyon. Washington’s best player, George Wilson, was knocked out and missed all of the third quarter. (Shades of “If Colt…”) That’s when Bama scored all of its points in the 20-19 win that was considered a shocking upset.
Washington scored two first half TDs, but missed both extra point kicks, and led 12-0 when Wilson had to leave the game. Bama scored 20 points in that third quarter – Johnny Mack Brown , who would go on to be a cowboy movie star, had touchdown receptions of 59 yards from Grant Gillis and 30 yards from Pooley Hubert and Hubert had a 1-yard TD run.
From an historical standpoint, this was one of the most important football games in Alabama history.
It was also historic when Coach Paul Bryant arranged for Washington to come to Tuscaloosa in 1975, the 50th anniversary year of that first Bama Rose Bowl team, and to have several living members from both teams on hand. Wallace Wade, the Tide coach in 1925, also came for a reception the night before the game, but was not up to attending the game.
He didn’t miss much.
The game was October 11, and perhaps the Huskies thought it would be cool. They were dressed for some crispness in the air, but it was hot and humid. Bama, which would finish 11-1 after having been upset by Missouri in the season-opener, led by 24-0 at the end of the first quarter and 38-0 at halftime en route to a 52-0 win. Fullback Johnny Davis scored three touchdowns, Richard Todd, Willie Shelby, Ozzie Newsome, and Tony Nathan one each.
The return game to Seattle in 1978 was a nail-biter, described privately by Alabama coaches afterwards as one of the most difficult in great part because of questionable officiating by the Pac-10 crew.
Washington had a good team, but the Tide was headed for a national championship.
Huskies wide receiver Spider Gaines had the first score of the game on a 74-yard pass and the final score on a 58-yard reception, but Alabama got touchdown runs from Major Ogilvie and Tony Nathan and a 36-yard Jeff Rutledge to Rick Neal TD and held on for a 20-17 win.
After a 28-6 Alabama win in the Sun Bowl at the end of the 1986 season, it would be another 30 years before the Tide and Huskies would be matched up again.
That came on December 31, 2016, and the stakes were high — the College Football Playoff semifinal game in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, the No. 1 seeded Tide against No. 4 Washington.
Although Washington took an early 7-0 lead, this was to be Bama running back Bo Scarbrough’s day. The Huskies’ lead lasted only three minutes as Scarbrough went 18 yards to cap an 8-play, 64-yard drive. On the first play of the second quarter, Adam Griffith’s 41-yard field goal — set up when Anthony Averett caused a fumble — gave the Tide a 10-7 lead.
Just over a minute before halftime, Ryan Anderson intercepted a Jake Browning pass and returned it 26 yards for a TD that gave Alabama a 17-7 lead. It would be that way until early in the fourth quarter. The Tide was backed up to its own 2-yard line with the first two plays getting only a yard. Scarbrough broke through for a 12-yard gain and then Jalen Hurts connected with O.J. Howard for 16 yards. Scarbrough’s second carry of the 6-play, 98-yard drive went for 68 yards and the final score of the 24-7 win.
Scarbrough finished with an Alabama bowl record 180 yards rushing on 19 carries and was Offensive MVP, while Anderson was Defensive MVP.
Bama had an advantage of 326 yards of offense to Washington’s 194 with the Tide defense contributing five sacks.
Unfortunately for Alabama, the defense would be exploited in the national championship game with Clemson pulling out a 35-31 win in the final 1 second.