The Alabama Crimson Tide goes for the National Championship of Collegiate Football Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Rose Bowl against the Texas Longhorns. It is a historic contest, set against the backdrop of Alabama’s great history in championship games played at the Pasadena venue.
The most recent and perhaps the greatest of all was the Crimson Tide’s domination of Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 1946.
Here is the description of that setting by Naylor Stone, the legendary sports editor of The
in the first paragraphs of his book Coach Tommy of the Crimson
published in 1954:
There was bedlam in the Rose
Bowl, deep among the sands and
boulders of Pasadena’s Arroyo
Seco, on a beautiful New Year’s
afternoon in 1946. For a magnificent
University of Alabama football
team made up of dwarfsized
kids, as gridiron warriors
are measured, had just exploded
a nice setting of double-yoked
bombs. The detonation had left a
giant Southern California eleven
hopelessly beaten, 34 to 14.
Those cold, precise, machinelike
little men from Tuscaloosa –
this team operated like a factory
production line – lifted a squat
little fellow to their shoulders and
above a kaleidoscope of flashing
legs carried him around the field.
The squat little guy, of course
was Frank Thomas, a kid who
came up the hard way, became a
fine back at Notre Dame, and
then moved into the ranks of
great football coaches. His mighty
Alabama teams, playing against
the toughest competition, won
115, lost 24 and tied seven in fifteen
The recognized national champion for the 1945 regular season was Army’s undefeated Black Knights but the military service academies did not make bowl appearances during the war years. So the National Championship Foundation elected both Alabama and Army as co-national champions for the season.
Coach Thomas’s health had declined due to heart disease as the 1945 season had progressed. He continued to coach the team in 1946 but was absent frequently from the practice field. He stepped down as head coach at the end of the ’46 season but remained as athletic direector. Coach Thomas died in 1954 but he left quite a legacy, developing six major bowl teams and being the only coach to carry teams consecutively to the four major bowls of the day – Cotton, Orange, Sugar and Rose – a record not likely to be broken.
The 1946 Rose Bowl proved to be the final contest featuring any team outside of the Pacific Coast and Big Ten conferences. The Tournament of Roses struck a deal to pair the champions of the two conferences in the New Year’s Day classic beginning with the 1947 game.
And while the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game is not exactly the Rose Bowl, it’s played on the same field where Alabama, early on, established a 4-1-1 record and brought respect to Southern football.
Auburn gains respect
The Auburn Tigers struck a blow for SEC football, defeating Northwestern of the Big Ten Conference in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. That game will probably go down as the most exciting game of this postseason.
While my first loyalties go to my alma mater, the University of North Alabama, then to Auburn where my uncle and my father-inlaw attended and two of my sons graduated, I remain ecumenical when it comes to supporting the SEC against outside opposition, even including Tennessee. It is always best for Southern football, I believe, that SEC teams win against outside opposition.
Many in the Auburn family thought hiring a guy who had a less than stellar record during his brief tenure in the coaching business, was the wrong choice for the Auburn program. But Gene Chizik has proved most everybody wrong, leading the Tigers to a spot in a New Year’s day game and eight wins.
But on to Thursday and my parting words for the Alabama players are: Win this one for Coach Tommy.