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Alabama - Texas: A Redux

   by Larry Ness - 12/07/2009

Alabama-Texas a 1964 redux? (let's hope so)

The final BCS standings came out on Sunday and few were surprised that Alabama and Texas will meet in Pasadena, California on January 7 for the BCS championship. Alabama was a shoo-in for one slot in this year's BCS title game when the Tide ended Florida's 22-game winning streak with a dominating 32-13 win in the SEC championship game. Conventional wisdom said all the Longhorns needed to join Alabama in the Rose Bowl was beat Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game and after all, the Longhorns were two-TD favorites.

However, few imagined that the Longhorns would need a 46-yard FG on the game's final play to get past the Cornhuskers. By they way, in order to get that FG attempt, Texas needed officials to put one second back on the game-clock, after Colt McCoy and Texas head coach Mack Brown barely avoided committing the worst case of game-ending, clock-management in recent history. While five schools finished the 2009 regular season unbeaten, it's hard to argue to hard against it being Alabama vs Texas for the national title.

I will do a number of bowl articles over the next few weeks but I wanted a chance here to reminisce to a time (at least for me) before pointspreads and moneylines. I moved to Las Vegas back in September 1982 and I went from a sports fane to being a sports bettor and then a professional handicapper. My story is hardly typical of my peers, as I'm the grandson of a Lutheran minister who emigrated from Norway and the son of a FBI agent, who spent 25 years working Russian espionage.

However, one thing almost all sports bettors and handicappers have in common is that they all began as sports fans (many still are). You may have already heard that the last time a CFB regular season ended with five unbeaten teams was back in 1979. The final regular season poll that year looked like this. Ohio St (11-0) was No. 1, 11-0 Alabama No. 2, 10-0-1 USC was third, 11-0 Florida State was No. 4 and 11-0 BYU finished No. 9 (the more things change, the more they stay the same).

Here's how that bowl season unfolded. No. 9 BYU lost 28-27 to an Indiana team which was just 7-4 during the regular season, including only 5-3 in the Big 10. No. 4 Florida State lost 24-7 in the Orange Bowl to a No. 5 Oklahoma squad, which finished 11-1. No. 3 USC beat No. 1 Ohio State 17-16 in the Rose Bowl, which meant that No. 2 Alabama's 24-9 win over Arkansas (ranked No. 6 in the final regular season poll after finishing 10-1 and winning the SWC title) gave the Tide an undisputed national championship.

Do the results of that year provide "good karma" for Alabama and its fans? Maybe so but you've probably also heard that the Tide and Longhorns have met eight previous times in their storied histories with Texas going 7-0-1. The first three meetings occurred in the regular season (the first came in 1902) with the last five coming in a bowl game. Four of those five bowl matchups were in "major" bowl games, one Sugar Bowl, one Orange Bowl and two Cotton Bowls, which then was a major bowl. Does that history give Texas an edge?

I doubt either of these factoids mean much of anything. However, I do want to relive the 1964 Orange Bowl in which No. 1 Alabama (10-0) faced No. 5 Texas (9-1) on January 1, 1965. First, let me do a 'Readers Digest recap' of that 1964 season.

The 'story' of the 1964 season was the rebirth of football in South Bend. Notre Dame did not post a winning season from 1959 through 1963, going 2-8 in 1960 and 2-7 in 1963. However in 1964, America's most famous Catholic university hired an Armenian Presbyterian, Ara Parseghian, to 'save' it. Us Norwegians had a smile on our face, as Knute Rockne was the architect of Notre Dame's football dynasty. The Fighting Irish would win their first nine games in 1964, rising to No. 1 in the AP poll by early November.

However, the Irish, who hadn't yet broken their "bowl ban," lost at USC in their final regular season game, costing them the school's first undefeated season since 1949 and likely another national championship. On November 28, 1964, Notre Dame took a 17-0 halftime lead at USC but lost 20-17 when the Trojans capped a 20-point second-half with a Craig Fertig to Rod Sherman TD pass with 1:35 left to play. Notre Dame QB John Huarte came out of nowhere to win Notre Dame's first Heisman since 1953 but the loss left the Irish No. 3 in the final AP poll.

Finishing third in the Heisman balloting that year was a two-way player (center/MLB) from Illinois, Dick Butkus. Butkus would go on the be one of two No. 1 draft picks for the Chicago Bears in the 1965 NFL draft, with the other being "the Kansas Comet," Gale Sayers, who fell to the Bears when the Giants chose Auburn's Tucker Frederickson instead (if you grew up in New York, you'll remember). Take a look at the nation's leading rushers in 1964 and Sayers name isn't among the top-10. The nation's leading rusher that season was a little-known RB out of Wake Forest named Brian Piccolo.

Of course Brian Piccolo became a household name thanks to a made-for-TV movie released in November of 1971 called "Brian's Song." Piccolo was portrayed by "Sonny Corleone" (or James Caan, if you prefer) with Gale Sayers being played by Billy Dee (if I need to mention his last name, you are WAY too young). Now to Alabama/Texas in the Orange Bowl.

For those who bemoan the BCS, you should be aware that Alabama was already declared national champs that season, as both the AP and UPI (now the coaches') polls had no post-bowl voting. No. 1 Alabama met No. 5 Texas in Miami, with Alabama QB Joe Namath poised to sign what was then an unheard of $400,000 contract with the New York Jets of the AFL the very next day. Namath, struggling with a gimpy knee, began the game on the bench, as Steve Sloan started for Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide.

It was all Texas in the first half, as Ernie Koy had a 79-yard TD run and QB Jim Hudson made it 14-0 for Darrell Royal's Longhorns with a 64-yard TD pass to George Sauer. Down two TDs, Bryant inserted Namath, who was wearing his trademark white shoes. His seven-yard TD pass got the Tide within seven points but Texas TE Pete Lammons recovered an Alabama fumble after the Tide had blocked a Texas FG. Koy's two-yard TD run gave the Longhorns a 21-7 lead at the half.

Namath's second TD pass of the game moved Alabama with 21-14 and an Alabama FG cut the lead to 21-17. A Texas interception in the fourth quarter set up Alabama in Texas territory and Namanth led the Tide to a FD at the Texas three-yard line. However, Texas came up with a historic goal-line stand, as Namath was stopped on a fourth-down QB sneak by Texas MLB Tommy Nobis. "I'll go to my grave knowing I scored a TD on that play" Namath would later say. However, Texas held on for a 21-17 win, despite never crossing the 50-yard line the entire second half.

I've mentioned more than a few names in this article which should be instantly recognizable by you "old-timers." Of note in the Alabama/Texas game was that three prominent Texas players would go on to play with Namath in New York with the Jets and be a part of arguably the NFL's most famous game, the Jets' 16-3 Super Bowl III upset of the Baltimore Colts. Jim Hudson played QB for Texas back in that Orange Bowl but was the Jets starting safety in Super Bowl III. Texas end George Sauer caught eight passes for 133 yards vs the Colts while Texas TE Pete Lammons started at that position for the Jets as well.

While this contest may not have been CFB's best-ever game, it is arguably its most influential. The Orange Bowl in question would launch a new era in TV history. It marked CFB's first-ever primetime game. It's been reported that the telecast attracted 40 million viewers and changed the course of TV sports. It became acceptable for football to fill eight-12 hours of programming in a single day (sound familiar?) and of course, advertisers loved the chance to reach the larger nighttime audiences.

By 1970, the NFL would 'invent' Monday Night Football and of course the Super Bowl these days doesn't begin until about 6:30 ET. MLB televises all its World Series games at night but it all started with college football and that Orange Bowl game between Alabama and Texas on January 1, 1965.

I don't remember the game for all those reasons but rather for watching it on a small black-and-white TV with the FBI agent in our basement TV room. It was pretty cool staying up until about midnight as an 11-year-old on January 1st. I'm not sure grandpa (the Lutheran minister) would understand my current lifestyle but Dad thinks it's great. However, he hasn't quite accepted the fact I voted for Obama. And so it goes between fathers and sons.

My final Heisman report will be available on Thursday.

Good Luck...Larry

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