Bama’s title claims would make Yosemite Sam proud
At least Alabama can officially claim its most recent national title when Greg McElroy led the Crimson and Cream to the BCS crown, but Marty Mulé takes us through the Tide’s tales over the years (photo courtesy UA Media Relations).
By MARTY MULÉ
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
It’s always the same funny reaction: Crimson Tide fans hopping around like Yosemite Sam with guns blazing, and loud sputtering of their displeasure that anyone might question the heights of ‘Bama’s football legacy.
It’s a sterling history. Just not quite as towering as some - make that many - of the Gumps would have us believe.
Obviously, there’s a story (a continuing story) behind the story. A quick backdrop: Alabama has accumulated about seven national championships in the sport - a number near the top of the all-time list that should satisfy any reasonable fan. But about 30 years ago some delusional nut came up with a list of dubious titles that not only the Tide nation took as gospel, but the school did too, listing all 13 No. 1 claims and making the claim that ‘Bama is the college sport’s standard-bearer.
Problem is, there is a murky gap between fact and fiction. Remember, before 1998, when the much-maligned BCS came in existence, the only time the perceived best two teams played at season’s end for the right to call themselves “national champions” was accidental. The No. 1 mantle was awarded by a mishmash of opinions from various outlets, some the result of eye-tests, some the outcomes of mathematical formulas. In any given year in the early days there were as many 45 outlets pontificating on who was the best football team in the land, every one the result the result of their own biases, prejudices - and sometimes even expertise.
When the Associated Press Poll (and sportswriters served as voters) came into existence in 1935, and later United Press International (with coaches voting), those outlets became, for all intents and purposes, the official barometers.
For some schools, like Ole Miss and Washington, hitching their memories to football polls, continue to try to prop up their self-esteem with claims of No. 1 by Litkenhous, Dunkel or Berryman polls. LSU, for example, could do the same thing with several of its past teams being ranked No. 1 by Williamson, Berryman, or the National Championship Foundation. LSU mentions those rankings in passing in its media guide, but makes no proclamations and flies no flags commemorating them. Only the AP and BCS titles, in other words, consensus championships, are recognized. As Associate Athletic Director Herb Vincent once said dryly, “LSU has its standards.”
No one tries to puff its football chest more than Alabama, as Bleacher Report columnist David Luther noted last week. Luther listed and wrote about the “10 Worst National Title Claims.” Four of them were by the Crimson Tide: 1941, 1973, 1964, and 1930.
The 1942 Alabama team finished 9-2, third in the SEC behind champion Mississippi State, and was thumped by State 14-0 in Tuscaloosa. They were ranked 20th in the final AP poll, yet the Houlgate System found some reason to say Bama was No. 1. That is one of the Tide’s chest-thumping titles.
The 1973 Alabama team, ranked No. 1 going into the game, played Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl and lost 24-23. Every poll in the land properly moved the Irish to the top spot - except UPI, which in those days based its rankings on the regular season. Still, with everyone knowing who was best after seeing a head-to-head confrontation, Bama still unashamedly counts this as one of its national championships.
The troika of Bama, Notre Dame and Michigan State, when all went undefeated would seem to be six of one, six of another - except that the Tide lost in the Orange Bowl to Texas, which today would have eliminated it from consideration. AP then, like UP a decade later, held its final vote after the regular season.
Even more egregious, but not making Luther’s list, was the following year when fourth-ranked Alabama benefited by a change in the voting rules after beating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. No. 1 Michigan State, No, 2 Arkansas and the No. 3 Cornhuskers all lost in their bowls. But each one finished with a 10-1 record, better than the Tide’s 9-1-1, but were relegated to also-ran status. Of course, it goes without saying no one in the Capstone State ever questions this logic.
As Luther indicates, there is more than a faction of Alabama fans - the Yosemite Sam types - that can be categorized as pathological frauds.
Marty Mule’ can reached at MJM981two@charter.net.