January 1, 1963
In the Orange Bowl Classic in Miami, Alabama and Oklahoma faced each other for the first time ever on the football field. President John F. Kennedy was one of 73,380 fans to watch the game, and it featured two of the most successful college coaches ever.
Pacing the sidelines for Alabama was Paul "Bear' Bryant. He began at the University of Maryland in 1945, where he posted a 6-2-1 record. From there, Bryant moved on to the University of Kentucky, and in his eight seasons there, the Wildcats went 60-23-5 and earned four bowl berths. The highlight was an SEC championship in 1950 and a 13-7 upset of top-ranked Oklahoma and Bud Wilkinson in the Sugar Bowl, ending their 31-game winning streak. After the '53 season, Bryant signed a 12-year contract extension at Kentucky with the hopes of making football the school's primary sport, but within weeks, however, he realized popular basketball coach Adolph Rupp was also ready to receive an extension. As such, and amid other rumors of the basketball program, Bryant felt cheated and quit.
That led him to Texas A&M, where he was given the job of athletic director as well as coach, and his six-year contract was for $25,000 per season, plus it called for him to receive an unprecedented one percent of the gate. He wasted no time trying to reshape the Aggies, and his first preseason camp was held in Junction, TX in the 100-degree heat. In the controversial training session, Bryant started camp with 111 players, but all except 35 quit the controversial camp within ten days, for among the coach's tests of toughness was banning water breaks for his players. The Aggies responded with a 1-9 record in '54, the only losing season of Bryant's career.
Two years later, though, Bryant guided the school to a 9-0-1 record and a Southwest Conference championship. He followed that with an 8-3 record in '57, and John David Crow won the Heisman Trophy. After posting a 25-14-2 record in four seasons, Bryant was asked to return to his alma mater in Alabama, signing a ten-year contract to become head coach and athletic director.
Bryant quickly revived a floundering program, leading the Crimson Tide to a 5-4-1 record his first season at the helm, one more victory than the school had in the three previous years combined. Alabama went 7-2-2 and finished #10 in the polls in '59, and the Tide finished 8-1-2 with a #9 ranking in '60. Those were just the beginning, as Alabama's return to prominence was completed with an undefeated 11-0 season in '61, crowned with a national championship. Now, in his fifth year at the school, Bryant had guided the Tide to a 40-8-5 record heading into the Orange Bowl game with Oklahoma.
This was one of the best Alabama teams ever, and only an anguishing 7-6 loss to Georgia Tech on November 17th from a failed two-point conversion, in which the Tide has just been voted the #1 team in the country, sent them to defeat. It ended both their 19-game winning streak and their 26-game unbeaten streak, and it cost team from a chance for a second straight national championship. It was one of the greatest senior classes at the university, but he incomparable junior linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, who was a unanimous all-American and had finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting, led the tough defense that had posted three shutouts and allowed only 39 points all season, and had not been scored upon twice in any game, while the offense could boast a sensational sophomore quarterback named Joe Namath. Regardless, Alabama (9-1) came into the game ranked fifth.
Meanwhile, legendary coach Wilkinson led #8 Oklahoma (8-2). In his 16th year at the helm, he already owned three national championships, '50, '55 and '56, and had fashioned both a 31-game winning streak and an NCAA-record 47-game wining streak, en route to being college football's team of the Fifties with a 93-10-2 record, a .895 winning percentage. The new decade did not start out as well, as Wilkinson suffered through a 3-6-1 record in '60, his first losing season as a coach, and followed with a 5-5-1 mark in '61. The Sooners began the '62 season by winning just one of three non-conference games, including a tough three-point loss to then #2 Texas, 9-6, but they rebounded and won all seven Big Eight conference games, four straight by shutouts, and reclaimed the league's title after a two-year hiatus. It was Wilkinson's 14th crown.
His squad featured junior halfback Joe Don Looney, who rushed for 852 yards and eight touchdowns, was named a consensus all-American, senior guard Leon Cross and senior center Wayne Lee were named all-American's, and all three were joined on the All-Big Eight conference team by sophomore fullback Jim Grisham, and senior tackle Dennis Ward. The offense was under the direction of senior Monte Deere, who had thrown for 789 yards and nine touchdowns, without an interception, and earlier in the season against Colorado, had completed just five passes for 246 yards, setting an NCAA record with 49.2 yards per completion.
Kennedy was at midfield for the coin toss in front of 73,380 in the stadium, while millions more watched on television. In the first quarter, Namath directed the Tide 61 yards in ten plays, and from the Oklahoma 25, he faked a handoff and a short pass, whirled, and sailed a long pass into end Richard Williamson's hands in the end zone. Tim Davis kicked the extra point, and Alabama had a quick 7-0 lead.
The Sooners came right back and worked the ball down the field against the vaunted Tide defense, thanks in no part to a 56-yard pass play from Ron Fletcher to Allen Bumgardner. With the ball sitting at the Alabama seven-yard line, they had their best scoring opportunity. Unfortunately, Grisham fumbled, and Oklahoma was turned away.
Jordan was all over the field as a defensive battle began to take shape. But the Tide struck again in the second period. In the second period, Alabama's Billy Piper returned a Looney punt to the Oklahoma 34. First, Namath threw a pass to Williamson that was good for 20 yards, and then two plays later, a pitchout to halfback Cotton Clark resulted in a 15-yard scoring sprint, his 16th of the season. Davis again converted the extra point, and Alabama had a 14-0 lead, which is how the teams headed to the locker rooms.
After intermission, the Tide was again presented with another opportunity. This one arose when Looney, the nation's leading punter with a 43.4 yard average, was hurried by 'Bama guard Frankie McClendon's rush and got off a kick of only seven yards. Namath moved the offense from the Oklahoma's 33 to the two-yard line, where they faced a fourth down. Bryant opted for a field goal attempt, and Davis' 19-yarder made it 17-0. It closed out the scoring.
Both teams compiled exactly 260 yards of total offense, but Oklahoma was unable to get into the end zone. Despite his fumble, Grisham earned 107 tough yards on the ground for the Sooners, but it was too much Jordan, as he almost single-handedly turned Oklahoma away, and finished the game with an Alabama bowl record of 31 tackles. Namath completed nine of 17 passes for 86 yards and picked up another 24 yards rushing. The Alabama seniors finished with a school-best 29-2-2 three-year record, and once again, it was Bryant who had beaten Wilkinson.
In the Alabama dressing room after the game, a photographer asked Bryant to spell the name of a player whose picture he had just taken. "That's Namath, so - N-A-M-A-T-H," he said. "But don't worry about it. You'll learn how to spell it in the next couple of years."
Source: Jeff Linkowski