Daily Dose of Crimson Tide: The 1979 National Champions

Christopher Walsh

Alabama felt is had been robbed by voters in the final polls of 1977 (when Notre Dame leapfrogged past the Crimson Tide from No. 5) and 1978 (when Alabama won a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup vs. Penn State in the Sugar Bowl, only to split the national title with Southern California), but in both cases a loss left the door open for another team to sneak into the top spot.

So there only one thing to do, remove any doubt by going undefeated in 1979 and cap the most dominating decade in college football.

Led by three first-team All-Americans, guard Jim Bunch, center Dwight Stephenson and tackle Don McNeal, second-teamers E.J. Junior and Byron Braggs on the defensive line, and five other All-SEC selections, that’s exactly what the Crimson Tide did, with Coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant winning his sixth and final national title.

Thanks to numerous starters returning, the Crimson Tide was the preseason No. 2 team in the polls and lived up to the high expectations by outscoring its first five opponents 219-9. But like most championship seasons, Alabama did have its share of close calls and scares, including a 3-0 victory at LSU, and, led by backup quarterback Don Jacobs, stormed back from a 17-0 halftime deficit to beat Tennessee 27-17.

Against Auburn, turnovers nearly did in the Tide, but quarterback Steadman Shealy led an 82-yard drive on 13 plays for a 25-18 victory. 

Prior to the game, Bryant made comments that he would have to go back to Arkansas and plow if the Tide lost to its biggest rival, prompting Auburn fans to yell “Plow, Bear, Plow!”

“Our winning drive was one of the finest I’ve ever seen,” Bryant said. “We had to have it. I’m just thrilled to death with the win. We’ve got some mighty fine plow hands on his team.”

Once again, the national championship would be settled at the Sugar Bowl, with Alabama paired against future Southeastern Conference addition Arkansas. After turning an early fumble into a field goal, the Razorbacks didn’t know what hit them until it was 17-3 in the third quarter. 

The game’s most valuable player, Major Ogilvie, scored two touchdowns and had a 50-year punt return, and Shealy led a 98-yard touchdown drive for a dominating 24-9 victory.

At 12-0, there would be no debate over which team should be No. 1, and no split national championship. Alabama was the lone contender with a perfect record, and Southern California narrowly missing at 11-0-1.

The Crimson Tide defense yielded only 67 points, compared to 383 scored, with five shutouts, against Baylor, Wichita State, Florida, LSU and Miami. Except for LSU, the fewest points Alabama scored against an opponent was 24.

For the 1970s, Alabama compiled an incredible 103-16-1 record with eight Southeastern Conference titles and three national championships. 

It was considered the team of the decade, and when LSU fired Charles McClendon in 1979 for not being able to beat Alabama, Auburn’s all-time winningest coach (176-83-6 from 1951-75) Shug Jordan said: “You go by that and they’ll have to fire us all.”

The 1979 Crimson Tide 

12-0, national champions, SEC champions

Sept. 8 Georgia Tech, Atlanta, W 30-6

Sept. 22 Baylor, Birmingham, W 45-0

Sept. 29 Vanderbilt, Nashville, W 66-3

Oct. 6 Wichita State, Tuscaloosa, W 38-0

Oct. 13 Florida, Gainesville, W 40-0

Oct. 20 Tennessee, Birmingham, W 27-17

Oct. 27 Virginia Tech, Tuscaloosa, W 31-7

Nov. 3 Mississippi State, Tuscaloosa, W 24-7

Nov. 10 LSU, Baton Rouge, W 3-0

Nov. 17 Miami (Fla.), Tuscaloosa, W 30-0

Dec. 1 Auburn, Birmingham, W 25-18

Jan. 1, 1980 Arkansas, Sugar Bowl, W 24-9

Total points: 383-67

Coach: Paul W. “Bear” Bryant 

Captains: Don McNeal, Steve Whitman

Ranking (AP): Preseason No. 2; Postseason No. 1.

All-Americans: First team  Jim Bunch, tackle; Don McNeal, cornerback; Dwight Stephenson, center. Second team  E.J. Junior, defensive end; Byron Braggs, defensive tackle. Academic  Major Ogilvie, halfback.

All-SEC (first team): Thomas Boyd, linebacker; Byron Braggs, defensive tackle; Mike Brock, guard; Jim Bunch, tackle; David Hannah, defensive tackle; Jim Bob Harris, safety; E.J. Junior, defensive end; Don McNeal, cornerback; Major Ogilvie, halfback; Steadman Shealy, quarterback; Dwight Stephenson, center.

Leaders: Rushing _ Steadman Shealy (791 yards, 152 carries); Passing _ Steadman Shealy (45 of 81, 717 yards); Receiving _ Keith Pugh (25 catches, 433 yards).

Some of this post originated from "100 Things Crimson tide Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," published by Triumph Books

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