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Alabama had 'Greatest Swan Song' by a coach in Rose Bowl History

All this week, BamaCentral will be looking back at Alabama's elaborate history in the Rose Bowl, where the Crimson Tide has only lost once.

The idea that a coach could be on the sideline for the final time with his school at the Rose Bowl is nothing new. Especially in recent years, there's often talk, if not a whole lot more, that someone could soon be departing, whether it's for another job, including the National Football League, or retiring. 

This year is no different. When No. 4 Alabama and No. 1 Michigan square off on Jan. 1, speculation is flying that Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh could be on the verge of heading back to the NFL. 

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Michigan has offered Harbaugh a 10-year extension worth $125 million that would make him one of the highest paid coaches in college football. However, he hasn't signed or agreed to the deal. 

That an NFL reporter broke the story may indicate the reason why, his agent could be letting pro teams with potential openings know what it would take to land him. Michigan's contract extension also includes a clause that he can't pursue an NFL job in 2024. 

Although Michigan has multiple ongoing NCAA investigations, Harbaugh has an 84-25 record and won three-straight Big Ten titles, but his teams are 0-2 in the College Football Playoff. He's interviewed for NFL jobs the last two years, and previously coached the the 49ers from 2011 through 2014.

Regardless, Alabama already has the market cornered when it comes to great coaching sendoffs at the Rose Bowl. 

The Crimson Tide's breakthrough years of 1925-26, which resulted in Rose Bowl appearances and celebrated national championships, were difficult to reproduce over the following three seasons, much to the chagrin of fans who had become accustomed to the program’s winning ways.

The 1927 season ended with losses to Florida, Georgia and Vanderbilt for a disappointing 5-4-1 record. That was followed by 6-3 years in 1928, and 1929, which became best known for the first game played at Legion Field in Birmingham, while Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa was dedicated September 28, 1929. Its initial seating capacity was 12,000.

Growing increasingly discontent, while simultaneously being targeted by other schools offering a significant raise in salary, Coach Wallace Wade turned in his resignation near the end of the 1929 season, but agreed to stay on for the final year of his contract before heading to Duke. Clyde Bolton of the Birmingham News called it the “greatest swan song in the history of football.”

Alabama opened the season with a 43-0 victory against Howard and backed it up with two more shutouts, 64-0 against Ole Miss and 25-0 vs. Sewanee. An 18-6 win against Tennessee and a 12-7 victory vs. Vanderbilt had the Crimson Tide 5-0, and it had already yielded the only points Alabama would give up all season.

A 13-0 victory against Georgia meant both a perfect regular season and another Southern Conference championship, resulting in the third Rose Bowl invitation, this time to play Washington State. Even though the national championship was at stake, Wade started his second stringers, like he had done previously that season, leaving his best players on the bench until the second quarter when the opposing players began to wear down (it was as much a psychological ploy as physical).

Washington State held its own against the backups, but not against the Tide starters, and Alabama easily won 24-0. Everyone got into the game and Wade, who was carried off the field by his players, concluded his Alabama career with a 61-13-3 record and third national title.

John “Monk” Campbell” was named the most valuable player of the Rose Bowl. Halfback John Henry Suther was named All-American while guard John Miller and sophomore fullback John Cain were All-Southern Conference picks.

Wrote Royal Brougham of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “Out of the sunny southland came another great Alabama football team and it hit a bewildered Cougar from Washington State like a jug of Dixie gin. By a 24-to-0 score the banjo-plucking, mammy singing troubadours from the land of cotton won the annual Rose Bowl classic, and they were that much the better team. The vaunted defense of the western champions crumpled like the walls of Jericho before an amazing pass attack which caught the northmen flat on their heels.

“The Bammers unleashed a passing and cleverly masked running offense which the canny Coach Wade kept stored in the cooler all season long. And before it the touted cougars were just corn bone and possum pie. That freckled-necked southern gentleman who coaches the Tide won today’s game with his noodle, and don’t let anybody tell you different. Wade sat out there on the bench and outfigured the lads from the northwest all afternoon long.”

Alabama's Charles Clement and Elmer Schwartz of Washington State, meet with actress Irene Dunne prior to the 1931 Rose Bowl.

Parts of this story originally appeared in 100 Things Crimson Tide Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die.

This is the third in a series about Alabama's history in the Rose Bowl as in prepares to face Michigan in the CFP semifinal on Jan. 1