Shortly before his 29th bowl game, Paul "Bear" Bryant announced his retirement from coaching at the University of Alabama.
His last game was against Illinois, which was coached by Mike White and led by All-American quarterback Tony Eason. It was the Fighting Illini's first bowl game in 19 years.
The Crimson Tide was playing in its 24th consecutive bowl game, and 36th overall. Both categories were national records.
Alabama was coming off a 7-4 season behind quarterback Walter Lewis which included losses in the final three games.
Nevertheless, the sentiment in the Alabama locker room was that there was no way the team was going to lose Bryant's final game, and sure enough the Crimson Tide prevailed 21-15.
“Many thanks to the staff for one heck of a job,” Bryant said afterward in a crowded press interview tent. “The players’ preparation and the coaches’ preparation, especially in this circus-type atmosphere, were exceptional. I am thankful to have won my final game. Whether the team likes it or not, they will always be remembered for winning my last game. I am proud they wanted to win this one for me.”
Alabama jumped ahead in the early going as fullback Ricky Moore started the scoring with a 4-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. After Illinois closed the gap to 7-6 on a 1-yard run by Joe Curtis and failed extra point in the second quarter, the Crimson Tide took the narrow lead into the locker room at halftime.
In the third quarter, split end Jesse Bendross ran scored on a reverse from 8 yards out to put Alabama up 14-6.
Illinois subsequently rallied behind Eason on a 2-yard pass to wide receiver Oliver Williams to draw within 14-12 after a failed two-point conversion attempt.
The Crimson Tide surged further ahead in the final quarter as Craig Turner scored the last touchdown of the Bryant era on a 1-yard run with 7:34 remaining for a 21- 12 lead.
Illinois drew closer on a 23-yard field goal by Mike Bass with 6:12 to go, but the Fighting Illini could get no closer due to a clutch defensive effort spearheaded by cornerback Jeremiah Castille’s three interceptions.
Castille earned Most Valuable Player honors for that performance.
Alabama won the game despite giving up 444 yards of total offense and surviving a Liberty Bowl-record 423 yards of passing from Eason. Alabama’s ground attack tallied 217 yards while the defense allowed just 21 rushing yards.
Bryant finished his career with a 323-85-17 record, which at the time were the most wins by any head coach in college football history.
He died on Jan. 26, 1983, less than four weeks following the game.