Alabama was the two-time defending national champion (though both the 1964 and 1965 titles were somewhat controversial) and ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls. Led by players like quarterback Kenny “Snake” Stabler, end Ray Perkins, and tackle Cecil Dowdy – not to mention All-American defensive tackle Richard Cole, guard John Calvert, and back Dicky Thompson -- the Crimson Tide destroyed every team it faced minus one, Tennessee, which it still came back to defeat in the Knoxville rain, 11-10.
The defense allowed just 37 points all season with five shutouts, including 21-0 against LSU and 31-0 over Auburn.
Even the Orange Bowl was a complete Crimson affair, as Alabama played Nebraska in a rematch of the previous year’s decisive title game. With Stabler throwing a 45-yard pass to Perkins on the first play from scrimmage to set up the first score, and defensive back Bobby Johns making three interceptions, Alabama crushed Nebraska in a 34-7 rout.
However, it didn’t lead to the coveted three-peat.
Despite the perfect season, the Crimson Tide was ranked third behind Notre Dame and Michigan State heading into the postseason – with both the Associated Press and United Press International holding their final voting before the bowl games were played (FYI, the AP held its final voting after the bowls in 1965, but switched back in 1966, before making the switch permanent in 1969. The coaches’ poll followed suit in 1973).
On top of that, the Spartans and Fighting Irish had played to a 10-10 tie earlier in the season, in what was hyped as the “Game of the Century,” with Notre Dame, which was No. 1 at the time, running out of the clock instead of going for the road win.
Coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant was quoted as saying, “At Alabama, we teach our men to win,” and the Crimson Tide felt it was robbed of its place in history as the first program to win three consecutive national titles.
Numerous ranking services, including the National Championship Foundation and Clyde Berryman’s Quality Point Rating System had the 11-0 Tide No. 1, but Alabama didn’t count it. Fans would later refer to it as the “13” national championship or the one that got away.
Many believe that the state’s racial issues, which were the focal point of the national debate, including Governor George Wallace’s “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door,” the Rosa Parks bus incident in Montgomery, and the Selma civil rights march, were a crucial factor in the snubbing. Additionally, the Crimson Tide had yet to integrate the football team, with Bryant publicly saying the time wasn’t right yet while helping some standout black athletes land at other top programs, including, ironically, Michigan State and his friend Duffy Daugherty.
Daugherty is believed to have coined the phrase, “A tie is like kissing your sister,” a line Bryant used himself.
The 1966 Crimson Tide
9/24/66 vs. Louisiana Tech, Birmingham, Ala., W, 34-0
10/1/66 at Ole Miss, Jackson, Miss., W, 17-7
10/8/66 vs. Clemson, Tuscaloosa, Ala., W, 26-0
10/15/66 at Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn., W, 11-10
10/22/66 vs. Vanderbilt, Birmingham, Ala., W, 42-6
10/29/66 vs. Mississippi State, Tuscaloosa, Ala., W, 27-14
11/5/66 vs. LSU, Birmingham, Ala., W, 21-0
11/12/66 vs. South Carolina, Tuscaloosa, Ala., W, 24-0
11/26/66 vs. Southern Miss, Mobile, Ala., W, 34-0
12/3/66 vs. Auburn, Birmingham, Ala., W, 31-0
1/2/67 vs. Nebraska, New Orleans, La., W, 34-7