Throwback Thursday: Back-to-Back Alabama vs. Nebraska Bowl Showdowns, Part 1
Alabama’s Paul W. "Bear" Bryant and Nebraska’s Bob Devaney met on the field for the first time on January 1, 1966 in the Orange Bowl, and then repeated the match-up a year later in the Sugar Bowl.
Alabama came into the Orange Bowl ranked No. 4 with an 8-1-1 record, while No. 3 Nebraska was a perfect 10-0. Bryant had deliberated tried to steer the matchup to give the Crimson Tide a possible shot at winning the national championship.
Specifically, for the second year in a row, the Orange Bowl was played at night. Earlier in the day, both No. 1 Michigan State and No. 2 Arkansas would play and if both lost the Alabama-Nebraska showdown would be for the title. For the first time, Associated Press voters were waiting until the bowl games were played to submit their final rankings.
Sure enough, Michigan State was upset by UCLA in the Rose Bowl and Arkansas lost to LSU in the Cotton Bowl.
The Orange Bowl featured two explosive offensive teams with different approaches to their attack. Bryant’s Tide used the accurate throwing arm of quarterback Steve Sloan to rebound from an early season loss to Georgia and a tie with Tennessee, while Devaney’s Cornhuskers were grinding out 290 rushing yards per game and 32.1 points per game.
Of note, in addition to Sloan, Alabama featured receiver Ray Perkins and several All-American players. Nebraska had future head coaches Barry Alvarez and Frank Solich, while Tom Osborne was on Devaney's staff.
Alabama took the first lead five and a half minutes into the game. Sloan guided the Tide on a 61-yard drive to score on a 21-yard pass play to Perkins. He grabbed the scoring pass at the 15 and wiggled away from a pair of defenders to skip into the end zone.
Nebraska rallied back. The first Cornhusker tally came on a 33-yard pass from quarterback Bob Churchich to end Tony Jeter, when Bryant gave quarterback Sloan the green light to throw on any down.
Alabama scored two touchdowns and a field goal in the second period to post a 24-7 lead by halftime. The first score followed a 39-yard Sloan to Perkins pass that took the ball down to the NU 13. Leslie Kelley took the ball over from the 4 for the touchdown. The second score followed a 93-yard Tide drive, capped by an 11-yard pass from Sloan to Perkins, and was followed by a David Ray field goal.
Nebraska pulled back into the game early in the third period on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Churchich to Ben Gregory, but the point-after kick was missed. The Crimson Tide extended lead with a 1-yard touchdown run by Steve Bowman and a two point conversion to make the score 32-13 after three quarters.
Nebraska wasn’t ready to give up. Churchich scored his first touchdown on a 1-yard plunge. Alabama kept the comeback in check later in the period by turning in another Bowman touchdown run, this time from the 3. Nebraska added a late 14-yard touchdown pass from Churchich to Tony Jeter, but Alabama still won 39-28.
Sloan’s 20 for 28 passing performance broke the Orange Bowl pass completion record, set just one year prior by fellow Tide quarterback Joe Namath. His 296 yards also set a record, while Perkins had nine catches for 159 yards.
Nebraska was held to 232 yards rushing, almost 60 yards below its average, and had five turnovers including four lost fumbles.