When Alabama-USC was THE game!

The Alabama-USC game this weekend will highlight a series of ready for prime time openers which include LSU-Wisconsin,…
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The Alabama-USC game this weekend will highlight a series of ready for prime time openers which include LSU-Wisconsin, Florida State-Mississippi, Texas-Notre Dame and Houston-Oklahoma.

At TMG College Sports, we turned back the clock 45 years to an Alabama-USC game in the Los Angeles Coliseum which not only set the table for a season, but was the starting point of a decade of dominance by Alabama and Coach Paul Bear Bryant.

It was in that game that Bryant unveiled his version of the Wishbone offense. It was also a payback game for a 42-21 rout by the Trojans, coached by another legendary CFB figure John McKay, a year earlier in which USC tailback Sam Cunningham went wild, forcing Alabama and Bryant to accept integration in the Tide program and opening up the entire SEC.

TMG's role in this tale came in the summer of 2000, when current TMG staffers Rankman and A Jerseyguy were playing a round of golf in Austin, Texas with legendary Texas coach Darrell Royal, the architect of the wishbone offense which Bryant and Bama surprised USC with in the rematch against the Trojans on 9-10-71.

Alabama came into the game following a 6-5-1 season and used the win over USC as a springboard to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the Orange Bowl where the Tide lost to eventual national champion Nebraska.

In one of the most entertaining rounds of golf Ajerseyguy ever played, Royal told a story a hole, including how Bryant made the switch to the Wishbone. [membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Although Royal had long since retired as the Texas football coach, his status in Austin remained legendary and that became obvious to us in the first few holes we played.

After walking off the first green, Royal went to his cart--driven by another colleague of ours, Associated Press national college football writer Rich Rosenblatt--and noticed he didn't have a scorecard. A quick call to the club house was made. Three minutes later, three golf carts appeared with scorecards, towels, water and snacks.

A few holes later we were on the green on a Par-3 when a twosome came to the tee box behind us. Using golf etiquette, our foursome waived them on to hit their shots and then play through. The twosome, a pair of golfers in their early 30's, did so with thanks. Both golfers were 20 feet from the hole with their tee shots. Then they recognized Royal. They looked at each other, conceded each other's putts so we wouldn't have to wait and said another quick thank you, with their eyes on Royal the entire time.

Royal then began telling stories about his long-time friend Bear Bryant, including how Alabama and Bryant switched to the Wishbone offense.

"USC had beaten them badly the year before,'' said Royal. "It was the following spring and I got a call from him, asking me about how we ran the Wishbone. I told him few things and he said he would come to Austin. I told him it wasn't necessary, but he flew into town, rented a suite and called me and told me to come over.

"I went to his room and he had a blackboard set up and I broke it down for him. When I was done, he looked at me and said, "That's it. That's all there is to it? I said, "Yes. He told me to go over it again and after I did, he said, "This could work. It really could work. But I don't want anyone to know what I'm going to do.''

So Bryant went back to Alabama and worked on the new offense with his staff behind closed doors. With an SEC season approaching and the SEC media coming down for a media day tour, Bryant called up Royal and told him he was going to run Bama's old plays when the media was watching, but switch back to the Wishbone after they left.

Which is what happened. After that, the Tide began serious preparation for the opener against USC. Bama arrived in Los Angeles for the game and the night before, he called Royal one more time. "He said to me, I reallly think this can work, will work,'' said Royal

It was a Friday night prime time special, rare for college football in those days.

Bama came out and upset the Trojans, setting the table for a great season and a decade of dominance with the Wishbone. It was arguably the turning point in Bama football history.

In the two seasons before 1971, Alabama was a mediocre 6-5 and 6-5-1. The Bama fans were not happy and neither was Bryant.

But after the wishbone debut, Bryant won 3 of his 6 national championships (1973, 1978, 1979). The Tide won the SEC title from 1971-75 and from 1977-79. Bryant was SEC coach of the Year in 1971, 1973, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1979. He was national Coach of the Year in 1971 and 1973.

And much of it was because of what Bryant learned in a hotel room in Austin, Texas, 45 years ago. [/membership]