FABULOUS IN DEFEAT

Playing on a gimpy leg, Alabama's Joe Namath was the star of the Orange Bowl, but the surprising Texas Longhorns beat the country's No. 1 team by mixing long gains with muscular defense
January 11, 1965

On a night when the Alabama football team was partaking of one of the specially planned distractions—a Miami Beach hotel floor show—that make the Orange Bowl game so appetizing a beguiler of flesh and spirit, Mel Torme, pop singer of reputation but no known mystic powers, suggested a song of dedication for the team. "It's the wrong time, and the wrong place," he crooned and got a big laugh. It was the season to twit Alabama, because Alabama was the Orange Bowl's star attraction, the No. 1 team in the nation, taking on fifth-ranked Texas. "Alabama players don't know the meaning of the word fear," said a luncheon speaker at the Columbus Hotel. "Can't spell it either." Another big laugh. Except that for Alabama fear was, ultimately, no laughing matter. By the end of the week the Crimson Tide still did not have the least knowledge of the meaning of the word, but it could define frustration in five languages. In a game of marvelous excitement, great lasting suspense and total departure from form, Texas knocked off favored Alabama 21-17 (see cover). The victory was deserved, but the circumstances had an air of unreality for both sides.

Twenty-one points, first of all, represents an entire season of scoring for opponents of an Alabama football team. A 69-yard touchdown pass against an Alabama secondary might happen, but only in the dreams of a Tennessee quarterback or an end from LSU. A 79-yard touchdown run—well, some dreams are more ridiculous than others. Since Paul Bryant went to coach at Alabama seven years ago, such occurrences ceased to occur. Until last week.

On the other hand, Texas' longest touchdown run of the 1964 season had consumed a breath-conserving 21 yards; its longest pass for a score had covered only four more yards. Like Alabama, Texas under Darrell Royal has been a team expert in the art of conservative victory, but generally its victories are as thrilling as the cover of a telephone directory. Texas fans once applauded Quarterback Marvin Kristynik just for throwing a spiral. Yet there the Long-horns were, striking long range at Alabama in the first half with Ernie Koy's 79-yard run and Jimmy Hudson's 69-yard pass to George Sauer for touchdowns. "Not exactly characteristic," said Royal.

What had happened exactly? What happened originally was that Alabama's exceptional quarterback, Joe Namath, the player one Texas lineman called "the only difference between the two teams," reinjured his right knee in practice and forever changed the complexion of the match.

Ironically, he had just come off two excellent workouts when the accident happened. Turning back to the huddle after running a play in practice, Namath suddenly cried out and fell writhing to the ground. "Clutching grass" is the expression. There was cartilage damage in Namath's right knee—not permanent but something that will take surgery to remove. "I'll play," he said Monday afternoon, but no one agreed with him for the next three days. Alabama Trainer Jim Goosetree applied ice packs and made certain Namath hardly flexed the knee at all. After 24 hours, the critical period, there was no swelling and by Friday there was hope he might play some as a spot man behind Steve Sloan.

Sloan is a good quarterback, but Namath is a great one. At word of Namath's injury, Alabama dropped from a six-to a three-point favorite. In Texas the price dropped to even money.

The pressure clearly had shifted now to the Alabama defense, which had been exciting Bryant the wrong way all season and especially in the last two games when it permitted, by Bryant standards, huge spreads of yardage to running attacks. At a team meeting at the Seaview Hotel on New Year's Eve, Bryant inserted a psychological hypodermic. He said he had asked NBC to introduce the defensive players on TV instead of the offense. "The defense," he said, "will have to win this one."

On the morning of the game, Royal sat in the lobby of the Bal Harbor Hotel, winking and waving to Texas friends as he paused between conversations. The Bal Harbor is next door to and five stories smaller than the Seaview. The height of the buildings may be the one difference between the two men and their teams. Royal and Bryant are close friends and there is little to separate them in their coaching techniques. "Darrell is just about as tough as The Bear," says a Texas man, "but he smiles more." Royal said he heard from Bryant when the Orange Bowl pairing was made. "He told me he had a small team that was slow, but it also had a lot of injuries." Royal would have told Bryant just as much.

There had been no New Year's Eve partying for either coach, nor for their staffs, and especially not for their players. Royal said restrictions were not rigidly enforced, "but, then, if these were the type boys we had to worry about they wouldn't be here. They'd be home watching television. I'll tell you something: there's no company or party that's going to mean much to any of us if we get our tails whipped."

To consider the unrealities of the Orange Bowl game itself, it is wise to consider the airy qualities of the fantasyland in which it is played. Miami fancies itself the sun center of the universe, but the game was played at night—the first bowl game ever played at night—as a special courtesy to the National Broadcasting Company. NBC paid $600,000 for the courtesy. The staging was magnificent; there were rockets and fireworks and a multiplicity of bands. Fresh oranges were carefully Scotch-taped to the orange trees in the east end zone, and bathing beauties lounged on coral rocks, waiting, presumably, to retrieve field-goal attempts.

Alabama did not make a first down, much less get near the end zone, in the first quarter, but the psyched-up defense twice blunted Texas thrusts. Then the defensive team guessed wrong on a stunting movement and Koy sliced, cut back through the vacancy left at right tackle and was suddenly free on his 79-yard touchdown run, the longest by a Texas back in four years.

This first of several unusual involvements that cost The Tide dearly occurred in the second quarter. The next came as Texas prepared to punt on fourth down at its 26. During the time-out that preceded the play Bryant substituted his offensive team. Center Gaylon McCullough lined up at defensive right tackle, misread the line of scrimmage and was called offside. The punt was nullified and Texas retained possession with a first down on the 31. On the very next play Hudson replaced Kristynik at quarterback. Hudson was the starter before an early-season injury sidelined him and is a fine passer, but Alabama did not catch the change until too late. Sauer, split right, ran a straight fly pattern and sped past 'Bama's defenses.

With the score 14-0, Namath replaced Sloan. His knee was heavily bound and he wore soccer shoes with small cleats to prevent them from grabbing turf. He clearly could not run, but in college football there is no one who throws better, gimp leg or no. His passes covered all but four yards of the ensuing 87-yard touchdown drive, including a seven-yarder to End Wayne Trimble for the score.

Shortly afterward came the third jolt of misfortune for Alabama—stranger even than the first or second. Having detected an opening at left end when Texas lined up for a field-goal try, Alabama sent Creed Gilmer ripping across the unprotected zone. Gilmer blocked the kick at the Alabama 28-yard line, and David Ray picked the ball up to run for Alabama. But Ray fumbled away possession as he was hit on the 38. A downfield holding penalty put Texas on the Alabama 13, and three plays later Koy slanted in to make it 21-7 at half time.

The second half belonged to Joe Namath. Coach Weeb Ewbank of the New York Jets, watching from the press box, bubbled over every move as Namath took Alabama 63 yards for one score, getting the touchdown on a 20-yard pass thrown sharply between two Texas defenders. "Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous," sang Ewbank, who had a contract ready for Namath to sign. "Reminds me of Unitas. He doesn't have to be tutored. He could take a pro team right now."

In the fourth quarter Namath worked Alabama in again, this time for a field goal, and finally to the six-yard line on the last Alabama drive. Three fullback plunges by Steve Bowman reached the one. At the line of scrimmage on fourth down Namath thought he saw a trace of daylight at right guard. He ignored his knee trouble and disappeared in a cascade of white-and-orange jerseys. Eventually Namath could be seen in the end zone, but only after the play was blown dead. "One official said it was a score, but the referee said no," Namath said, and was livid. "I guess you know whose side I was on." An Alabama assistant put it less heatedly and more accurately. "If we can't score in four tries from the six we don't deserve to win."

Texas never got past midfield in the second half, and made only four first downs as Alabama overshifted to the strong side to adjust to the power sweeps of Koy. But for all the momentum Namath provided, Texas had won the game in the first half and preserved it with that goal-line defense.

The next morning Joe Namath went through the formalities of a press conference in which he signed a Jet contract that will, with long-term benefits, amount to more than $400,000, or just enough to pay the annual salaries of 75 postal clerks. Then he went celebrating with Ewbank at Tropical Park, a racetrack where Namath once was nabbed for gambling as a minor. There, in keeping with the Alabama mood, he squandered a small portion of his record allotment on horses that ran slow.

PHOTOWearing modified soccer shoes and with his knee heavily taped, Joe Namath looks for red-helmeted receivers as he gingerly drops back to pass. PHOTOMassing against desperate touchdown drive of Alabama, Texas defenders hurl back final fourth-quarter challenge at the one to preserve victory.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)