'WYCHE HAS MOVED TO MORE ELEGANT QUARTERS'
All right, you long sufferers. You have been looking for the way to beat Alabama. Here is how you do it. Very simple. First thing you get two top quarterbacks, one who passes like a professional and runs like he would rather not (call him Swamp Rat Warren, just for fun) and one who is a terrific natural athlete (call him Charlie Fulton) who also doubles as a tailback and frightens people no matter what he plays. Are you getting this down? Then you make a raid into Alabama and grab a prospect from under the nose of Bear Bryant. That's the hard part. Better do that at night. Call this prospect Richmond Flowers Jr. of the Montgomery Flowers. Flowers can catch, and he can run with what he has caught. Then you go down to Tampa, Fla., and get a couple more quarterbacks and shove them onto the defensive team. They will love it.
Now pay attention, because this is where it gets tricky. You allow both Warren and Fulton to get hurt before the game. Knock them right out of the action, see? And you bring up a quarterback with a name nobody can pronounce. Bubba Wyche. Does it rhyme with tyke, rich, psyche, rice or swish? His father says with "I-ch." Bubba is a fellow who has been hanging around for four years, serving time as a red shirt on the meatball squad and aching to get a chance to earn his laundry money.
Bubba gets a lot of unattention, and richly deserves it. Even the week before, when he makes his debut on national television because Warren and Fulton are hurt and he beats Georgia Tech, nobody thinks about him. Who's Georgia Tech? Beat Alabama, that's the thing.
October 30, 1967
So, on a lovely clear day in late October you put the baby-faced, blue-eyed, turned-up-nose and nice-as-can-be Bubba Wyche on the painted turf of Legion Field in Birmingham before the largest crowd—72,000—ever to see an Alabama-Tennessee football game. Then you add expatriate Flowers, who once got a wire from Alabama that said, "The Bear will make you regret your unfortunate decision," and those two former quarterbacks from Tampa, Defensive Halfback Albert Dorsey and Linebacker Steve Kiner. You tell Wyche to throw passes, Flowers to catch them, Dorsey to intercept when Ken (The Snake) Stabler throws and Kiner to intercept Alabama's runners. And there you have, in capsule, how Tennessee beat Alabama last weekend by a score of 24-13.
With its victory, up went Tennessee to the top of the Southeastern Conference, which is called The Really Big Ten, with justification. Down went Alabama's 25-game undefeated streak. Up went Coach Douglas Adair Dickey's first victory over Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant. This story will serve to explain how an aspiring young coach just four years into the race and with a name like Douglas Adair can beat a famous older coach named Bear.
Alabama-Tennessee is a rivalry that goes back 66 years. It was once and has probably become again the biggest game in Dixie. Like most great rivalries, it inspires and provokes. Bryant himself played in this game with a broken leg. It was 1935 and Alabama won. Last year Tennessee blew a 10-point lead in the rain at Knoxville, fell behind 11-10 and came within a 19-yard field-goal try of pulling it out in the final minute.
Alabama went on to an undefeated season, and Knoxville never got over the game. An otherwise temperate Tennessee engineering professor said it was "the most disappointing moment of my life." From that moment until last Saturday the rematch was drooled over. Preseason billboards advertising Tennessee's schedule were blatantly pointed. On top was GO VOLS. Beneath it, BEAT 'BAMA.
But most of this seemed to be more a frenzy of dread than optimism. The redoubtable Bryant raises the terrible suspicion in an opponent that he is unbeatable, that he can outsmart, out-coach and outshow everybody else and, in the clutch, even make a field goal float mysteriously off to the right.
Doug Dickey sat in the parlor of his new home in Knoxville suburbia one night last week before the trip to Birmingham and talked in pragmatic terms of having to face this monolith. He was relaxed.
"There is no question of the personality cult, and any idea like that is wrong, all wrong," he said. "It's the kids that play; it's not me and The Bear slugging it out in the middle of the field. He'd tell you the same thing. But you go down there, down to Birmingham, and there's 70,000 people yelling, 'We believe,' and it's the easiest thing in the world to lose your poise. You get to thinking about The Bear being a genius. He's great, no doubt about it. He'll go down with Knute Rockne on his achievements. You get to thinking about it. Then comes the big think: How can I outguess him? The next thing you know you're trying to beat him with gobbly-wobble. But you won't. If you win, you'll win doing the things you do best, and that's what we'll be doing against Alabama. We'll forget the nonsense. That's sure what The Bear will do. He'll try to beat us with his strength. Frankly, I believe our strength is good enough to win."
With a third-string quarterback?
"I have no doubts about Wyche. No reason to be uneasy. He's a good quarterback. We knew it all along. He was just snakebit by injuries. He's ready now. After all, he has been attending quarterback game, meetings for four years." Dickey smiled.
At practice Wyche said the entire experience was unreal. After years of who's-he, years of being an ersatz Joe Na-math or Steve Sloan or Ken Stabler for the defense to spar with, he had suddenly been on national television, in front of his Atlanta home folks, and here he was about to be the starting quarterback against Alabama. He was the object of wondrous affection. His roommate, Wingback Mike Price, joked that Bubba overthrew passes so far you had to buy a ticket to retrieve them. When calls came to the dorm, callers were told: "Mr. Wyche? I'm sorry, Mr. Wyche has moved to more elegant quarters befitting his station."
To beat Alabama, Dickey had reached the following conclusions that were the basis of his confidence: 1) Alabama did not have the defense that made it the least scored-on team in the country last year, and 2) the Crimson Tide was no longer a tidal wave as a running team. Alabama did not have a running back in the streamlined style of Les Kelly. It did not have a strong fullback. The offense was mainly Snake Stabler to Dennis Homan, which is probably the best battery in college football, plus the brilliant Stabler running the ball on the option play.
Dickey's solution was to give Homan a regular traveling companion in the person of Jimmy Weatherford, plus double-coverage help from the other backs on every possible play. Tennessee would clog the tackle hole, contain on the outside and hope to force Stabler back to the middle when he chose to run.
As to his offense, Dickey said, "I know we can run on Alabama." He felt, too, that by using Wingback Flowers in a wide variety of slants and cuts. Quarterback Wyche could get him the ball. Dickey knew Flowers was a much improved receiver, that he recently had learned how to control his great natural speed and run short patterns well. Alabama might not be aware of that.
There was no doubt, however, that an awful pressure had built up in Knoxville. It flooded the town, and it washed over the players. "I've been reading about Alabama and Bear Bryant all my life," said Linebacker Kiner when the team got to Birmingham. "Now I get to play 'em. Gosh."
Meanwhile Bryant was busy trying to do something about the flaws Dickey had found. They were certainly no less obvious to him. Alabama had given up a staggering 37 points in its opening tie game with Florida State. Bryant said after that, "We've got the nicest, finest, gentlest people in the world on defense. We don't have anybody who will even raise his voice. Trouble is, to have a good defense you got to have some ornery people on it."
The week of the game the words coming down from the Alabama practice tower were "Let's get a mad on out there...let's get reckless. Get reckless." But now there was another problem. Alabama had been hit with a series of vexing injuries that made it impossible to get too reckless. Bryant said he had not seen it so bad in 30 years of coaching. One player, sophomore Safety-man Mike Dean, on the very day he was told he would get his first start, let a pass slip through his hands, and the point of the ball, passing right between the bars of his helmet, hit him in the eye. He had to wear an eye patch for two days. The marvelous Homan was so pained by bruised ribs that he could not raise his hands over his head on Wednesday. The first team worked in sweat clothes all week. But unlike the injuries to Tennessee's two principals on offense, Warren and Fulton, and Linebacker Nick Showalter, Alabama's were not so serious that key personnel did not participate. Homan played, and played well, as did Dean. But the team was sore in spots.
Alabama's hope was that it would get to Quarterback Wyche early, establishing in him a sensitivity for the ground and a respect for the breathtaking contact game that football is. "Get the quarterback on the ground," defensive coaches preached all week. Wyche figured to be jittery. Alabama hoped to double his trouble. To get Homan free for Stabler's passes, Bryant installed a series of disguising maneuvers that would practically reverse Alabama's previous passing tendencies. There would be more plays called at the line of scrimmage to keep the ball away from Tennessee's rover back. To further the prospect of getting Homan free, a double flanker was installed, using Tailback Ed Morgan out with the wide receivers.
It can be left to closer analysis to find out which plans went wrong and which went right, but there is no confusion about What happened on the field. Tennessee plain beat Alabama. On the first series of downs Tennessee knew what it could do, and would do, and helped Alabama discover what the Crimson Tide could not do. Tennessee ran the ball, tearing at Alabama's middle. Wyche was indeed jittery. He bobbled the snap three times, but on each occasion he recovered in time to complete the play. He was not intimidated, and Alabama did not get to him. In 13 plays, keeping nice and clean, he drove Tennessee 67 yards to a touchdown, the score coming when Tailback Walter Chadwick dove over the Alabama goal line from one yard out.
Stabler was not in exceptional form in the first half, but he still got Alabama back into a tie, mainly with his own running. Alabama's running backs were not getting to the holes—what there was of them—soon enough, but on the option plays to the outside, either side, The Snake was a sight to see. His retaliatory touchdown drive was for 51 yards, and he got the score himself on an eightyard roll around the right side.
In view of his statistics—five interceptions, two more than he had had in four previous games—it would seem ludicrous to say that Stabler threw better in the second half, when four of the interceptions occurred. But that is what happened. He ran into a combination of two things—the bad luck of having balls skip through his receivers' hands into those of the opposition and the superior defensive play of Tennessee. Weatherford played Homan tough and tight, and he got plenty of orange-jerseyed help whenever Stabler wanted to throw to his favorite target (see cover). For the first time this season, Homan, the country's leading scorer, did not catch a touchdown pass. And Linebacker Kiner made three big plays, throwing Stabler for long losses.
Tennessee went ahead in the third quarter after a poor Alabama kick gave the Volunteers possession on the Alabama 40. Two good passes to Flowers, who had six receptions and a fine afternoon, took the Vols to the 18. Two more plays moved them only to the 11, and into a crucial situation. Dickey might not call the next play gobbly-wobble, but it would have to be at least gobble or wobble. Wyche pitched back to Chadwick as if to begin a power sweep around the left side. Flankerback Terry Dalton curled for the sidelines and when the Alabama linebacker and halfback reacted to the apparent run, Tight End Kenny Delong slipped through the gap and was all alone in the end zone, where Chadwick kind of shotputted a left-handed pass to him. It was Chadwick's first pass play, ever.
That was the go-ahead touchdown, and later there was a 47-yard field goal by sophomore Karl Kremser to increase the margin to 17-7.
But Alabama had not sustained a 25-game unbeaten streak by quitting in the fourth quarter. Soon Tennessee was backed up near its goal line by a 60-yard punt, and from there Wyche tried to pass. The choice of such a bold play is debatable, and the debate began instantly when Dean intercepted and ran the ball down to the Tennessee 15. It is hard enough to beat Bear Bryant without helping him out. In five plays Alabama had a touchdown. Stabler tried to reach Homan in the end zone with a two-point pass, but failed.
It was now 17-13, and Alabama was quickly on offense again. Stabler had the team moving when a pass to Homan bounced off his hands and into Albert Dorsey's for a Tennessee interception. When Alabama next got the ball, Stabler moved the Tide steadily from its own 11 to a first down on the Tennessee 41. With 2½ minutes to play Stabler rifled a pass to Danny Ford, but, oops, Ford juggled it and Dorsey was there to collect another interception.
But still Tennessee could not apply the clincher. Alabama got the ball, and, for a fleeting, gasping second, it had a chance, as Stabler threw deep where Homan at last had beaten Weatherford and was in the clear at the 30-yard line. But the pass was a shade too long. The ball grazed Homan's fingertips, hung momentarily and fell to the ground.
Three plays later here came Dorsey again, slicing in front of Alabama's Richard Brewer to intercept his third pass. Dorsey zigzagged his way 31 yards to the end zone, and when he got back to the bench he was gasping happily, "It's my birthday, my birthday. Boy, what a birthday present. We beat Alabama and I scored my first touchdown. What a birthday."
But Doug Dickey did not allow himself the luxury of going particularly nuts after his finest victory, one that established his team as the South's best. He is now among the cool and collected big-time winners, and he reacted like any good man would who has just beaten Bear Bryant. He was humble, but he smiled a lot.