In New Orleans no one involved with the Sugar Bowl felt any great compulsion to discuss anything as mundane as a national championship before the game. Instead, they were talking about the dream matchup of Woody and The Bear, who almost incidentally had brought along their teams from Ohio State and Alabama. But like piping-hot gumbo, too much of a good thing can result in heartburn, which finally inspired Ohio State Tailback Jeff Logan to say, "I think everyone is tired of hearing about Woody Hayes and Bear Bryant. I wish they'd just send the two of them into another room and let us play."
On that note, Woody and Bear agreed not to tape their ankles and settled down to a nice little sideline game of two-handed stud, the game ball to the one who drew to the most inside straights. Before Alabama won in a laugher, 35-6, the two old fundamentalists had made the gimme field goal obsolete and were playing as if punting was for the faint of heart.
Still, it was not a masterful stroke of football genius, but a failure of communication that broke open the first meeting ever between Ohio State and Alabama. The mix-up came after Bryant had uncharacteristically fallen asleep and gone for a touchdown on fourth down from the Ohio State three with the score 0-0. Instead of a chip-shot field goal, Bryant called for a quarterback option. No gain. No score. "At the time I didn't think of the field goal," Bryant said later. "I wished I had."
But a few moments later the Tide was rolling again, this time to the Buckeye 10. Fullback Johnny Davis gained three on first down, then a pass, Jeff Rutledge to Wide Receiver Ozzie Newsome, sailed incomplete. "O.K.," Bryant decided on the sidelines, "let's run 34 end around"—a reverse to Newsome.
January 9, 1978
Part of that play's deception is to send in Split End Bruce Bolton for Tight End Rick Neal. Bolton lines up wide; Newsome becomes the tight end. However, on the preceding play Newsome was slow getting up. When he saw Bolton charging on the field, Newsome assumed he was being replaced and went to the sidelines. Realizing what had happened, Neal remained on the field but shifted to split end and the 170-pound Bolton lined up at tight end. On the reverse, Bolton carried to the one. Bryant once more spurned the field goal on fourth down but this time he was rewarded by seeing Tony Nathan dive over for the score. Deciding that Bolton and Newsome worked well together, Bryant put them both in the next time Alabama had the ball. From the Buckeye 27 Rutledge dropped back and looked at Newsome, who had gone down the left sideline, then threw to the right, to the streaking Bolton, who was all alone at the goal line. A missed conversion left the score 13-0.
With time running out in the half, it was Woody's turn to play riverboat gambler. On fourth and four from the Alabama five, he went for the big score, got only two yards on a sweep by Jim Harrell and headed for the locker room without a point. When the game was over, Alabama had rolled up 389 yards against an Ohio State defense that was ranked seventh in the country, and suddenly everyone in New Orleans was talking national championship.
Said Hayes, "If Alabama isn't No. 1, then nobody ever has been."
"I've got one vote in the coaches' poll," Bryant said. "Unless I see something to change my mind, I'm going to vote for us."
Let's see, that makes two so far for Alabama.