Last Saturday afternoon, when Alabama Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant walked into the dressing room full of hysterical-beyond-bonkers football players to say a few words, the place fell instantly silent. Bryant didn't ask for it; his presence demanded it. After all, The Legend was paying a call. "You are deserving of more than you got today," said the always soft-spoken Bryant. "You should have won by more."
These were ordinary words, something any coach might say to his players—except that Bear was standing in the Mississippi State University dressing room talking not to his boys but to the team that had just beaten his boys. Yes, Mississippi State. The Bulldogs had defeated the seemingly invincible and No. l-ranked Crimson Tide before 50,891 spectators in Mississippi Memorial Stadium at Jackson. It was the largest college football crowd ever in Mississippi. Alabama hadn't been beaten since Sept. 23, 1978, when Southern California did it. The Tide had won 28 straight games, the longest streak in the nation. It was the first time in 22 years that Mississippi State had whipped 'Bama. Indeed, only three members of the State team were even alive when the last State victory over the Tide occurred.
The Mississippi State win was the centerpiece of a wild, whacky—and if your loyalties lay with the underdogs—wonderful weekend in college football, the craziest in memory. Never had the top two teams been defeated on the same day so late in the regular season, but it came to pass when second-ranked UCLA was dumped 23-17 by Arizona. And there was more. Sixth-ranked North Carolina was put to sleep by Oklahoma 41-7, and No. 10 Baylor was humiliated 30-22 by San Jose State. All four losers had been undefeated.
Indeed, among the undefeated and untied, only Notre Dame and Georgia survived. The Irish, perhaps the best in the nation at being prepared for every game, trounced Navy 33-0. For its part, Georgia had its hands full with South Carolina. The loser's George Rogers, a Heisman Trophy candidate, fumbled on the Bulldog 16 with 5:18 remaining to allow Georgia to hang on to a precarious 13-10 lead that was the final score.
To get back to shockeroo No. 1, Alabama was, well, generally inept, while Mississippi State was primed. The end of the game will be discussed over many a whiskey and branch water. In the final 2:13, the Tide, down 6-3, drove 50 yards to the State three-yard line. With 15 seconds left, senior Quarterback Don Jacobs tried to circle right end, and was jarred by End Tyrone Keys. Jacobs fumbled, and the other State end, Billy Jackson, pounced on the ball. To end the game, right? Wrong.
The Bulldogs still had to run out the last six seconds. Quarterback John Bond, a freshman who had played brilliantly, especially in the second half, fumbled the snap, and in a world-class scramble his fullback, Donald Ray King, recovered—on the State one-half yard line. "The victory belongs to us just like the ball belongs to me," exulted King afterward. "We beat Alabama. They were No. 1, so now we are No. 1." Not quite. Notre Dame is now No. 1, but State, at 7-2, suddenly is getting more than polite smiles from the bowl people.
Among the many State heroes was sophomore Kicker Dana Moore, who scored all the winners' points with field goals of 37 and 22 yards. "It's sort of funny," he said, "knowing I'll never have a better moment in my life." He and a good many others. An absolutely lights-out defense held Alabama, which had been rushing for an average of 349.3 yards per game, to 116.
No one in the land is a better loser than Bryant, perhaps because he has had so little practice at it. Looking every bit his 67 years, he said, "I thought we would win the game at the end. Not beat anybody, because they beat us in every way, but win the game. We were beaten badly. They literally shut down our offense. They were better coached than us. Maybe the Lord planned it this way." He did grouse a bit about crowd noise preceding the fumble, but not for long, saying, "Mississippi State took it to us and whipped us soundly."
Fear not, the Tide will roll again. Said Defensive End E.J. Junior, "After all, we are Alabama, which means we can win and lose with class." In his own team's locker room, amid the clutter of tape and soda pop cans, Bryant said of his players, "I am proud of them, because they are mine." As for State Coach Emory Bellard, he just glowed and said, "This was my sweetest win. I would flat-out put a 10 on this team."
Arizona Coach Larry Smith felt much the same about his squad. The truth is, though, that the Wildcats have lacked bite this year; they were 2-4 before UCLA came to town. Arizona had lost to Southern Cal and Notre Dame and figured to get trounced by the undefeated Bruins, who in their 32-9 victory over Cal the previous week looked as if they were on the verge of becoming a super team.
Fans in Tucson hadn't a clue as to what was coming; the game drew the Wildcats' second-smallest home crowd in five years, 42,876. UCLA led 17-14 at the half, and soon it became known that Alabama had lost. Because victory in Tucson would surely have made the Bruins No. 1, they had every incentive to wallop the 'Cats. Trouble was, UCLA neglected to score any more points. It also failed to do much of anything else, getting just 83 yards in total offense in the second half—minus-five for the fourth quarter.
By contrast, you would have thought Arizona had been given a shot of adrenaline. On the second play of the second half, freshman Quarterback Tom Tunnicliffe—who grew up in Burbank, 20 minutes from the UCLA campus, but wasn't recruited by the Bruins—passed six yards to freshman Tailback Brian Holland, and Holland ran for another 35 to the UCLA 39. On the next play Tunnicliffe hit senior Tight End Bill Nettling for the remaining 39 yards and a touchdown.
A share of the glory went to Mexican-born Punter Sergio Vega, who nearly lost his job earlier this season when he punted three times against Cal for a 28-yard average. Observers attributed this to the fact that he seemed to be kicking with his shin instead of his foot. On Saturday his average was 54.9 yards for seven kicks—undeniably with his foot—including one for 80 yards that got Arizona out of a fix at its own five.
UCLA Coach Terry Donahue was upset about two calls. On the first, one official signaled that Split End Michael Brant had caught a pass for a UCLA touchdown in bounds, and another said no. The final verdict was no. In the fourth quarter one official said UCLA had recovered a fumble, another said it hadn't. The verdict again went against the Bruins. Said a glum Donahue, "Do you know how many times you have a chance to be No. 1 in this business? An opportunity slipped through our fingers. We lost a chance for a great season. Maybe we can win the national championship at 10-1." Not likely.
For their part, North Carolinians had been thinking that maybe, just maybe, the Tar Heels could win a national title. Those dreams were dashed in Norman. OU led by only 14-7 at halftime, but some straight talk by Coach Barry Switzer during the intermission cranked up the Sooners. A 51-yard carry by Fullback Weldon Ledbetter set up a seven-yard touchdown run by Quarterback J.C. Watts, and an interception one minute later by Strong Safety Gary Lowell led to another score, this one a one-yard run, also by Watts. Now the rout was on. In all, Watts scored three times.
Tailback Famous Amos Lawrence didn't have his hoped-for big day for Carolina, although he did race 62 yards on the second play of the game. After that he gained but 44 yards on 19 carries. The Tar Heel defense had given up only 538 yards rushing in seven games, but OU's wishbone pummeled it for 495. Carolina Coach Dick Crum wasn't happy about losing by such a huge margin, but he accepted defeat fatalistically. "I thought it could happen," he said.
In Waco, the Baylor team had been briefed last Thursday by Coach Grant Teaff on the Saturday opposition, San Jose State. "I'm not going to tell you San Jose is a great football team," said Teaff, "but they're capable of beating us and that's all we need to know, because we're not a great football team." Teaff was dead right.
His Bears played lethargically, behaving as if they could win the game anytime they decided to. But come winning time, they couldn't. The Bears clearly hadn't taken San Jose—San Josie, they called it—seriously, what with Arkansas and Texas on the horizon. Baylor had a 15-0 first half lead, but squandered it. Much of the blame must be assigned to the secondary, which was riddled by the strong right arm of Spartan Quarterback Steve Clarkson. Clarkson was playing for the first time since suffering a greenstick fracture of his left clavicle five weeks ago. "Iowa State ended our undefeated year," said Clarkson. "What's the difference with us ending Baylor's?"
Truth be told, San Jose is a very average football team that was very lucky. On a third-quarter scoring drive, Clarkson got things started when he threw a pass that was tipped by Baylor Tackle Tommy Tabor but caught by San Jose Wide Receiver Tim Kearse for 11 yards. The drive ended in triumph when Clarkson drilled a ball to Rick Parma that hit him in the shoulder pads, bounced high and wild and into the hands of Tailback Gerald Willhite, who happened to be passing through the neighborhood. That was good for 52 yards. "I saw it tipped and I went right after it," said Willhite. "I'm a football player. I knew if I caught it, they wouldn't catch me." Said Teaff, "When the other team makes a touchdown by having the ball bounce from one receiver to another, you know it's not your day."
Baylor still had plenty of chances to win, but the Bears got a roughing the kicker penalty, and San Jose, with renewed vigor, scored when Willhite went over from the two for the second of his three touchdowns in the game. Winning Coach Jack Elway called the victory "my biggest thrill in 28 years of coaching, but I don't want to go into detail or it will sound like an obituary. I'll tell you one thing, I like luck and I do believe in luck."
Back in Jackson, Bear Bryant was speaking more and more softly. "Maybe," he whispered, "we can learn something from this game that will help us in the future." That's a sentiment all the upset victims could endorse, along with a painful summation of the day's havoc by Alabama senior Offensive Tackle Bill Searcey. "This," he said, "is hard to accept."