1964-82 Crimson Tide
STABLER YEARS, 1965 – 1967:
CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON OF 1965:
THE KEN STABLER YEARS, 1965 – 1967:
THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON OF 1965:
THE “MISSING RING” SEASON OF 1966
A magnificent 11-0 season in 1966 that finished with a blowout of powerful Nebraska by a 34-7 score in the Sugar Bowl was frustrating for Bryant and his Tide as the hype surrounding Notre Dame and Michigan State’s so-called “Game Of The Century” left Alabama ranked number three in the major polls at the end of the year. Bryant frequently called this team his “best ever” and very much deserving of the National Championship. In succeeding years, it was noted often enough in the media that the refusal of the Southeastern Conference and Alabama to integrate their football programs also caused some to place their votes for either of the Midwest schools. The usual crushing Tide defense was augmented by what was for the south, a rather explosive offense as Bama put up thirty-plus points in five of their contests. Credit was rightfully given to quarterback Kenny Stabler who had backed up All American Steve Sloan in 1965, and his herd of excellent offensive players. The All SEC team looked like an Alabama convention: end Ray Perkins, tackle Cecil Dowdy, guard John Calvert, and DB’s Bobby Johns and Dicky Thompson. Wayne Trimble who played a number of offensive back and receiving positions as an extremely versatile performer was also All Conference and played DB with the Forty Niners in ’67. Another three players were second team All SEC including defensive tackle Richard Cole who was named to a number of All American teams. Tough tackle Dowdy, Johns, and Perkins were also All Americans with Perkins later successful as an end with the Colts for five seasons. He eventually became head coach of the New York Giants before returning to the Capstone as Bryant’s successor and left Alabama to take the head coaching job for the Tampa Bay Bucs. The defense finished number two in the nation with rover Bobby Childs, linebacker Mike Hall and defensive end Mike Ford somewhat lost among the other stars but leading the “hit” parade on a weekly basis. Les Kelley was the Tide’s big back and played both fullback and linebacker for the expansion Saints over three seasons as their very first number one draft pick. Smaller David Chatwood came into Bama as a two-way back who played primarily on defense until his final two seasons and was a dependable ball carrier as was sophomore Ed Morgan. An unheralded member of the team, Christ Vagotis, went on to a lengthy coaching career as a college assistant, most under former Alabama assistant Howard Schnellenberger. Vagotis served on Bryant’s staff in ’68 and was with Schnellenberger as he rebuilt Miami and Louisville’s fortunes and later served under him at Florida Atlantic University. Even to this day, the third place national finish of this Alabama team has been debated fiercely with the book “The Missing Ring” by Keith Dunnavant devoted to the controversy. Once again, the Tide defeated Mississippi State while wearing their white helmets.
1967’s 8-2-1 record was still of “Alabama standards” but the opening game 37-37 tie with Florida State and their high octane offense gave notice that there was trouble afoot in Tuscaloosa as thirty-seven points was the entire 1966 regular season yield for the Tide defense. The stalwarts were still there with DB Bobby Johns named All American and linebackers Mike Hall and Bobby Childs earning All Conference recognition with defensive end Mike Ford. The offense was solid behind All American Stabler who was suspended in April for off-the-field behavior but earned his way back onto the team. He went on to pro stardom primarily as a Raider and then was with Houston and New Orleans after first gaining seasoning with the Continental League Spokane Shockers. He was a 2016 inductee to the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. Flanker Dennis Homan also gained All American honors and was the Cowboys first-round draft choice, playing with them from 1968 through ’70 and finishing his pro career with the Chiefs in 1972. All SEC guard Bruce Stephens was the big gun up front with rushing power provided by David Chatwood and Purdue transfer Pete Jilleba, a weight lifting and wrestling star from Madison, N.J. who deadlifted 400 pounds in eighth grade. Losing the Cotton Bowl game to Texas A&M and their head coach Gene Stallings who was a former player and assistant coach under Bryant, despite the psychological boost of donning their white helmets, was but one sign of concern. Having entered the ’67 season with twenty-one consecutive wins and then having notable lapses against inferior opponents despite winning, and of course finishing the season with the Cotton Bowl loss caused some to see problems down the road.
SPOTLIGHT ON KEN STABLER:
A multi-sport star at Alabama’s Foley High School where he led the football team to a 29-1 record, Ken “Snake” Stabler snubbed Major League Baseball offers from the New York Yankees and Houston Astros to play football for Bear Bryant. He served as “the running quarterback” during his sophomore season but blossomed in 1966 as a junior, throwing for 956 yards and rushing for 397 more. He was Mr. Clutch, leading the Tide to an undefeated 11-0 record and picking up the MVP Award after slugging Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. His winning fifty-three yard run through the mud which gave Bama their 7-3 Iron Bowl victory was the season highlight. The ’67 8-1-1 regular season ended with a loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl but The Snake was permitted to air it out to the tune of 1214 yards and both All SEC and All America selections. His quarterbacking record at the Capstone of 28-3-2 allowed him to join Joe Namath with both honored as Alabama Quarterbacks of the Century. Picked by the Oakland Raiders in the second round of the ’68 draft, Stabler first spent the ’68 and ’69 seasons with the Spokane Shockers of the Continental League. His time spent with the Raiders between 1970 and 1979 however, was exceptional and included four Pro Bowls, two First Team All Pro honors in 1974 and ’76, the NFL Most Valuable Player Award in ’74, and the Super Bowl XI Championship. He was traded and played with the Houston Oilers in 1980 and ’81, and completed his career with the New Orleans Saints from ’82 through the 1984 season. Stabler, in addition to the honors won at Alabama, was a 2016 inductee to the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.
While most programs would be extremely happy with a succession of eight-win seasons, the 8-3 record at Bama in 1968 included two close conference losses, 10-8 to Ole Miss and 10-9 to Tennessee which raised concerns. The 35-10 Gator Bowl stumble against Missouri had fingers pointing to the underachieving offense that scored but 177 points. Passer Scott Hunter shared the quarterback role with Joe Kelly before truly taking charge and fullback Pete Jilleba matured, running as a part of a trio that included Pete Moore and Ed Morgan. All SEC guard Alvin Samples had been shifted from defense but the consistent punch wasn’t there. The defense was still star-studded with All Americans Mike Hall, who brought his linebacking skills to the Jets camp the following season and middle guard Sam Gellerstedt, a fan favorite because of his 5’8”, 195 pound stature that served to disrupt opponents’ plans. The soft-spoken Gellerstedt was noted by Bryant as being the best middle guard he had ever coached but he dropped out of school in the spring of 1969 and transferred to Tampa where he played well enough to be voted into their Athletic Hall Of Fame. Defensive end Mike Ford was All Conference and 200 pound linebacker Bobby Childs, still considered one of the Tide’s best completed his terrific career.
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