Many complained when ESPN announced that this week’s Alabama vs. Ole Miss game would kick off at 8:15 p.m. CDT. I can’t blame anyone for complaining. The Rebels could save everyone a lot of trouble and stay in Oxford to come up with a new mascot. (Seeing a bear on the Ole Miss sideline is almost worst than seeing an SEC logo on Missouri’s field). Alabama fans would be more excited to crowd into Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday evening and watch a replay of last year’s BCS National Championship game on the jumbotrons.
There won’t be a great atmosphere Saturday night. We learned that two years ago during the last post-8 p.m. kickoff at Bryant-Denny, which was also against a depleted Ole Miss team. The place was almost as quiet as the cemetery across the street. As a great sports management professor here at Alabama would say, there will be a lot of “Dr. Peppers” consumed on the Quad before 8 p.m., and the focus of the student section will be more on the thought of post-game beverages at Gallette’s and The Houndstooth and less on Hugh Freeze’s high-tempo offense.
While there is little for Alabama fans to get excited about in this game – other than seeing Rebel Black Bear in Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first time – there is some historical significance to this series and even Saturday’s game.
When Paul “Bear” Bryant’s Crimson Tide squared off against Johnny Vaught’s Rebels on Oct. 4, 1969 at Legion Field, the two were squaring off under the lights. It was the first time a Southeastern Conference game was televised in prime time to a national audience.
Today, the majority of SEC football games are played in prime time on national television. That Alabama-Ole Miss game 43 years ago led the way to what has become one of the most popular sports on television in our country.
Archie Manning was becoming the biggest star the SEC would see until Tim Tebow. He was a junior at Ole Miss and was not intimated by Alabama, seeing as he had beaten the Tide in his sophomore season. Manning lit up the sky, throwing for 436 yards and rushing for 101. He accounted for three rushing touchdowns and added a fourth through the air. The 540 total yards in a game is still the most by a single player in the SEC (although Nick Saban would want me to note that Rohan Davey tied that mark in 2001 at LSU, ironically against Alabama).
Unfortunately for the Rebels, the Crimson Tide had a star emerging in a sophomore out of Birmingham by the name of Johnny Musso. Musso had the first multi-touchdown game of his Hall of Fame career at Alabama that night, and the Tide’s quarterback Scott Hunter threw for 300 yards. The game went back and forth from start to finish. The difference: a missed extra point by Ole Miss’ kicker trying to tie the game at 21 all. After that miss, both teams went for two on each following touchdown, unsuccessful on every attempt.
The final score: 33-32, Alabama. It was a game that still carries a claim as being the best in the history of college football. The country’s first prime-time experience of SEC football was a thrilling one for all but two people. While meeting on the field after the game, Coach Bryant reportedly told Coach Vaught, “That was the worst football game I’ve ever seen,” to which Vaught replied, “You got that right, Bear.”
The league has been putting on bad football games for the nation to see ever since – at least in the eyes of its two most legendary coaches.