Five Best Bowl Games of All Time: 1973 Notre Dame vs. Alabama Tops Them All

Greg RiotAnalyst INovember 5, 2009

What’s the greatest college football bowl game of all time?  Since it’s an opinion question, there really isn’t any way to answer it definitely, but, like almost every college football fan, I’ve got my list.

Most individuals might have a 10-Bowl list.  But for the sake of keeping the list special, I’ve got mine down to five.  I tend to weight the overall history of a program in with the actual game itself.  To me, a close game between Central Michigan and Florida International isn’t the same as a tough game between Notre Dame and Alabama.

Which is why, of course, the 1973 classic between those two teams tops my list.


Top Five Bowl Games of All Time


1.) 1973 Sugar Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Alabama  

Was it the closest bowl game ever?  No.  Was it the best bowl game that either team has ever been a part of?  That’s debatable. 

But the fact that it was two of the top five, if not the top two, college football programs playing each other in a bowl game has to count for something.  In 1973, both the Crimson Tide and the Fighting Irish went into the Sugar Bowl undefeated.  ‘Bama was ranked No. 1.  Notre Dame was No. 2.  ‘Bama was coached by the legendary Bear Bryant.  Notre Dame was coached by the legendary Ara Parseghian. 

Notre Dame leads the Tide 21-17 going into the fourth quarter until back-up quarterback Richard Todd catches a pass from ‘Bama halfback Mike Stock.  ‘Bama goes up 23-17 but, get this, they miss the extra point!  With 4:26 remaining in the game, Notre Dame manages to punch one in and the Fighting Irish go up 24-23 and win the National Championship. 

Two great programs, a great finish, a great game.  The ’73 Sugar Bowl tops the list.


2.) 1979 Sugar Bowl: Penn State vs. Alabama

Over 76,800 folks showed up in 1979 to see the No. 1 Penn State Nittany Lions take on the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl.  There weren’t a lot of fireworks until, leading 14-7, the Nittany Lions recover a ‘Bama fumble on the Tide’s 19-yard line.  Penn State gets to the 8-yard line and runs three times before getting stopped inches away from ‘Bama’s goal line.  On fourth down, the Nittany Lions try to get over the goal line again, but are stopped short in what has since been referred to simply as “The Goal Line Stand”.

They rejoice in Tuscaloosa and cry in Happy Valley.


3.) 1979 Cotton Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Houston

Suffering from the flu, Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana has only two things he can do, eat chicken soup and pray. 

He ate the chicken soup, but didn’t spend a whole lot of time praying.  Instead, he marched onto the field with the Fighting Irish down 34-12 and willed his team to victory. 

After Notre Dame’s Steve Cichy grabs a Cougar blocked punt and runs it into the end zone to make the score 34-18, Montana connects with Vagas Ferguson for the two-point conversion to get the score to 34-20. 

He runs a touchdown in from three yards out and Notre Dame gets another two-pointer to get the score to 34-28.  With no time remaining, Montana tosses an eight-yard pass to Kris Haines, the extra point is good and the Fighting Irish win 35-34.

Montana, of course, would go on to become arguably the greatest NFL quarterback of all time.  And to think he owed all of it to chicken soup.


4.) 1997 Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Arizona

Former ASU coach John Cooper leads the Buckeyes into Pasadena to take on the undefeated Sun Devils.  ASU is led by quarterback Jake Plummer, who does an amazing job in the fourth quarter, scrambling for a touchdown to put the Devils up 17-14 with about 1:40 left on the clock.

But that’s too much time for Ohio State sophomore back-up quarterback Joe Germaine.  Germaine takes the Buckeyes 65 yards and hits wide receiver David Boston for the game-winning touchdown with only 19 seconds left.  Ohio State wins 20-17.

Plummer would have a decent NFL career, but Cooper’s days in Columbus were numbered.  Boston never lived up to the hype and Germaine never made it to the NFL.

5.)1984 Orange Bowl: Miami vs. Nebraska

How good were the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 1984?  They were 12-0 and averaged 56 points per game. They were arguably the greatest college football team of all time until they ran into quarterback Bernie Kosar and the Miami Hurricanes in the 1984 Orange Bowl.

Kosar was spectacular, leading the Hurricanes to a 17-0 lead after the first quarter.  In the fourth quarter, Kosar and Miami held a 31-17 lead and looked well on their way to victory until Nebraska came back with two touchdowns, one of which came on a fourth-and-8.

‘Husker Coach Tom Osborne, with the score 31-30, decides to go for two.  The attempt fails and Nebraska loses the Orange Bowl and the national championship.

Kosar ends up having a more-than-decent NFL career while Osborne takes a break from Nebraska football only to come back as the school’s athletic director in 2008.