Alabama Football: How the 1926 Rose Bowl Legitimized Southern Football

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Alabama Football: How the 1926 Rose Bowl Legitimized Southern Football

There is no doubt The University of Alabama has a tremendous football tradition.

Since its beginning in 1892, the Crimson Tide have played in over 1,100 football games.

They have won over 780 of their contests, good enough to be among the best in the country all time. 

Legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant won 323 of them. 

Twenty-eight seasons have seen 10 or more wins. 

Twelve of those wins have contributed to National Titles, but none of the title victories was more important than the first one. 

On Jan. 1, 1926, the Alabama Crimson Tide would take on the Washington Huskies in the Rose Bowl, but this would be no ordinary game.

 

The Teams

The 1925 Washington Huskies were a force to be reckoned with on the football field.  The Pacific Conference powerhouse began their season with a 108-0 victory over Willamette. 

Outside of a 6-6 tie against Nebraska, Washington would finish its regular season with a perfect record. 

The Huskies would beat the likes of Cal, Washington State, and Oregon on their way to the 1925 Pacific Conference Championship. 

The 10-0-1 record of Washington was good enough to merit them a spot in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., but at first, the Huskies denied their invite.   

After three teams, including Washington, turned down the Rose Bowl berth, some because they believed the regular season was enough to determine the best team in the land, the Rose Bowl committee invited a 9-0-0 Alabama team to play in the game. 

The 1925 Alabama Crimson Tide, led by head coach Wallace Wade, were not a traditional power in the South, but Wade was changing the landscape in Tuscaloosa. 

Alabama would ride victories over Georgia Tech, LSU, Florida and Kentucky on the way to an undefeated record and a 1925 Southern Conference Championship. 

The Tide was led by their defense, giving up only seven points the entire season. 

The Tide would accept the invite and become the first team to travel out to the game. Upon hearing of the Tide's acceptance of the invitation, Washington changed its mind. 

 

The Game

Back in the early days of college football, the dominant teams were from the West, Midwest, and North. The South was never given the time of day in football...until 1925.

The idea of inviting a Southern team to play, not only out West, but in the Rose Bowl, was laughable to most people. 

How in the world would "a bunch of farmers," as Alabama back Johnny Mack Brown referred to his team, be able to beat—or even compete with—a team of the stature of Washington. 

The match up was a beacon of national attention for well over a month, until it was time to play. 

Washington made the short trip down from Seattle while Alabama had to take a four-day train ride out to the west coast. 

The media attention the Tide would receive was huge.  Alabama had photo shoots set up before the game, but Wade would keep his men grounded by limiting the time Bama would spend in front of the cameras and by putting the team through the most intense workouts of the season. 

Washington, however, was being vaunted as the winner before the game was played.  The Huskies had lighter workouts and continually looked down on Alabama. 

Media members predicted a woodshed beating by Washington. Other head coaches at the time, including Pop Warner, said that Alabama was, "too light to stop that big Washington team."

Finally, New Year's Day was here, and it was time to play. 

A crowd of 45,000 fans showed up to watch the first Southern team compete in a major bowl. 

The first half belonged to Washington.  The Huskies would ride the play of All-American halfback George Wilson to two first-half touchdowns. 

Wilson ran for the first TD. He broke a big run to the Alabama 22-yard line before throwing a TD pass on the very next play. 

Washington missed both of their extra points in the first half, but it wouldn't matter at the time. The Husky defense held Alabama scoreless and went in at halftime with a 12-0 lead. 

Neither side was accepting of the first half.  Southern football fans were concerned that the Tide couldn't put up a single point in the first half.  Washington fans couldn't understand why the Huskies were only up by 12 on this vastly inferior team. 

Wade was by no means impressed by his team's first-half performance.  He made a challenge to his team, saying, "and they told me Southern boys would fight."

In the second half, Alabama did just that. 

In the first seven minutes of the third quarter, Alabama managed to knock Wilson out of the game and put 20 points on the board. 

The first TD was on five consecutive runs by quarterback Pooley Hubert straight into the gut of the Washington defensive line. 

After the first TD, history is conflicted as to which touchdown came first, but there is no denying how each happened. 

For one score, Alabama would stop the Washington attack again and force a punt.  Alabama would then fling it long to Johnny Mack Brown on a 59-yard touchdown grab for another score.  The extra point was good again. 

The other Bama score would come following a Washington fumble and another pass completed to Brown.  The extra point was no good, but Alabama had shocked the crowd in Pasadena and taken a 20-12 lead. 

Wilson would return later in the second half and lead the Huskies to another score, this time converting the extra point, bringing the score to 20-19 Alabama. 

The Huskies would have one last shot late in the game, with Wilson breaking loose in the open field, but he was caught and brought down by Johnny Mack Brown.

One last pass by Washington was intercepted by Alabama and the game was over.

Alabama 20, Washington 19. 

 

The Reaction

Alabama had just pulled off the biggest upset in college football en route to the first National Championship for the university, but more importantly, for the South. 

The "Tusca-losers" had just beaten a team that most considered to be a junior varsity squad compared to the Huskies. 

Alabama would be asked back the next season to the Rose Bowl, starting a string of Southern teams making visits out West for the next two decades.

As the Crimson Tide returned by train across the country, they were greeted in every major town by big crowds and bands.  Everyone in the South was excited to be respected as a region and on the football field.

Alabama would eventually make it back to Tuscaloosa where the day would be considered a state holiday. 

The student newspaper, at the time called The Rammer Jammer, held a contest after the game for students to write the school's fight song. 

The winning lyrics would immortalize this epic victory forever in Alabama history.

"Remember the Rose Bowl, we'll win then. 

"Go, roll to victory, hit your stride, you're Dixie's Football Pride, Crimson Tide.

"Roll Tide, Roll Tide"

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