Ford: 69 was a bummer for Bama

By Hunter Ford

It started with an exciting flash, but the 1969 football season was a bum trip for Crimson Tide football.

This year has been punctuated by the celebration of the 40-year anniversaries of the moon landing, Woodstock and locally, the 40th year of UAB. Out of curiosity I revisted the record book to see what Alabama football was up to in 69. Not much good. We modern Alabama fans are biting our nails in anticipation of the upcoming contest with Virginia Tech in Atlanta. Coincidentally, the 69 Crimson Tide opened with a 17-13 win against the Hokies in Blacksburg. Three games into the season Alabama defeated Archie Manning and Ole Miss in a 33-32 thriller which still ranks high as one of the Tide’s most memorable victories. Alabama was 3-0.

But, from there, things went freakier than a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo. The Tide lost 14-10 to a Vanderbilt team led by Watson Brown at quarterback. Alabama dropped games to Tennessee, 41-14, to LSU 20-15 and to Auburn 49-26. The season ended with a 47-33 trampling by the Colorado Buffaloes in the Liberty Bowl.

I’ve heard the stories before about Coach Bryant mulling over an offer to leave Tuscaloosa for the Miami Dolphins in 69. We’ve seen that scenario in reverse with Saban haven’t we? It’s interesting to think what might have been had Bear gone to the NFL. He would have picked up the team that Don Shula eventually led to the only undefeated season in pro football history.

Racial tensions, the hippie movement…all sorts of things were finally coming to a breaking point during the 69 season. Bryant declined the offer from the Dolphins, allowed his players to let their hair down (literally) and began forging the 70s dynasty. It took another season to begin rolling. In 1970, Alabama was embarrassed 42-21 by USC and Sam “Bam” Cunningham. The 70 season was another lousy year. Alabama lost again to its major rivals and ended 6-5-1 after a tie with Oklahoma in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl… (That’s a real blast from the past, huh?)

The recruitment of black athletes followed shortly.

The haze lifted for Bama in 1971 when the Tide and its wishbone offense stunned USC in Los Angeles. Alabama won eight SEC titles and three national championships in the 70s.

All of that is history.

Looking forward into the last year of the current decade, and beyond, I have a few questions.

In January 1969 Joe Namath led the New York Jets to the historic victory in Super Bowl III. Will Alabama ever have another quarterback that is recognized nationally as one of the best in the country? We’ve lived more than four decades now off of Joe Willie’s legacy.

Will we see Alabama dominate Auburn, LSU and Tennessee the way it did in the 70s? The stage is set for us to do so, at least in the case of the Aubies and Vols.

If Saban wins a national title soon, will he stick with Alabama long enough to win a second or third, or at least give it a shot? Can Alabama match what Florida has accomplished…or surpass that?

Rumors are already out there about Urban Meyer leaving Florida if the Notre Dame job is available. Few coaches make the long haul at one school anymore whether success or failure is the cause.

The opening act is only a few days away. It should be a great show.