Hunter: the 1980s Alabama Crimson Tide

Tainted Love: The 1980s Tide
By Hunter Ford

Who could forget parachute pants, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” The Cosby Show, Oingo Boingo or Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” video?

While reading the recent comparisons of Paul Bryant and Nick Saban, I was reminded of Ray Perkins, the Tide coach who led Alabama in the mid 1980s. His tenure was sandwiched in between the twilight of Bryant’s career and the Bill Curry experiment.

For the purposes of educating the young’uns out there who have no memory of the 80s, and the oldtimers who may choose to forget this time, I’d like to explore the decade a little bit. These were my junior high and high school years (yours too, some of you) and a very important time in my development as a Crimson-bleeding Alabama fanatic.

The early 80s were still Bear’s Time. Although the 80, 81 and 82 teams fell way short of the precedents set in the 60s and 70s there were some historical moments to cherish. The 80 team fell to Mississippi State in a shocking upset then lost to Notre Dame. At 9-2, the 80 Tide went to the Cotton Bowl, at the time still prestigious, and stomped a mudhole in Southwestern Conference champ Baylor to finish 10-2.

The year 1981 was marred by a loss to one of the worst ever Georgia Tech teams and a tie with Southern Miss. Bill Curry coached Tech that year by the way.

But Alabama beat Penn State on the road and defeated Auburn to give Bryant his 315th victory, making him the winningest coach in college history until geezers from his own era, Paterno and Bowden eventually passed him. Bryant’s swan song was an emotional win over Illinois in the Liberty Bowl.

Enter Ray Perkins, to the theme music of Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face.” The steely Perkins had none of the country boy charm of Bryant and immediately made mince meat of many things Tide fans held dear. He scrapped the wishbone, he tore down Bear’s tower for God’s sake!

Perkins also shook up sponsors, changing from Golden Flake to Lays and firing radio voice John Forney. Perkins also dismissed longtime assistant coaches, including Mal Moore, without blinking a gun-metal blue eye.

I’ve always thought Perkins got a bad rap, because if Bryant were in the same situation, taking over a program, I believe he would have done it his way or the highway too. (Saban kind of does that doesn’t he?)

Perkins’ legacy, to me at least, is that he held the ship together and kept Auburn from establishing dominance at a time when they had opportunity. Perkins was 2-2 against Pat Dye, but the balance of power could have shifted drastically, and it did when Perkins left.

Here were Perkins’ biggest achievements: A 28-7 win over fifth ranked SMU in 83 Sun Bowl; 17-15 win over Bo Jackson and Auburn in 84; “the Kick” win over Heisman Bo and Auburn in 85; a win over Ohio State in the 86 Kickoff Classic; a resounding throttling of Tennessee in 86 that started a long winning streak over the Vols, and the Tide’s first and only win over Notre Dame, also in 86. Perkins was 3-0 in bowl games also defeating Southern Cal and Washington.

Perkins personal legacy was not helped when his former quarterback and protoge Mike Shula coached the Tide incompetently prior to Saban’s arrival. The Perkins, Bill Belicheck, Saban chronology, is interesting however.

Former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant had an 80s hit with “Ship of Fools” and that music could have been playing in former Alabama president Joab Thomas’ head when he skipped over Bobby Bowden and hired Bill Curry. This was like Van Halen turning into Van Hagar. He was a bad fit, and Curry couldn’t beat Auburn if the Tigers were bundled in a sack and Curry had a baseball bat.

Curry lost to the Memphis Tigers, and dropped a homecoming game to Ole Miss. Yet he managed to skunk Paterno in three games and he continued the Tide streak against Tennessee.

In 1989, Curry led Alabama to a 10-0 record and share othe SEC crown. He had to share it with Auburn, when once again, Dye abused Curry like a two-dollar you-know-what.

That same year Neil Young released his seminal song “Rocking in the Free World.” Curry left for Kentucky. Alabama returned to its roots and hired Bryant disciple Gene Stallings to begin the voyage into the 90s. Young’s music inspired a growing “grunge scene” that took music away from the techno pop of Flock of Seagulls and back into raw-bones, power chord jams. Stallings’ Tide went back to the basics of stout defense and power running. After an introductory slump in the 90 season, Alabama finished strong by beating Tennesee and Auburn. Alabama went 11-1 in 91, and 13-0 in 92. The program that “still couldn’t find what it was looking for” to paraphrase U2, finally found it. Kind of like Alabama has again with Saban.

I have fond memories of the 80s. Walter Lewis, Joey Jones, Cornelius Bennett, Derek Thomas, Bobby Humphrey, Van Tiffin, Mike Shula (yeah), Al Bell, Wes Neighbors, and many others made some nice history for the Tide. Still, I can’t help thinking they are the “Lost Boys” of modern Alabama football.

(PS: Does anybody remember the Ponys Alabama used to wear in the 80s. Kids in my day actually wore Pony football shoes to school (the turf kind, back when we still had REAL Astro Turf) tried to get Breakfast Club reference in but couldn’t. Anybody out there with 80s memories?)

34 Responses to “Hunter: the 1980s Alabama Crimson Tide” Subscribe

  1. Big red A March 11, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    I’m younger than you but I do remember “The Lick” and “The Kick”. Who could forget Sgt. D, he had more sacks in one game than some linebackers do in a season. I’ll never forget watching him take over at UK, he literally ran through a tight end to make one of his sacks. Were he still alive he would hold the NFL sack record.

  2. Ballplay Indian March 11, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    Im close to your age. If you remember the ponys, then you were a young child in the 70s.. Did you own any thoughskins ? My gosh……Those things were like wearing a flak jaket. Kevlar had nothing on a new pair of toughskins.

  3. Taxman March 11, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    Anyone remember the great philosopher Rory Tuner’s comment “I waxed the dude”.

  4. Ballplay Indian March 11, 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    Man, I remember buying cigerettes for my dad ( everyone smoked then) when I could barely see over the counter …

    And you could buy the real m-80s for like 1 buck….Man I miss those.

  5. oldtimer March 11, 2010 at 3:51 pm #

    Recruiting slipped mightily in Bear’s last couple of seasons. While Dye was getting Bo Jackson, Lionel James, Brent Fullwood, etc; Perkins was saddled with Horstead, Braggs and a game but one-legged Paul Ott Carruth. It took Bama RBs a day and a half to get to the corner. Perkins solved that problem bringing in Bobby Humphrey, Gene Jelks, Kerry Goode and Murry Hill. And LBs! Bennett, Thomas, Wayne Davis, Randy Rockwell, Vantreise Davis, George Bethune, Greg Gilbert, Spencer Hammond, and Keith McCants.

  6. BamaBino March 11, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    I remember Coarch Dye telling Coach Bryant that he would beat his successor “like a redheaded stepchild.” Four games later and a 2-2 record made a laughingstock out of him.

  7. Big red A March 11, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    Toughskin jeans from sears. TG&Y, Bargain Town, Dairy Queen, and drive in movies. It was the ’80’s. Then came the shittiest music since disco. Or, rather disco evolved into a looooong string of 1 hit wonders, then to hip-hop. No offense to hip-hop, but if you don’t need an instrument to make it, it aint music dammit.

  8. Pluto March 11, 2010 at 9:20 pm #

    The Economy Sucked. Sounds Familiar eh ?

  9. bamadon March 11, 2010 at 10:40 pm #

    The really good thing about the 80’s was having Ronald Reagan
    as President

  10. CRIMSON HAMMAH March 12, 2010 at 12:20 am #

    DK WHAT HAPPENED WITH 1980 SEASON – BEAR SAID TOMMY WILCOX WOULD MOVE TO QB …WE LOST 6 3 TO MISS ST AND A QB FUMBLE ON ND GOAL LINE TO LOSE 7 0 …TOMMY WILCOX AT QB WE PLAY FOR THE NATIONAL TITLE

  11. CRIMSON HAMMAH March 12, 2010 at 12:22 am #

    THE KICK… THE HIT…THE SUNGLASSES…

  12. CRIMSON HAMMAH March 12, 2010 at 12:23 am #

    JERK THE PERK AFTER GOING FOR THE TIE VS LSU …I’M EMBARRASSED

  13. CRIMSON HAMMAH March 12, 2010 at 12:23 am #

    MIKE SHULA WAS A GREAT AND NATURAL PASSER…JERK PERK MUST HAVE BEAT HIM DOWN FOR HIM TO HAVE A BAD SR SEASON

  14. CRIMSON HAMMAH March 12, 2010 at 12:24 am #

    CURRY LOSING TO OLE MISS AT HOME OR BHAM…

  15. CRIMSON HAMMAH March 12, 2010 at 12:25 am #

    LOSING AT HOME/BHAM EVERY YR VS LSU BUT WINNING IN BATON ROUGE

  16. CRIMSON HAMMAH March 12, 2010 at 12:27 am #

    “DERRICK THOMAS’ PERFORMANCE IS THE MOST DOMINANT DEFENSIVE PERFORMANCE I’VE EVER SEEN.” BRENT MUSBERGER ON DT VS PENN ST IN TT/BHAM 88 ISH

  17. CRIMSON HAMMAH March 12, 2010 at 12:28 am #

    MIKE SHULA COMEBACK WINS VS GA AND AU

  18. CRIMSON HAMMAH March 12, 2010 at 12:29 am #

    RICKY MOORE AND TEAM KNOCKING THE CRAP OUT OF THE ILLINOIS PLAYERS IN BEARS LAST GAME

  19. CRIMSON HAMMAH March 12, 2010 at 12:30 am #

    BAMA THE ONLY TEAM TO BEAT 81 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM PENN ST.

  20. CRIMSON HAMMAH March 12, 2010 at 12:35 am #

    1982 BOGUS CONTROVERSY SAYING LSU COACH JERRY STOVALL AFTER DEFEATING BAMA WOULD NOT LET BEAR BRYANT SPEAK TO THE LSU TEAM – COMPLETE FALSEHOOD….BEAR MENTIONED MAYBE VISITING THE LSU PLAYERS AND STOVALL HAD NO PROBLEM WITH IT …BEAR JUST DID NOT FOLLOW UP

  21. CRIMSON HAMMAH March 12, 2010 at 12:37 am #

    BOBBY HUMPHREY AND GENE JELKS GREAT TANDEM TOO BAD JELKS GOT HURT

  22. CRIMSON HAMMAH March 12, 2010 at 12:39 am #

    CORNELIUS BENNET AND BAMA BEAT THE HECK OUT OF USC IN ALOHA BOWL 21-0?

  23. CRIMSON HAMMAH March 12, 2010 at 12:40 am #

    RICKY MOORE AND BAMA LOSING TO ROGER CLEMEMS AND TEXAS IN THE BASEBALL COLLEGE NC GAME

  24. CRIMSON HAMMAH March 12, 2010 at 12:44 am #

    83 BEATING A VERY RESPECTED SMU TEAM
    28-7 ??

  25. Ballplay Indian March 12, 2010 at 7:05 am #

    Aight……who had parachute pants ?

    Auburn in the 80s is what made me an Auburn fan. What an awesome decade to be a tiger.

  26. Hunter Ford March 12, 2010 at 12:50 pm #

    mid to late 80s and early 2000s were best years of Auburn football in modern history, Bama was down both eras with Curry, and then later wit Shula.

    Dumbose is an enigma wrapped in a mystery, he wins SEC championship beating Spurrier and Fla twice then lays a smelly egg in the next season.

    I was a child in the 70s.

    Toughskins YES

    Evel Kneivel wind up motorcycle and action figure

    BArgain Town…bought lots of toys and Halloween costumes there

    ABC Wide World of Sports, completely boring unless Ali and Cosell, the Harlem Globtrotters or Evel was on wrecking his bike and bones… opening was always good with skiier wiping out…The Agony of Defeat

    Wathcing the Bear Bryant Show on Sundays to see Alabama football on TV

    Listening to games on the radio

    Happy Days Heyyyyy

  27. oldtimer March 12, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    Shula had a bum shoulder his senior season. He said he didn’t but he couldn’t even get the ball to receivers in the flat that season.

  28. Hunter Ford March 12, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

    The 86 team was very good at times. 10-3 overall.

    85 team opened the season with last minute win over Georgia and closed with the kick by Tiffein in Iron Bowl.

    The USC team Alabama beat in Aloha bowl was a mediocre Trojan squad but was QB’d by Rodney Peete if I remember correctly.

    I never noticed Shula’s injury but looking back seems like we depended on the run a lot more.

    Shula was a good field general, made good decisions and was Joe Montana cool under pressure.

    Merlin Olson was great on Little House and a very good commentator… gentle giant except on the field RIP

  29. Hunter Ford March 12, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    Abou the LSU tie in 85. PErkins made a good decision. There was still enough time to force an LSU turnover and get the ball back. Tiffin was money and could have made a game winning FG.

    LSU actually marched the ball into close FG range and their kicker dorked a chip shot to make the game a tie.

    I believe Alabama would have shared the SEC Title or won it if not for the tie. Going for two would have been gutsy and might have won the SEC title, but the percenatges favored the strategy Perkins employed….one of those things.

    I heard an ex-alabama player from the 78 season admit that if Penn State had called a play action pass on the goal line stand “we would have been toast cause we totally sold out on the run” Oh those pesky coaching decisions and darned percentages

  30. Ballplay Indian March 12, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    That Evel Kneviel motorcycycke would haul a–… I used to terrify my dog with that thing.

    The A-team

    Dukes of Hazard

    Knight Rider

  31. TideFanAtlanta March 12, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

    The Sack!

  32. Hunter Ford March 14, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    The original Battlestar Galactica

    Cylons with the red bluips going back and forth

    Rocky III…. I pity the fool

  33. Hunter Ford March 14, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    Also, and I should have mentioned this in the column, Paul Finebuam came on the scene in the 80s. Pre-radio days, Fbaums columns stirred some sh*t that had never been stirred. He changed the dynamics for both Alabama and Auburn

  34. Big red A March 15, 2010 at 11:37 am #

    What about Stretch Armstrong, and rubik’s cube. Short shorts, and long ass socks, we looked like idiots. Glad to see the death of disco though. Hated the discovery of AIDS. Ronnie Ray-gun told Iran to get fucked.

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