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Welcome Back: Bama's 1964 National Champs Return for a Reunion


Monday, September 06, 2004

1964 Team picture

By Matt Hooper
UA Media Relations

For Gaylon McCollough, hardly a day goes by that he does not think of the game.

It was nearly forty years ago, Jan. 1, 1965 to be exact, in Miami, and McCollough, a center for the 1964 Crimson Tide remembers a limping Joe Namath leading the Tide in a spirited comeback against the Texas Longhorns in the Orange Bowl. Down 21-7 in the third quarter, Namath, whose bad knee kept him from starting the contest, rallied the offense with a 20-yard touchdown pass to future Alabama head coach Ray Perkins. David Ray's extra point narrowed the Texas advantage to only seven points.

A Ray field goal closed to gap to 21-17 and as the Longhorns took over, the Tide defense stepped up. Jimmy Fuller intercepted a Jim Hudson pass, and Namath drove the Tide to the goal line.

"We were at the one-foot line and Joe Namath called a quarterback sneak," McCollough recalls. "When the play was over, we all started looking for him and we found him lying across the goal line with the ball in his hand, and the official signaled `touchdown.'"

But, according to McCollough, before the Crimson Tide could celebrate, one of the other officials from the now-defunct Southwest Conference, of which Texas was a member, negated the touchdown, saying that Namath had never crossed the goal line. The ball went over on downs, and the Tide marched back to their locker room. Moments later, McCollough learned a valuable lesson, one he still carries around to this day.

"Coach (Paul) Bryant stood on the sideline and made no comment, asked no questions of the officials," McCollough said. "As we walked by him, someone in the crowd said `Coach, we scored.' He looked straight at us and said: `If he had walked in, there would have been no question about it, would there?'"

"The lesson I learned from that game is that if you want to achieve something in life, go beyond what is expected and leave no room for doubt."

Fortunately for the Crimson Tide, the system of college football in the early 1960's was so that the national championship was awarded before the college bowl games were played. Both the Associated Press and the United Press International, among other organizations, had already awarded Alabama the crown, long before Namath's quarterback sneak.

Of Alabama's 12 national championships, some might look upon the 1964 title as controversial. But trying to convince one of the players of that is an effort in futility.

Steve Sloan, who won the first of his two national championship rings with Alabama as a member of the `64 squad, recalls his former team as one of Alabama's greatest.

"They were all very good players, very dedicated. They played hard," Sloan said. "I'm just very thankful I got to be there and play with them. That team was a very talented team."

Sloan shared time with Namath, usually due to injury, at the quarterback position before taking over as starter in 1965. Before he became "Broadway Joe," Sloan remembers the leadership abilities that Namath possessed as well as his natural talent. After all, Namath was famously remembered by Paul "Bear" Bryant as "the greatest athlete I ever coached."

"He was a very talented player, he played hard and he played hurt," Sloan recalls. "On top of that, he had so many uncommon skills."

One of those "skills" was his penchant for coming through in the clutch. McCollough remembers the Tide's ninth victory of the season at Georgia Tech.

"It was 0-0 with a 1:30 to go in the first half and Namath got in the huddle and told us how we were going to score a touchdown before halftime," McCollough recalls. "Thirty seconds later we scored our first touchdown.

"We went for the onside kick and got it. He came back into the huddle and told us how we were going to score again, and in the span of one minute and 30 seconds, we scored two touchdowns."

The offense was more than talented: led by the ubiquitous Namath and backed up by future NFL field general Sloan. The receivers are familiar names to Tide fans, those of Wayne Trimble and Ray Perkins. Future SEC coach Jackie Sherrill was on the roster, anchoring the linebacking corps. And the coach, well, every Tide fan remembers his name.

It was one of the most talented teams in Alabama football history, one of the twelve elite national championship teams. Forty years ago, they marched out onto the turf at then Denny Stadium, and marched off with an undefeated 10-0 regular season record. The question of whether or not a championship was merited was answered right then and there. The ball may or may not have crossed the goal line on Jan. 1, 1965, but the crown remains, as do the memories of those players and coaches who earned the title of "champion."