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Alabama's 1979 National Champions Hold 30-Year Reunion



Sept. 24, 2009


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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s only 12-0 national championship team is holding its 30-year reunion this weekend, when the 1979 Alabama team returns to Tuscaloosa for the Tide’s SEC opener against the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Ironically, Alabama defeated Arkansas 24-9 in the Jan. 1, 1980 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans to secure the only 12-0 season in Bryant’s amazing 25-year run at his alma mater. 

The team will gather for a reception at the Bryant Museum on Friday night and will be recognized on the field during halftime of Saturday’s game.

Expectations were high for the 1979 season, Alabama had gone 22-2 over the previous two seasons and captured a share of the national championship in 1978, after beating No. 1 Penn State in the Jan. 1, 1979 Sugar Bowl. 

The 1979 squad set five offensive records and two defensive records that remain in the Tide record books today.  On offense, Alabama set records for most rushing attempts in a game (82 vs. Baylor) and season (763), most first downs (263), most rushing first downs (213) and most first downs per game (23.9).  On defense, Alabama set the school record for most interceptions (25) and tied the school record for fewest rushing touchdowns (2) allowed.

In addition, several other offensive marks remain among the top-10 single-season bests in school history, including total plays (875, 4th), total yards (4,715, 5th), points scored (383, 5th), points per game (31.9, 5th) and touchdowns scored (45, t6th).  Defensively, the 1979 team still owns top-10 marks for most shutouts (5, 2nd), fewest TDs allowed (7, t4th), fewest points per game (5.27, 6th), fewest yards per play (3.24, 8th) and fewest yards per game (180.09, 10th).

Quarterback Steadman Shealy completed 45-of-81 passes for 717 yards and four TDs to become the first UA quarterback to lead the team in both rushing and passing in the same season since Kenny Stabler did it in 1966.  The senior ran the ball 152 times for 791 yards and 11 touchdowns, including multi-touchdown games against Vanderbilt, Wichita State, Miami (Fla.) and Auburn. 

Shealy’s daughter, Jacqueline, will also be involved in the festivities as the Crimson Tide gymnastics team will receive their 2009 SEC Championship rings during the Alabama-Arkansas game on Saturday.

The road to the 1979 national championship began on Sept. 8 with a 30-6 win over Georgia Tech at Grant Field in Atlanta.  Linebacker E.J. Junior set the tone for the season with a 59-yard interception return for the first touchdown of the season as the Tide was impressive in this nationally televised game.

Alabama improved to 5-0 on the season with easy wins over Baylor (45-0), Vanderbilt (66-3), Wichita State (35-0) and Florida (40-0).  The Crimson Tide defense pitched three shutouts in that four-game stretch, while the offense averaged 46.5 points during the four-game winning streak.

Following the win over Florida, Alabama ascended to No. 1 in both wire-service polls setting up a top-20 matchup with No. 18 Tennessee at Legion Field on Oct. 20.  The Vols would be the Tide’s first true test of the season and jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.  Shealy’s 33-yard TD pass to Tim Travis just before halftime gave the team momentum.  Major Ogilvie scored two third-quarter touchdowns and the Tide pulled away with a hard-fought 27-17 win.

After wins over Virginia Tech (31-7) and Mississippi State (24-7), Alabama traveled to Baton Rouge, La., on Nov. 10 for a Saturday night showdown at LSU.  Heavy rains greeted the team when they arrived in town on Friday and remained throughout the game, leading to sloppy field conditions for both sides.  Alan McElroy’s 27-yard field goal in the third quarter was the only points of the game.  The Tide defense held LSU to 164 total yards and nine first downs in the win.

Alabama followed that up with a 30-0 win over Miami (Fla.) at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 17.  After an open date, the Crimson Tide closed out the regular season with No. 14 Auburn at Legion Field on Dec. 1, 1979. Auburn led 3-0 after the first quarter, but the Tide scored two second-quarter touchdowns to take a 14-3 halftime lead. Shealy’s 28-yard pass to Keith Pugh gave the Tide a 7-3 lead.  Shealy later added a 1-yard run as the Tide took a 14-3 lead into the dressing room.

With Alabama leading 17-6, Auburn scored the next 12 points to take an 18-17 lead in the fourth quarter. With its perfect season on the line, the Tide drove for the winning score with Shealy covering the final eight yards. He also added a two-point run to give the Tide a 25-18 win.

Alabama capped the perfect season with a 24-9 win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, giving Bryant his sixth national title at the Capstone.  Ogilvie scored two first-quarter touchdowns (22-yard run and 1-yard run) and Whitman capped the season with a 12-yard run in the fourth quarter as the Tide remained perfect.