Oct. 3, 2008
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Long before the no huddle, run-and-shoot and spread offense, the University of Alabama had its own high-power, high-scoring offense. And no Crimson Tide team, before or since, put up numbers like the 1973 Crimson Tide offense did.
The 1973 UPI National Champions will be back in Tuscaloosa to celebrate its 35th anniversary this weekend when No. 2 Alabama hosts Kentucky at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Though 35 years have passed since its last game, the offensive numbers have stood the test of time for one the Tide’s all-time great offensive units.
The 1973 squad out-scored its opposition 477-113 en route to an 11-1 season and another SEC Championship. The Tide was seldom tested as they averaged 480.73 yards and 39.75 points per game. The defense threw four shutouts, the third-highest total in school history.
But it was all about the offense. The 1973 team still holds 14 single-game and single-season records and ranks among the Top 10 in UA annals in another 12 categories. Alabama set school records in 1973 for total offense (5,288 yards), most yards per game (480.73 yards) and most yards per play (6.98 yards) as well as most touchdowns (61) and highest average per pass completion (13.41 yards).
The two permanent captains – Wilbur Jackson and Chuck Strickland – are expected to represent the team as honorary captains at Saturday’s game.
Jackson hails from Ozark and broke the color barrier with the Alabama football team when he signed in 1969. He still holds the Alabama career record with 7.2-yards per carry in his UA career (1971-73). He was a first-round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers and played eight years in the NFL, including his final year for the Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins in 1982-83. He is also a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
Strickland was the defensive captain and led UA in tackles in 1972 and was second on the team in total stops in 1973. He earned All-SEC honors in 1973 for the Tide as a starting linebacker. A native of East Ridge, Tenn., Strickland now lives in Bridgeport, Ala.
Expectations were high for the season opener as No.6 Alabama hosted the Cal Bears at Legion Field on Sept. 15. In front of a capacity crowd, The Tide spanked the Bears 66-0 and moved to No. 4 in the AP poll. The Cal roster contained three future NFL greats Vince Ferragamo, Steve Bartkowski and Chuck Munice.
The following week, Alabama needed a second-half comeback to erase a 14-0 halftime deficit to beat Kentucky 28-14 in Lexington. Willie Shelby ran the second half kickoff back 100 yards to spark the Tide.
After a lopsided win over Vanderbilt, Alabama needed another miracle finish to beat Georgia in Tuscaloosa on Oct. 6. The Tide led 13-3 at the half, but found itself down 14-13 after a missed field goal with four minutes left in the game. The defense held and the UA offense scored twice in the final two minutes for the win.
Alabama beat Florida 35-14 on Oct. 13 and entered its annual “Third Saturday in October” clash with Tennessee. The second-ranked Tide beat the No. 10 Vols 42-21. Alabama scored on the game’s very first play as Gary Rutledge threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Wayne Wheeler. After the Tide had taken a 14-0 first quarter lead, Tennessee fought back to even the score at 21-21 after three periods. Robin Cary’s 62-yard punt return broke the tie and sparked a 21-point fourth quarter. Jackson, one of the team’s co-captains, added an 80-yard run in the 42-21 win.
The next two weeks resulted in a pair of blowouts and the most dominant offensive games in Tide lore. On Oct. 27, Alabama beat Virginia Tech 77-6 in front of 57,009 fans at Denny Stadium. The Crimson Tide set records for most total offense (833), highest average yards per play (11.9), most rushing yards (748) and most extra points (11) in the win over Tech.
All four remain as school and SEC records today. In addition, Alabama pulled off another feat in the win over the Hokies as four Tide players rushed for 100 yards in the win, including Jimmy Taylor (142), Jackson (138), Calvin Culliver (127) and Richard Todd (102). The Tide scored in all four quarters and tallied 28 points in both the second and third quarters.
UA followed that up with a 35-0 win over Mississippi State in Jackson, Miss., giving the Tide a 112-6 scoring margin in its last two wins.
An off week did not slow down the Tide offense that rolled into Baton Rouge on Thanksgiving night (Nov. 22) and left with a 21-7 win and a No. 1 national ranking. The Tide’s ascent to the top of the AP poll was its first during the regular season since Nov. 11, 1962.
The top-ranked Tide had no troubles with Auburn in the 1973 regular-season finale, disposing of the Tigers 35-0. One year removed from the two blocked punts that resulted in a 17-16 loss to the Tigers, Alabama rolled up 405 yards of offense in its first shutout over the Tigers since 1966.
The win over Auburn set the stage for the once-in-a-lifetime showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Notre Dame for the national championship. The first-ever meeting between these college football giants took place at Tulane Stadium on Dec. 31, 1973, with the Irish pulling out a gut-wrenching 24-23 win.
Despite the loss, the 1973 team set records still unmatched by a Crimson Tide team. In an era before all the new-fangled offenses, Alabama did it the old fashion way churning out the yards and etching its place into Crimson Tide lore.
RECORD SETTERS: The 1973 Alabama football team set numerous single-game and single-season school records, many of which remain in the Tide record books today. The Crimson Tide still owns single-game records for most total yards (833), highest average gain per play (11.9), most rushing yards (748) and most extra points (11), all coming in a 77-6 win over Virginia Tech on Oct. 27 in Tuscaloosa. The 1973 team still holds 11 single-season records, including total offense (5,288 yards), most yards per game (480.73), most yards per play (6.98), most rushing yards (4,027 yards), most rushing yards per game (366.09), most rushing yards per play (6.06), highest average per pass attempt (13.41 yards per attempt), most touchdowns (61), most points (447), most extra points (57) and fewest punts (37). The 1873 squad also ranks among the Tide’s Top 10 single-season marks in 11 other categories.
Editor’s Note: The 1973 team is celebrating its 35th anniversary this season and the team will be in attendance this weekend as the Crimson Tide hosts Kentucky in Bryant-Denny Stadium.