1975 Sugar Bowl - Coach Bryant vs Tom Osborne

selmaborntidefan

Hall of Fame
As many of you know, one of my hobbies is digging through old newspapers and finding perspectives at the time and stories AS THEY DEVELOPED rather than the historical revisionism that takes place years later where the winner writes the story.

I had never heard and suddenly came across this fascinating story about the 1975 Sugar Bowl. I've debated doing a write-up (just to tick off Nebraska fans, heh heh) but.....some of you who were around, is there anything you can add or recall about this?

Long story short:

There were no bowl tie-ins with the Sugar Bowl in 1975.
Alabama had not won a bowl game since 1967.
The Tide also had failed to beat the Big Eight in their most recent games against Mizzou (twice), OU, Nebraska, and Colorado.
That was the first year the Big Ten let teams go to "non-Rose Bowl" bowl games.
Bryant won his fifth straight SEC title and was - as always - courted by the bowls because Alabama was the big draw.
The "rumor" was that Bryant wanted an "opponent he could beat" (e.g. media narrative).
The ASSUMPTION at the time was that Alabama was blocked from the national title because on the day bowls could be offered:

1) Ohio State - Rose if they win out
2) Nebraska - Orange if they win out
3) A/M - Cotton if they win out
4) Michigan - Rose if they win out, Orange if they lost to Ohio St
5) Alabama - no guarantee but Orange Bowl doesn't want them because they'd just had them the year before
6) Texas - Cotton if they beat A/M and A/M beats Arky
7) Oklahoma - winner of Nebraska-OU gets Orange Bowl
8) Arizona St - unbeaten WAC team nobody cares about
9) Colorado - lost to OU and Nebraska, of course
10) Penn St - narrow loss by 8 to Ohio St in Columbus

The Sugar wanted Alabama. Bryant wanted to keep his national title options open, but they kept closing on him.
Bryant's key point - if the Big 8 wants us so bad, why is the Orange Bowl passing over us?

Bryant is asked to recommend an opponent for the Sugar Bowl for viewing - he tells them Penn St.

The Big 8 is under the impression the OU-Nebraska loser gets the Sugar Bowl.
The Sugar Bowl chooses Alabama - and the entire Big Eight conference coaches get into the mix, demanding an NCAA investigation.

Osborne calls Bryant a "son of a buck" (as far as media was permitted to go in 1975, but you know what he meant).
Bryant tells the press that YES - he had spoken to the Sugar Bowl but he did not say who should go, only that he was asked to make a recommendation. He said Penn St because they were the "champions of the East." He also said that if any of the Big 8 coaches didn't like it, they could "go to Hell."


I sat mesmerized reading this because I'd never seen it.

Anyone got any input or recall details on this one?

(When we went to Lincoln in 1977, Osborne did nothing but praise Bryant as a great coach; Bryant said he wished Nebraska had not lost to Wazzu the week before because it meant they'd be tougher to beat, which they were).
 

Padreruf

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As many of you know, one of my hobbies is digging through old newspapers and finding perspectives at the time and stories AS THEY DEVELOPED rather than the historical revisionism that takes place years later where the winner writes the story.

I had never heard and suddenly came across this fascinating story about the 1975 Sugar Bowl. I've debated doing a write-up (just to tick off Nebraska fans, heh heh) but.....some of you who were around, is there anything you can add or recall about this?

Long story short:

There were no bowl tie-ins with the Sugar Bowl in 1975.
Alabama had not won a bowl game since 1967.
The Tide also had failed to beat the Big Eight in their most recent games against Mizzou (twice), OU, Nebraska, and Colorado.
That was the first year the Big Ten let teams go to "non-Rose Bowl" bowl games.
Bryant won his fifth straight SEC title and was - as always - courted by the bowls because Alabama was the big draw.
The "rumor" was that Bryant wanted an "opponent he could beat" (e.g. media narrative).
The ASSUMPTION at the time was that Alabama was blocked from the national title because on the day bowls could be offered:

1) Ohio State - Rose if they win out
2) Nebraska - Orange if they win out
3) A/M - Cotton if they win out
4) Michigan - Rose if they win out, Orange if they lost to Ohio St
5) Alabama - no guarantee but Orange Bowl doesn't want them because they'd just had them the year before
6) Texas - Cotton if they beat A/M and A/M beats Arky
7) Oklahoma - winner of Nebraska-OU gets Orange Bowl
8) Arizona St - unbeaten WAC team nobody cares about
9) Colorado - lost to OU and Nebraska, of course
10) Penn St - narrow loss by 8 to Ohio St in Columbus

The Sugar wanted Alabama. Bryant wanted to keep his national title options open, but they kept closing on him.
Bryant's key point - if the Big 8 wants us so bad, why is the Orange Bowl passing over us?

Bryant is asked to recommend an opponent for the Sugar Bowl for viewing - he tells them Penn St.

The Big 8 is under the impression the OU-Nebraska loser gets the Sugar Bowl.
The Sugar Bowl chooses Alabama - and the entire Big Eight conference coaches get into the mix, demanding an NCAA investigation.

Osborne calls Bryant a "son of a buck" (as far as media was permitted to go in 1975, but you know what he meant).
Bryant tells the press that YES - he had spoken to the Sugar Bowl but he did not say who should go, only that he was asked to make a recommendation. He said Penn St because they were the "champions of the East." He also said that if any of the Big 8 coaches didn't like it, they could "go to Hell."


I sat mesmerized reading this because I'd never seen it.

Anyone got any input or recall details on this one?

(When we went to Lincoln in 1977, Osborne did nothing but praise Bryant as a great coach; Bryant said he wished Nebraska had not lost to Wazzu the week before because it meant they'd be tougher to beat, which they were).
That's pretty much the picture that was painted some time later...back then CPB had a lot of power/influence in the 70's in regard to bowl game participation...probably one reason he didn't favor a playoff system.
 

TideEngineer08

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Fascinating, Selma. It's well documented that Coach Bryant manipulated the bowl system as much as he was allowed, and that he enjoyed the freedom to choose which bowl would ultimately give him and Alabama the best chance for a title (he did not favor the contractual tie-in with the SEC and Sugar Bowl, but ultimately gave in because it was best for the SEC).

I'd love to hear more about this. I love college football history and part of me misses those days when the bowls meant so much more than they do today. I agree with the ultimate pursuit of crowning a true champion, but there is something nostalgic about those days.

Looking back, Nebraska would have been the better choice at 10-1 vs Penn State's 9-2, plus the whole "Champions of the East" was nonsense. But that's hindsight. I guess back then it meant something. Still, Nebraska went on to lose to Arizona State in the Fiesta Bowl so how worthy were they, really? The Orange would have been better with Oklahoma facing Alabama.
 

GP for Bama

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Bama had not won a bowl game in the last seven years. The national narrative was that Bear was ducking Nebraska to play an easier Penn State .
I believe that was the first Sugar Bowl in the Superdome. I also believe that was the first year of the SEC champion being tied to the Sugar Bowl.
Bama beat Penn State and won its next six bowl games.
 

81usaf92

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Living in Nebraska, when the topic of Alabama came up all the 40 and under folks say no Alabama team could beat Osborne’s 90’s teams, and all the old folks said Alabama was always scared of Nebraska because Devaney took their soul in 71. For the latter group they always reference that 75 Sugar Bowl as evidence of their beliefs saying that Bryant could’ve atleast recommended Nebraska in respect of their accomplishments instead of outright ducking them for a sacrificial lamb as a 1st choice
 

TideEngineer08

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Living in Nebraska, when the topic of Alabama came up all the 40 and under folks say no Alabama team could beat Osborne’s 90’s teams, and all the old folks said Alabama was always scared of Nebraska because Devaney took their soul in 71. For the latter group they always reference that 75 Sugar Bowl as evidence of their beliefs saying that Bryant could’ve atleast recommended Nebraska in respect of their accomplishments instead of outright ducking them for a sacrificial lamb as a 1st choice
I guess they aren't able to recall Alabama destroying them in back to back bowls just 5 and 6 years prior to 1971 then.
 

selmaborntidefan

Hall of Fame
Living in Nebraska, when the topic of Alabama came up all the 40 and under folks say no Alabama team could beat Osborne’s 90’s teams, and all the old folks said Alabama was always scared of Nebraska because Devaney took their soul in 71. For the latter group they always reference that 75 Sugar Bowl as evidence of their beliefs saying that Bryant could’ve atleast recommended Nebraska in respect of their accomplishments instead of outright ducking them for a sacrificial lamb as a 1st choice
Why would Bryant recommend Nebraska is the bigger question?

Looking into this, there appears to be a bunch of overlapping interests.

One of Bryant's was (supposedly) this:
Penn State is a LONG way from New Orleans, and they aren't going to use their bowl allotment of tickets. (Folks forget they weren't really a big deal at the time). Nebraska, by contrast, would travel well.

In other words, it turns into an Alabama home game against Penn St.


Let's be honest: the reason we lost every single one of those games is that Bryant was at the disadvantage because of segregation. yeah, we might have lost to 71 Huskers anyway (great team) but let's not pretend that wasn't a big issue.

Simply look what happened the moment we were fully in the 20th century.
 

81usaf92

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Why would Bryant recommend Nebraska is the bigger question?

Looking into this, there appears to be a bunch of overlapping interests.

One of Bryant's was (supposedly) this:
Penn State is a LONG way from New Orleans, and they aren't going to use their bowl allotment of tickets. (Folks forget they weren't really a big deal at the time). Nebraska, by contrast, would travel well.

In other words, it turns into an Alabama home game against Penn St.


Let's be honest: the reason we lost every single one of those games is that Bryant was at the disadvantage because of segregation. yeah, we might have lost to 71 Huskers anyway (great team) but let's not pretend that wasn't a big issue.

Simply look what happened the moment we were fully in the 20th century.
Anyone with half a brain could see why CPB did it, but we are talking about Nebraska fans who believe Nebraska was the best team to ever play the game in the 70’s. CPB needed a bowl win vs a worthy opponent and he got one with a semi home field advantage.

Trust me there are a bunch of them that still whine to this day about having to go to Tempe instead of New Orleans because Alabama ducked playing a superior opponent.
 

Padreruf

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Let's be honest: the reason we lost every single one of those games is that Bryant was at the disadvantage because of segregation. yeah, we might have lost to 71 Huskers anyway (great team) but let's not pretend that wasn't a big issue.

Agreed...
 

selmaborntidefan

Hall of Fame
Okay, so I've found a couple of more interesting pieces of the puzzle that I honestly didn't know.

1) Nebraska played in the 1974 Sugar Bowl (aka the previous year) against Florida and
2) There were A TON of empty seats in Tulane Stadium

3) Most of the news reports I'm reading leading into the selection don't even mention Nebraska except as an aside. It's considered a given that Alabama will play the first Sugar Bowl in the Superdome. The debate concerns whether that team will be Florida, Penn State, or Texas A/M. The loser of the OU-Nebraska game is mentioned way down the list and almost always as "they're going to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas."

4) It's funny to hear Nebraska fans say Alabama was afraid of them. Why would be afraid of a team that played WAC champion Arizona St in the Fiesta Bowl and LOST? Yes, ASU was undefeated but it was about like when BYU was national champion.

5) Let's be honest - Nebraska's REAL beef had nothing to do with "Alabama is skeered" (a ludicrous assertion) and more to do with the fact that back then the Fiesta Bowl (not a big game until 1987) was a regional bowl game that paid something like 1/6 what the Sugar Bowl paid out.

6) That's also the beef of the Big Eight conference for obvious reasons. Screw 'em.
 

78Alum

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I was a freshman at UA at that time and actually went to the 1975 Sugar Bowl. It was indeed the first game in the Super Dome and an amazing place, especially for its time. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Back then, it was definitely true that CPB worked behind the scenes to set up opponents that were strategic for us. However, I don't remember the details of how much made public at that time. Back then, you pretty much had to rely on what was in the newspaper or through rumor. At any rate, it was good to relive that time. Thanks for posting!
 
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cuda.1973

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IIRC when we went to Lincoln in 77 we lost 31-24 and Jeff Rutledge had 5 picks
You just had to remind me of that nightmare.................

Yeah, they lost to week before, and some of us were counting on getting even for that Orange Bowl butt-whuppin' they gave Johnny Musso and the guys.

Anyway.........the story going around here was the Big 8 was the one that was "skeered" of us. Bet Bevo U was behind that one, as they obviously do not much care for Zero U.
 

selmaborntidefan

Hall of Fame
The Fiesta Bowl back then was played on Christmas Day as I recall and I seem to remember our cheerleaders had a sign or something their uniforms that said "Happy Fiesta Nebraska".

You're close to right. It was played on Christmas Day 1976-79 and the day after in 1980. Six of the first nine Fiesta Bowls featured a team from Arizona, which makes sense since it was developed as a reward for teams from the West that didn't show upon the national radar and would go unbeaten but get nothing.

It was also played the day after Christmas in 1975, so the association is understandable.
 

selmaborntidefan

Hall of Fame
Let me add something else - the 1975 Sugar Bowl was the last time (during the poll era) that the Sugar Bowl did not have a tie-in with the SEC. There was always a sort of "understood we will invite the SEC champ" unwritten rule, but it was not in the form of a contract as existed with the Rose Bowl or with the Big 8 and the Orange.

What really stinks now, though, is that Coach Bryant's willingness to assent to the SEC champ being guaranteed the Sugar Bowl berth at least indirectly cost us the 1977 national championship. The Sugar Bowl had spent years all but begging the SEC to lock in a contract, but one man had all the clout - Paul Bryant. And he wasn't going to do it for a simple reason: he theorized that being locked into the Sugar Bowl would limit Alabama's mobility to go play the #1 team and win the national championship. Alabama did not need the agreement. But circumstances forced his hand: when Notre Dame (1970) and the Big Ten (1974) began participating in the bowl games, there was a very real problem that the SEC champion might be left out of the bowl game picture - and this was huge money not just for the team selected but for the entire conference. Say, for example, that Florida (not a big national name back then) won the SEC and went undefeated. Bowl bids were being sent out in mid-November long before the end of the season. What if the bowl game was awaiting a participant and had a choice between the Michigan/Ohio St loser or Notre Dame.......and an SEC champ not named Alabama? Well, the bowl game would take the bigger name, and the SEC would lose all the money.

As John Underwood wrote, this was the very beginning of bowl games being seen as consolation prizes to teams that didn't go their conference bowl game. (Michigan/Ohio State or OU/Nebraska loser was "rewarded" for losing out on the Rose Bowl with a trip to the Sugar Bowl).

Bryant's own words were, "I have to think of the conference." Yes, when millions of dollars are at stake, even Coach Bryant has to look at the bigger picture for the universities - all of them. So while personally opposed, he rounded up support for the "automatic berth" in the Sugar Bowl, which began in 1976.

I don't have to tell you how this one turned out. Let's just look at the polls in 1977:

Bowl game bids went out that year after the games of November 15. Here are your ratings:

1) Texas
2) Alabama
3) Oklahoma
4) Michigan
5) Notre Dame
6) Arkansas
7) Kentucky
8) Ohio St
9) Penn St
10) Pitt

It doesn't take a genius to see which setup the Cotton Bowl would have taken. They would have gotten the Texas-Alabama 1 vs 2 showdown as soon as possible and locked everyone else out of the picture.

Of course, we cannot automatically assume Alabama would have beaten Texas. But what no doubt would have happened is that the winner of the Cotton Bowl would have been declared the national champions in at least one poll and probably both.

The UPI poll had OU ahead of Alabama when the bowl games were being selected (Notre Dame fifth). This, of course, would not have mattered because the Cotton Bowl would not have had an OU-Texas rematch based on a singular UPI poll, and Alabama's win would have negated any claim OU had to the title (since their loss was to Texas).


This is when historical research becomes both enlightening and emotionally frustrating.
 

selmaborntidefan

Hall of Fame
That's pretty much the picture that was painted some time later...back then CPB had a lot of power/influence in the 70's in regard to bowl game participation...probably one reason he didn't favor a playoff system.

There's no question that Bryant understood public relations, television ratings, and the politics involved perhaps better than any man who ever lived (or at least any who was an active coach as opposed to an administrator). He knew that he coached the biggest drawn not named Notre Dame, and he knew even when we did not deserve bowl berths (1969-70) that we could get them and pop a rating, which would make the network suits happy while bringing in the big bucks and making the schools happy at the same time.

If you read my 1978 write up from a year or so ago, Bryant was actually finagling with the Gator Bowl in November to try and set up the Penn State clash and block everyone else out of the national title picture. And the Gator Bowl made no secret - they WANTED the game, and they were even talking about how much extra money it would draw that they could give a percentage to the schools. Of course, when the insane pollsters ranked Nebraska ahead of us (due to their lucky win over OU, Osborne's first), Paterno was like a guy whose wife is 40 and a hot 22-year old gives him a look (or in the case of Penn State - I won't go there......). He abandoned the whole Gator Bowl thing and started chatting up Nebraska.

And then when Nebraska lost their second game, Paterno comes back to his old reliable gal, Alabama, and courts the Sugar Bowl and vice versa.
 
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