Minutes after his Alabama team had lost to Georgia Tech 7-6 last Saturday, in just about the biggest football upset of the year, Alabama Head Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant appeared in the winning team's dressing room, smiling and completely unbearlike, despite the hurt of having been beaten for the first time in 27 games. But after an exchange of compliments with Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Dodd, Bryant's affability was suddenly dampened by Dodd's offhand comment, "I believe that was the cleanest game I've ever seen. What do you think. Coach?" Bryant, looking down at his shoes, muttered, "Huh? Oh, yeah. It certainly was. But I didn't expect anything different."
Most of the 53,000 spectators who jammed into the 52,000-seat stadium did. Last year an Alabama player, Darwin Holt, had smashed Georgia Tech's Chick Graning in the face with his left elbow and forearm, in an unnecessary block when an Alabama teammate signaled for a fair catch on a punt. After the catch, though possibly before the referee's whistle had sounded. Holt hit Graning, rising off his feet as he drove his arm up under the taller Tech player's face guard. Graning was helped off the field with injuries diagnosed later as 1) fracture of the alveolar process (facial bones), 2) five missing upper front teeth, 3) fracture of the nasal bone, 4) fracture of the right maxillary sinus and the sinus filled with blood, 5) fracture of the right zygomatic process (bone beneath the right eye), 6) cerebral concussion and 7) possible fracture of the base of the skull.
The injury to Graning, an extremely popular boy who has been described as "basically too gentle to be a truly great football player," infuriated Georgia Tech fans, faculty and alumni, who argued that it was the result of a deliberate and brutal foul. More significantly, it was called characteristic of Alabama football—and just about the last straw.
The annual game between Tech and Alabama had become extremely rough and difficult, and it was common knowledge that Coach Bobby Dodd had been wanting for some time to drop Alabama from the Georgia Tech schedule. The Holt-Graning incident brought things to a head, and in January it was announced that the two schools were severing football relations when the current contract runs out after the 1964 game.
Saturday's game, therefore, was expected by a lot of people to be a bloodbath—Tech would be out to avenge Graning, and Alabama would be out to avenge the insult implicit in Tech's decision to end the old rivalry. Instead, it was a startlingly clean game and, even more surprising, it was comparatively wide open. Bryant completely abandoned the close-to-the-vest, conservative game he is famous for and had his sophomore quarterback, Joe Namath, throw 38 passes. On Alabama's first play from scrimmage, on its own 23, Namath stood eight yards behind the line of scrimmage in a shotgun formation and threw a pass. A professional football scout in the press box laughed out loud. "Who is he trying to kid?" he said. "Bear's teams don't pass on the first play from scrimmage. They don't pass from the 23-yard line, and they haven't run from a shotgun once this year."
But it was just the beginning. Bryant's team never stopped doing the unexpected. In the first quarter Bryant had them go for the first down with fourth and one on the 50. Alabama missed by inches, and that failure contributed to the poor field position that plagued the team throughout the first half. Later in the game they faked a kick from their own end zone and completed a successful screen pass that brought them way up the field. No one knew the last time a Bryant team passed from the end zone.
But all in all, the gambles misfired. Georgia Tech intercepted four passes, and the first led to Tech's only touchdown. Mike McNames intercepted on the Alabama 40 and ran the ball back to the 16. Two plays later he rammed over for the score, and a successful kick for the extra point made it 7-0. Alabama scored its only touchdown in the fourth period, after a Georgia Tech misplay on a punt try gave Alabama the ball on the Tech nine. On the extra point Bryant gambled again, disdaining a kick for one point and a tie and electing instead to rush for a two-pointer. It failed. Later Bryant said, "There was no question; we had to go for the two points. It was my call and I'll take the blame, but when you're number one in the country you don't play for the tie."
With little over a minute left, Alabama drove down to the Tech 14, within field-goal distance. But in an attempt to get just a little closer, Namath bounced a pass out of a receiver's hands and it was intercepted by Tech's Don Toner. That was the end, for the clock soon ran out. Dodd said, "This is the greatest victory I've ever been associated with." The spectators, most of them Georgia Tech fans, left the stadium still tingling with the excitement of the game.
Despite the close score and the fact of the upset and the stunning switch in Alabama's strategy, the most significant statistics to come out of the game were the yards lost to penalties. Georgia Tech was penalized exactly 20 yards. Alabama was penalized exactly 10. Repeat: 10.
This gentle note almost certainly was the result of the Holt-Graning incident, which last year shocked the Southeastern Conference into awareness of a trend that is still spreading elsewhere in the nation: the degeneration of college football into a primitive battle of raw strength and attrition instead of a contest of athletic skills. Before the 1962 season began, Southeastern Conference Commissioner Bernie Moore had warned conference coaches and officials to crack down on rough play. His concern reflected that of other curators of college football—that the game was getting dirtier and dirtier and that rough play was being excused because it came under the guise of "hard-nosed football." But the incidence of serious injury was way up (one clinical survey showed that head and neck injuries had increased 82.5% in four years, and deaths in high school and college ball seemed to be in the headlines almost every week). Even the nomenclature of football tactics—"spearing" and "goring" and "shivering" and "gang-tackling"—was beginning to sound like something out of a West Side Story rumble. Not all of these tactics (right) are specifically authorized by the rule book but not all are clear and evident violations of the rules, and even Woody Hayes of Ohio State, renowned as a football purist, is an advocate of some of them.