There were hints of that last week when Bryant rightly prophesied that "mistakes will decide this game." ABC made the first one when it scheduled the game for prime time only to find that it would be bucking heads with NBC's offering of My Fair Lady. So, pulling strings again, ABC rescheduled the kickoff for the odd hour of 5:35 p.m. "As cute as Bear Bryant is," said one ABC operative, "he can't match Audrey Hepburn."
Collaring the referees before the game, Bryant tried to make certain that his young squad would not be rattled by Tiger Stadium, a notorious arena that has justifiably been dubbed Death Valley. No delay-of-game calls were made against the crowd but it was not for their want of trying. With the Southeastern Conference title at stake and both teams flaunting unblemished records, the playing conditions were, as one 'Bama player described them, "downright hellacious."
There were smoke bombs, Roman candles, barrages of oranges and, above all, an almost constant ear-thumping roar that was augmented by Mike III, a huge Bengal tiger that was strategically posted at the gate through which the visiting team must pass to enter the playing field. "Don't pay him no attention," Bear told his players. "He's as old as I am."
It was Alabama, however, who took the Tigers by the tail in the first half. One of the top 10 teams in scoring, rushing, total offense and total defense, Alabama must also lead in the unofficial category of total depth. Shuttling 70 or more players into each game, Bryant this year achieved a battering effect on opposing teams.
Something had to give and, after LSU held Alabama to a standoff in the first period, a hurried Tiger handoff went astray and 'Bama Tackle Mike Raines, who was a tidal force unto himself all night long, pounced on the ball on the LSU 19. Then Quarterback Gary Rutledge, a rangy redhead who looks like Huck Finn in hip pads, made a beautifully deceptive fake into the line and peeled off on a keeper to score easily.
Rutledge caught the Tiger defense out of sync again a few minutes later when he sucked in the safety with a running fake and flipped a pass to a very lonely tight end, George Pugh, who loped into the end zone for a 49-yard scoring play. LSU's third and last critical error came in the third quarter when Tiger Cornerback Mike Williams fell while covering 'Bama's Wayne Wheeler and the fleet split end easily turned the pass play into a 77-yard touchdown.
Down 21-0 early in the fourth quarter, LSU and the denizens of Tiger Stadium came alive again on a rampaging drive led by Quarterback Mike Miley, a scrambler who prefers to bang up the middle rather than seek the solace of the sidelines. Starting on his 18, Miley quickly took the Tigers 42 yards and then called on Tailback Brad Davis, a squat, low-flying power runner who was the leading rusher for the evening with 143 yards, to apply the finishing touch.
Breaking over left guard, Davis ran smack into a gang mugging but then somehow came out the other side and went 40 yards for a touchdown. LSU threatened once more but sophomore Alabama Linebacker Woodrow Lowe, who Bryant feels is better than Lee Roy Jordan was during his college years, added an interception to his 11 solo tackles to ensure a 21-7 Alabama victory.
Afterward, Bryant and McClendon slipped back into their routine. "I'm tickled to death to win from Cholly Mac," said the Bear. "He's taught me a lot. I always try to learn from my best boys."
McClendon was characteristically more demonstrative. Sipping a beer, he said, "Dagburn it! The program says that 'Bama center is 223 pounds. Why, his one damn leg weighs 223. It just doesn't seem proper that 'Bama gets all those good folks who like to play. But I'll tell you something, the best one of 'em all is old Bear himself."