On the day before his Sugar Bowl showdown with Penn State, Bear Bryant breakfasted in the elegant refuge of his hotel suite high above New Orleans on a floppy-looking egg-and-bacon sandwich (brought up in a brown paper bag) and coffee in a Styrofoam cup. Between swallows the Bear was saying that if there was one thing you could be sure of about his Alabama defense it was that you couldn't be sure of his Alabama defense. It had been great at times and unsound at times, and that's "not recommended" when you play the No. 1 team in the nation, one that had not lost in 19 games.
Bear noted that the Tide defense had been hurt a lot. That it had been particularly slowed in the secondary by those injuries, and by, well, being slow in the secondary. And that it was about to go under the gun against a quarterback, Penn State's Chuck Fusina, whom Coach Joe Paterno called the best passer he ever had. The situation fairly cried out for a dedicated, if not wild-eyed, pass rush, and "rushing the passer is the thing we do worst," said Bryant.
As for the Alabama fans who were establishing themselves as No. 1 in whoops and hollers downstairs in the hotel and up and down Bourbon Street, Bryant said he wished they'd be quiet until after the game.
Well, Bear, you can come down now and join the merry group. And bring the defense with you. On second thought, have them bring you.
In about as thorough a demonstration of defensive scratch-and-harry as you'll ever see, one that Bryant himself said was not excelled by any team he ever had (that is 34 years of teams), the Crimson Tide not only shut Fusina down and almost out, it rushed him to such distraction that even when he was not particularly hurried he looked hurried.
The result, in a game so filled with exquisite pressure that the record Sugar Bowl crowd of 76,824 never seemed to stop yelling, was a 14-7 Alabama victory that should bring Bryant a record fifth national championship, all at Alabama. Without any question it brought to a crushing climax Penn State's dreams for a first national title.
Fusina had the kind of day Mal Moore, the Alabama offensive coordinator, says he sometimes dreams about when he is off his feed. A day when nothing works, when no matter what you try, it ends up looking about as good as day-old spaghetti.
The stunting, blitzing, looping Alabama defenders were coordinated by Assistant Head Coach Ken Donahue, whom Bryant took care to thank afterward. Donahue is a stoical genius who stalks the halls of the Alabama coaches' office at all hours and wears a double-brimmed fishing cap to practice, and it was his strategy that suffocated the Penn State running game. The Nittany Lions had minus yardage in the first half, a net plus-19 overall.
When Fusina handed off, Ends Wayne Hamilton and E.J. Junior, Tackles Marty Lyons and Byron Braggs, Middle Guard Curtis McGriff and Linebackers Rickey Gilliland and Barry Krauss took turns stuffing his runners like a sausage. The longest scrimmage gain Penn State ball carriers could muster in the first half was a 10-yard blast by Fullback Matt Suhey. That was dishearteningly negated on the next play when a 32-yard pass to Tailback Mike Guman was called back on an illegal-motion penalty.
When Fusina passed—or tried to—these same gentlemen generally clogged his sinuses, and interfered with his vital processes, and sacked him five times for a total loss of 70 yards. When he did get the ball upfield, there was the rest of that slow, small and underesteemed secondary of Don McNeal, Allen Crumbley, Murray Legg and Jim Bob Harris (a mere freshman, old Jim Bob), picking off passes—four in all. The hardest-nosed heroes of the defense were Krauss and McNeal, who literally knocked themselves out for the cause.