Last Saturday afternoon, when Alabama Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant walked into the dressing room full of hysterical-beyond-bonkers football players to say a few words, the place fell instantly silent. Bryant didn't ask for it; his presence demanded it. After all, The Legend was paying a call. "You are deserving of more than you got today," said the always soft-spoken Bryant. "You should have won by more."
These were ordinary words, something any coach might say to his players—except that Bear was standing in the Mississippi State University dressing room talking not to his boys but to the team that had just beaten his boys. Yes, Mississippi State. The Bulldogs had defeated the seemingly invincible and No. l-ranked Crimson Tide before 50,891 spectators in Mississippi Memorial Stadium at Jackson. It was the largest college football crowd ever in Mississippi. Alabama hadn't been beaten since Sept. 23, 1978, when Southern California did it. The Tide had won 28 straight games, the longest streak in the nation. It was the first time in 22 years that Mississippi State had whipped 'Bama. Indeed, only three members of the State team were even alive when the last State victory over the Tide occurred.
The Mississippi State win was the centerpiece of a wild, whacky—and if your loyalties lay with the underdogs—wonderful weekend in college football, the craziest in memory. Never had the top two teams been defeated on the same day so late in the regular season, but it came to pass when second-ranked UCLA was dumped 23-17 by Arizona. And there was more. Sixth-ranked North Carolina was put to sleep by Oklahoma 41-7, and No. 10 Baylor was humiliated 30-22 by San Jose State. All four losers had been undefeated.
Indeed, among the undefeated and untied, only Notre Dame and Georgia survived. The Irish, perhaps the best in the nation at being prepared for every game, trounced Navy 33-0. For its part, Georgia had its hands full with South Carolina. The loser's George Rogers, a Heisman Trophy candidate, fumbled on the Bulldog 16 with 5:18 remaining to allow Georgia to hang on to a precarious 13-10 lead that was the final score.
To get back to shockeroo No. 1, Alabama was, well, generally inept, while Mississippi State was primed. The end of the game will be discussed over many a whiskey and branch water. In the final 2:13, the Tide, down 6-3, drove 50 yards to the State three-yard line. With 15 seconds left, senior Quarterback Don Jacobs tried to circle right end, and was jarred by End Tyrone Keys. Jacobs fumbled, and the other State end, Billy Jackson, pounced on the ball. To end the game, right? Wrong.
The Bulldogs still had to run out the last six seconds. Quarterback John Bond, a freshman who had played brilliantly, especially in the second half, fumbled the snap, and in a world-class scramble his fullback, Donald Ray King, recovered—on the State one-half yard line. "The victory belongs to us just like the ball belongs to me," exulted King afterward. "We beat Alabama. They were No. 1, so now we are No. 1." Not quite. Notre Dame is now No. 1, but State, at 7-2, suddenly is getting more than polite smiles from the bowl people.
Among the many State heroes was sophomore Kicker Dana Moore, who scored all the winners' points with field goals of 37 and 22 yards. "It's sort of funny," he said, "knowing I'll never have a better moment in my life." He and a good many others. An absolutely lights-out defense held Alabama, which had been rushing for an average of 349.3 yards per game, to 116.
No one in the land is a better loser than Bryant, perhaps because he has had so little practice at it. Looking every bit his 67 years, he said, "I thought we would win the game at the end. Not beat anybody, because they beat us in every way, but win the game. We were beaten badly. They literally shut down our offense. They were better coached than us. Maybe the Lord planned it this way." He did grouse a bit about crowd noise preceding the fumble, but not for long, saying, "Mississippi State took it to us and whipped us soundly."
Fear not, the Tide will roll again. Said Defensive End E.J. Junior, "After all, we are Alabama, which means we can win and lose with class." In his own team's locker room, amid the clutter of tape and soda pop cans, Bryant said of his players, "I am proud of them, because they are mine." As for State Coach Emory Bellard, he just glowed and said, "This was my sweetest win. I would flat-out put a 10 on this team."
Arizona Coach Larry Smith felt much the same about his squad. The truth is, though, that the Wildcats have lacked bite this year; they were 2-4 before UCLA came to town. Arizona had lost to Southern Cal and Notre Dame and figured to get trounced by the undefeated Bruins, who in their 32-9 victory over Cal the previous week looked as if they were on the verge of becoming a super team.