Thanks to some outstanding feedback in the comments section over the weekend — good comes of civil discourse, peeps! — I started digging into as much about the 1961 and 1962 Alabama defense as I could find.
Let’s just say those Crimson Tide defenses were something else. Not exactly the most eloquent descriptor, I realize, but I’m not entirely certain an adjective that accurately conveys Alabama’s defensive dominance in this era exists. With that in mind, I turn it over to Will Ferrell, portraying the great James Lipton:
In 1961, the Alabama defense yielded all of 25 points the entire campaign. Here’s a snapshot that runs through the most important facts and figures:
Featured in the above clip is linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, whose professional resume as a member of the Dallas Cowboys is exemplary: All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowler, NFC Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl champion. Before flourishing in the NFL, Jordan captained arguably the two greatest defenses in college football history.
Jordan is small by the linebacker standards of virtually any era post-World War II, weighing around 210 pounds — though Loran Smith quotes former Cowboys vice president of personnel Gil Brandt as saying: “The way he went all out, he probably weighed 200 pounds by the end of the game.”
That can happen with a player who works sideline-to-sideline and the length of the field, as head coach Bear Bryant said: “He would have made every tackle on every play if they had stayed in bounds.”
Put simply, Bryant believed Jordan was, “the best college linebacker - bar none.”
His illustrious career with the Alabama defense culminated in a 17-0 shutout of Oklahoma in the 1963 Orange Bowl, which President John F. Kennedy attended, just days after he and his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, addressed the Cuban Invasion Brigade in the venerable Orange Bowl Stadium.
The Orange Bowl website describes Jordan meeting Kennedy before kickoff, and, perhaps inspired by his interaction with the Commander-in-Chief, Jordan recorded 31 tackles to help the Crimson Tide upend legendary Bud Wilkinson.
The ’61 and ’62 Alabama defenses cultivated their tough-nosed style in the demanding practice environment Bryant was, and still is, renowned for. Jordan explained to Tim Gayle of the Montgomery Advertiser last fall:
Coach Bryant, when he got here, had a lot of guys that were willing to work hard, as he wanted them to. It was kind of like ‘Junction Boys’ all over again in Tuscaloosa, except we were right there behind the workout room. We got dressed and went right out to the field. We had a chain-link fence about 10 feet tall. They locked the gate and he worked us until he found out which ones wanted to play and which ones would be willing to put out 110 percent every play.
Practicing behind a 10-feet chain-link fence in the Southern heat sounds as much Longest Yard as it does Junction Boys. Either way, it manifested in the Alabama defense taking out serious frustration on opponents.
Interestingly, neither the 1961 nor 1962 Alabama defense gets much love from today’s retrospective. For example, Saturdays Down South put together this list of the best dozen defenses in SEC history, which includes such notables as 1922 Vanderbilt and 2014 Ole Miss.
I can’t point fingers; in compiling my column on Triple Crown-caliber feats in college football, I featured the 1944 Army Black Knights, which allowed 35 points all season. Army’s 504 points scored made it one of the most dominant all-around teams ever, but in researching great defenses of the past for that column, I found very little on ’61-’62 Alabama.
Kudos to the readers for prompting the preceding.