No. 1-ranked Alabama used its quick, angry defense and a third-try field goal tonight to win its 18th straight college football game, a 3-0 masterpiece in frustration over Louisiana State University.
"We just weren't good enough," Charlie McClendon said to Bear Bryant, the pupil to his old teacher, the LSU coach to the Alabama coach, the man fired to the man whose teams got him fired.
"Cholly Mac, I'm so sorry," said Bryant, who coached McClendon 30 years ago and now has beaten his LSU teams nine straight years, a dominance that was a factor in LSU firing McClendon.
"You've done a great job," Bryant said when the men met at midfield in a chilly, misting rain that fell all night long, lending a touch of melancholy to the coaches' last such meeting.
"You're No. 1, Babe," McClendon said, and Bryant said, "You gave us all we could handle."
For only the fourth time in this decade, Alabama did not score a touchdown in a game. After falling on 28-yard and39-yard field goal attempts in the first half, Alabama kicker Alan McElroy finally hit a 27-yarder midway through the third quarter.
The three points might as well have been 300, the way Alabama's defense worked. Unless Bryant put himself in at cornerback, LSU was not going to score tonight. LSU never moved into Alabama's end of the field in the second half.
And when LSU so much as suggested that it might, maybe, perhaps do something on offense, here came the Alabama defenders to stop that nonsense. They made two pass interceptions midway in the fourth quarter, both interceptions remarkable displays of effort, concentration and poise under attack.
Because LSU's defense wasn't so bad itself -- "When you hold a No.1 team without a touchdown, you've got some pluses," McClendon said -- Alabama was vulnerable to one big play, one play that might produce a long touchdown and ruin the Tide's dream of a second straight national championship.
LSU suggested such a play with seven minutes to go.
LSU quarterback Steve Ensminger, after two straight passes good for 25 yards had moved the Tigers to their 46-yard line, was emboldened to try a third straight, this one a little lob over the left side of the line.
As the ball floated through the rain toward an LSU receiver with running room, most of the 73,708 zealots in Tiger Stadium imagined success.
But here came that Alabama defense. A cornerback named Mike Clements, with his back turned to the quarterback, made a running, reaching, stretching grab of the football for an interception that, of course, was impossible -- impossible if we believe Bear Bryant, that is, for only three days ago Bryant told us Clements was crippled up so bad he couldn't play this week.
Five times tonight, Alabama's 38-point-a-game offense moved inside the LSU 30-yard line, three times getting within 11 yards of the end zone. All it produced were McElroy's three kicks, a lost fumble and a sack on fourth down -- that sack giving LSU the ball at its 40 with 5 minutes 19 seconds to go.
Ensminger again suggested a miracle.
A long pass, perfectly thrown, bounced off a receiver's chest, incomplete. But maybe LSU is a good offensive team, scoring 26 points a game on 362 yards offense. All it needed now, with Alabama there for the taking, were 60 yards.
Ensminger put up a screen pass to Hokie Gajan. It was good for 10 yards to midfield.
His next pass was too high. it bounced off Gajan's hands, bouncing crazily away in the middle, falling to the ground incomplete -- almost.
It, too, was intercepted. Here come defensive back Jim Bob Harris in perfect position to defend against Gajan, glued to the receiver's number. And then Harris was quick enough and drilled well enough in those deflection drills that seem so useless in practice to dive away from Gajan in time to catch the football a fact off the wet grass.
That interception was impossible, too, for Harris, like Clements, was so crippled up, to use Bryant's phrase, he would be lucky to make the trip here. Of 10 players that Bryant early in the week said wre crippled up, seven played major roles tonight, the most conspicuous being running back major Ogilvie [13 carries, 78 yards].
"Let me tell you, fellas, the Major was over there," said McClendon who knows the Bear's weekly lamentations are so much motivational hokum. "I hope you never believe all that, because we sure don't."
After the second interception by a walking cripple, LSU offered no further suggestion that Alabama would not win its 22nd straight Southeastern Conference game, a record. For Bryant, the victory was his 100th in this decade, an unprecedented accomplishment.
With quarterback Steadman Shealy carrying 25 times for 92 yards, Alabama gained 252 yards rushing. It passed only eight times, completing two for 26 yards for a toral offense nearly 100 yards under its season's average.