They weren't chanting "No 1" here today. With seven minutes to play and Alabama leading Auburn, 28-17, thanks to two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the disciples of the Bear set up a chant never before heard in college football. They sang out, "315. . . 315. . . 315."
Paul (Bear) Bryant's 24th Alabama football team gave him his 315th coaching victory today in 37 years of trying. He now has left behind Amos Alonzo Stagg, who needed 57 seasons for 314 victories. Now 9-1.1 this season, fourth-ranked Alabama also has a shot at Bryant's seventh national championship if it can beat Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
After hearing of Penn State's upset of top-rated Pitt today, Bryant said, "Well, everybody ranked high is in a bowl. Watching us at times today, you'd foreget about us. On the other hand, we had some bright spots, and if we do well, you never know what will happen. We're worthy of a little attention.
If so, it's only because the Crimson Tide played well at the end. Most of today Alabama resembled "a bunch of guys playing their little brothers or cousins, like they were scared of hurting them." Those would be fightin' words in this fierce intrastate rivalry, except it was Bear Bryant saying them.
With 10 1/2 minutes left, Auburn, a 5-5 team, seemed ready to beat Alabama for the first time since 1972. Auburn led, 17-14. Alabama had thrown an interception and fumbled four times, twice in a row dropping punts to give Auburn its last 10 points. The distressing thought: If Bryant didn't win, and then lost to Texas in the Cotton Bowl, this 315 watch might go on until next fall.
Bennie Perrin, a 'Bama defensive back, said everyone considered that dread possibility. "Everytime we lined up in the third and fourth quarter, we would say in the huddle, 'We can't give up, this is for 315 and the record.'"
"It got to th point where we were very nervous," said Jesse Bendross, a wide receiver who caught two touchdown passes, one on a play called "X-whoopie" and the other a 38-yarder for a dramatic score that gave 'Bama a 21-17 lead with 10 minutes to go. Only three minutes later, Lennie Patrick's 15-yard touchdown run convinced Tide loyalists in the frenzied 78,170 here the historic deed was done.
They had good reason to hold off that long. Auburn botched four scoring opportunities in the first half, three times missing field goals and once throwing a first-down interception from the Alabama eight-yard line. And when Al Del Greco kicked a 19-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, Auburn's defense seemed capable of protecting the 17-14 lead.
Led by nose guard Ben Thomas, Auburn limited Alabama's 400-yards-a-game offense to 152 yards the first three quarters.
Alabama scored first on quarterback Alan Gray's one-yard dive set up by his 62-yard sprint around left end. Auburn made it 7-7 on George Peoples' 63-yard run past a 'Bama linebacker.
On Alabama's "X-whoopie" Bendross circles behind the line and takes a shovel pass from Ken Coley. He flew 26 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, saying, "As a wide-out, it's scary to be back there with those big guys. So I took off."
Auburn again came back, to 14-all on Lionel James' two-yard run.That one was set up when Alabama punt returner Joey Jones dropped a kick, allowing it to be batted to the two and recovered by Chuck Clanton.
Del Greco's 19-yard field goal came after Jones dropped Auburn's next punt, too.
With that 17-14 lead, Auburn's defense, so good all day, suddenly disappeared -- or was made invisible by a wonderful Alabama offensive maneuver.
On first down from Auburn's 38, quarterback Walter Lewis set wide receiver Bendross at tight end. All day Bendross had run outside patterns. This time he faked defender Mark Dorminey outside and broke to the middle.
Lewis' pass arrived 10 yards ahead of the Auburn defender. Alabama led, 21-17.
On its next possession, Alabama again scored quickly, Patrick going 32 yards to set up his 15-yard touchdown with 7:07 to play.
The 'Bama fans took to singing.