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2006: The 40th Anniversary of the 1966 National Championship Controversy

Most preseason polls I've seen have Notre Dame ranked #1 or #2 and only has them ranked below #4 out of the polls I've looked over so far. The fires of the Charlie Weis and Brady Quinn fanboy lovefests have been raging from coast to coast despite the fact that ND hasn't won a bowl game since the 1993 season.

The buzz over the Irish has gotten me thinking about "The Narrative" and how the media can drive perception and script the national title race (assuming that the chosen teams do their part by winning.) One need only look at Auburn in 2004 to see that you can find yourself on the outside looking in if you aren't part of the preseason script.

2006 marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most bizarre national championship races in the history of college football. It was a championship race where the script was changed, even though the lead actors played their parts perfectly.

The year was 1966. The Alabama Crimson Tide football team had just come off of two extremely successful seasons. In 1964, a 10-1 Alabama squad won both the AP & UPI National Championships. In 1965, a 9-1-1 Bama team won the AP trophy once again.

The 1966 season saw Alabama start the year ranked #1 in the preseason AP poll (Michigan State started the year #2 and Notre Dame at #6). The Crimson Tide didn't play their first game until Week 2 of the season though and they were dropped to #3 in the polls after Week 1. Despite the fact that they kept winning, Alabama dropped to #4 in the polls on multiple occasions.

On November 19, 1966 #1 Notre Dame and #2 Michigan State played in what has since been dubbed "The Game of the Century." The slugfest ended in a 10-10 tie. Particularly significant (not to mention disappointing) was Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian's decision to run the clock out with over a minute left and possession of the ball on his own 30. Instead of going for the win, he played for the tie confident that if they beat USC the following week that a 9-0-1 record would bring the Irish the national title. ND shellacked USC 51-0 and had the trophy in their hands shortly thereafter.

Likes to kiss his sister apparently.

1966 was the first and only year that a team was ranked #1 in the preseason poll, went undefeated and untied, yet didn't win the national championship. Alabama didn't even finish second; they wound up #3, their peak position after the preseason poll. Being defending national champions for two years, having a #1 preseason ranking, an 11-0 record, outscoring your opponents 301-44, and having six shutouts apparently didn't count for much back in 1966.

Bear Bryant had this to say about the 1966 championship:

"First of all, I do not question what other coaches do, because I don't know what their plan might be. But everything we do at Alabama is based on winning. If I directed our team to go for a tie late, I believe they would be disappointed in me, I would not be practicing what I preach."

Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty had this to say when his undefeated team was overtaken by Notre Dame after Week 5 of the season:

"I?ve always thought the object of the game was to win. Apparently they expect more of us."

If that was true for Michigan State, it was even more true for Alabama.

The 1966 Alabama team is the subject of a forthcoming book that will be released on August 22nd titled:

The Missing Ring : How Bear Bryant and the 1966 Alabama Crimson Tide Were Denied College Football's Most Elusive Prize.

Cornelius Bennett channeled 20 years of Alabama frustration with Notre Dame into one sublime hit in Alabama's 1986 victory over ND.