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88 Days ‘Til Alabama Football: The 1964 defense carries the Tide to a national title

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1964 started the heart of the Bear Dynasty

Joe Namath Bear Bryant
These two were pretty good too.

Coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant’s first national title came in 1961, his 5th year at the University. However, it was the 1964 team that began the heart of a 15-year dynasty that would cement Bryant’s legacy as one of the best ever as Alabama won five national titles in that span — and that doesn’t include maybe the best team of the bunch, the undefeated, untied Missing Ring team of 1966.

For Alabama to succeed in 1964, the Tide would have to rely upon its defense. Although, it didn’t look like that would be the case after its September schedule concluded. No. 3 Alabama was 3-0 (2-0 SEC) and had walloped its opponents 91-9. The Tide’s offense was potent and stacked with NFL-calibre talent: 7 players on that side of the ball eventually went on to play professionally. Among the players Alabama had was a senior quarterback who was rapidly becoming a national star, and a junior who would join him the the pros a year later.

But, in what would be the first of many injuries, QB Joe Namath went down in the 4th game of the season against NC State with a “twisted knee.” That other pretty good player was on the bench though, and Steve Sloan rallied the Tide to victory that game. Sloan would play most of the Third Saturday the next week, until he was relieved by Namath late in the 4th quarter. And, so it would go throughout the season, as Namath and Sloan spot-started and rotated starts and playing time as injury, style of play, and game situation necessitated.

Despite running a two-quarterback system, going 8-deep at running back, and having 11 future NFL/AFL players, the offense just never clicked. Alabama finished the season averaging a meager 22.7 points per game. It turned out the offense didn’t even need that output to win.

The 1964 defense was in the process of building momentum from the recruiting gains that 1961 brought. It wasn’t the most star-studded roster Alabama ever fielded, nor are there many household names on the 1964 squad, nor was it a group as decorated as ‘61 or ‘66. But, led by four quiet future pro players on the front seven, they were a consistent bunch — just good enough to beat elite teams close and more than talented enough to pummel average ones.

And, this is a story of talent. As with all Alabama teams, the dynasty began in earnest with the payoff in recruiting: 1964 marked the pinnacle of Bryant’s first few outstanding classes. By 1964, the Tide defense enjoyed the luxury of reloading year after year, mixing in one upperclassman All-American after another, en route to almost two decades of dominance.

Through their 10 game regular season, the Tide had held their foes to a ridiculous 67 points. Eight of Alabama’s opponents were held to single digits. Two of them didn’t score at all. All told, opposing offenses mustered just 12 touchdowns all season — and three of them came in the finale against Texas after Alabama had already been crowned the AP national champion. Finally, the Tide allowed just six touchdowns to teams in the Top 10, with Texas accounting for half of that number.

Oh, sure, teams could and did throw the first punch throughout the season, but that simply woke Alabama up. And you did not want to wake ‘Bama up. Teams facing Bryant’s beast only scored 35 combined points in the second half.

The rest, as they say, is history.

88.

That is the number of points the 1964 Alabama Crimson Tide surrendered; and, to the relief of an injured sputtering offense, it was thing of beauty.

88 Days ‘til Alabama football.

Roll Tide