Entering the 1980s, despite being one of the sport’s century-long blue bloods, Alabama had been tormented by some of its notable counterparts in the midwest and southwest; especially two notable two teams — the Texas Longhorns and Notre Dame. We will cover Texas eventually, but let’s take a look at the Tide’s record of futility against its primary competitor for the sport’s all-time king of the roost: the Fighting Irish.
The two dynasties met four times in the 1970s, and no matter the environment (two neutral sites, one home, one away), no matter the stakes (national titles on the line), and no matter how hard fought, the Crimson Tide found itself on the losing end all four times — and all by a touchdown or less. And, this says nothing of the bad blood engendered by the 1966 Missing Ring teams.
Paul Bryant’s inability to come up with that one extra score against Ara Parseghian, to notch a victory over the Irish (and particularly that heart-rending 1973 game,) remains one of the few black marks on his otherwise legendary career.
Fast forward to a sunny October 4th in 1986: Paul Bryant had passed away, Ray Perkins was the head coach, and the Crimson Tide had the undefeated No. 2 team in the nation led by a nasty defense, a stout running game, and a passing game that was highly underrated. Having just dismantled No. 13 Florida in the Swamp, the Tide turned their eyes to Birmingham and one of their most frustrating intersectional rivals foes: the Fighting Irish.
The game, as it would turn out, was a complete mismatch. Lou Holtz’s first Irish squad was not prepared for the hell that rained down on them that day. The final score (28-10) is nowhere near as memorable as a play that now lives in Alabama lore — when Cornelius Bennett separated Steve Beuerlein’s body from his soul in a hit so vicious and iconic it would simply come to be known as “the sack.”
To the surprise of no one, Beuerlein doesn’t recall much about that play or the afternoon that followed. I’ve never been able to figure out the exact play that Lou Holtz called that day. It does look like the line was blocking for a play-action trap, and Beuerlein was rolling out to the weakside on a waggle. The 16-year NFL veteran swears there was no missed block on Bennett. But, it’s hard to believe that No. 55’s scheme actually called for a clean release of the OLB towards his unprotected quarterback on a rollout. No, it looks like he just got flat-out whipped by Biscuit, and before Beuerlein could even get his head all the way up, he was met by one Alabama’s legendary heavy hitters.
Veteran offensive linemen and quarterbacks know this as a “lookout”-block. All the lineman can do is yell “lookout” and hope that someone doesn’t killed (unless, of course, your goal is knock your own quarterback out of the game...and that’s not at all unheard of.)
So, for the quarterback on the receiving end, no one seems to recall much about that play. But, around here, it is a hit will literally never be forgotten — two decades of frustration avenged with one devastating blow. The first win over hated Notre Dame? In a blowout at Legion Field? The punishment administered by a collegiate and NFL Hall of Famer?
Nope. That’s never going to be forgotten.
99 Days until Football Season.