The 1981 season came in the twilight of what was, until Nick Saban came along, the greatest college football coaching career of all-time. Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant had dominated the sport in the 60s and 70s, amassing six national championships over the two decades, and entered the ‘81 season needing nine wins to break the NCAA wins record of 314, held for 35 years by the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg.
Ever focused on the task at hand, Bryant would hear none of it.
‘All this talk about Bryant closing in on this record or that record bores the hell out of me,’ said the Bear. ‘We aren’t playing to set records. We are just playing to win games. That’s what matters.
‘Players go out there and win the games, not coaches. They’re not out there playing for me, Paul Bryant. They play for their parents, their sweethearts and the University of Alabama.’
Still, heading into the Auburn game only one win away from the record added some fuel to the fire. Former Alabama WR and later head coach of South Alabama Joey Jones recalled the atmosphere.
“All the guys coach Bryant had coached over the years came back for that game,” Jones said. “It was really getting to meet those guys and see what they meant to coach Bryant and what coach Bryant meant to them, that’s really what I remember more than the game. That whole week was incredible.”
The game was closer than Alabama fans hoped. Auburn led late, but a TD pass from QB Walter Lewis and a 15 yard TD scamper from Linnie Patrick sealed a 28-17 victory and made Bryant the all time winningest coach in college football history. Bryant has since been passed by Bobby Bowden, Eddie Robinson and Joe Paterno, though none of those matched Bryant’s six national titles or .780 win percentage.
Enjoy highlights of this historic victory below.
We are now 40 days from kickoff.