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Countdown to Kickoff: 60 years ago, Bear Bryant won the first of six national championships

The 1961 season marked the beginning of a pretty good run.

1961 National Champions

60 years ago, Alabama fans witnessed the beginning of an incredible run.

Bear Bryant was hired in 1958 and steadily improved the Tide in each of his first three seasons. Alabama went from 2-7 the year before he was hired to 5-4-1 then to 7-2-2 and then to 8-1-2 in 1960, with a third place finish in the SEC, the Tide’s best since winning the conference in 1953.

The 1961 season really got the party rolling, however. Here’s how Bryant described histeam (I’m pulling this from quoting from C.J. Schexnayder’s excellent piece from the 50th anniversary, which I highly recommend everyone reading for a more in-depth look at the 1961 season):

“In 1961 we had the best team in college football. Not the biggest, but the best,” Bryant recalled in his autobiography. “We certainly weren’t very big, and we got a lot of attention for that over the next few years. We did not deliberately go out looking for smaller players in those days, but we demanded quickness and it usually came in smaller packages. Bigness is in the heart, anyways.”

The Tide opened the season dominant 32-6 beatdown of the Bulldogs in Georgia. If you’d like to see Bryant discussing it during his weekly show with some clips of the game, well, here you go.

The following week, Alabama shut out Tulane 9-0. That would be the Tide’s closest margin of victory until the Sugar Bowl against #9 Arkansas, and it was the first of six shutouts that season.

The Third Saturday in October was not one of those shutouts, but the 34-3 final score came close. This was Alabama’s first win over the Volunteers since 1954, and the Tide would not lose to Tennessee until 1967. Here’s Bryant again.

Alabama went on the road to play Houston the following week and blanked the Cougars 17-0. That was the start of five straight shutouts to close the regular season. The Alabama defense went 25 straight quarters without allowing a point, from Tennessee’s field goal in the first quarter to Arkansas’ field goal in the third quarter of the Sugar Bowl.

During the run of shutouts, the Tide outscored their opponents 151-0, capped by a 34-0 crushing of Auburn.

Alabama finished the regular season 10-0 and were SEC co-champions with LSU (who did play one fewer conference game). The Tide finished #1 in the AP and Coaches’ Polls - aided by TCU, who tied with then #3 Ohio State to open the season and beat then #1 Texas late in the year - and were the consensus national champions. Alabama capped the year by beating Arkansas 10-3 in the Sugar Bowl.

The 1961 season was the first of six national championships and the first of three undefeated seasons for Bear Bryant at Alabama.

We are now 60 days from kickoff.

Roll Tide.