After suffering through one dismal season after another in the mid-50’s, including a winless 1956, Alabama fans were overjoyed when before the beginning of the 1958 season, Paul “Bear” Bryant spoke 12 words that they’d been waiting to hear for well over a decade:
“Momma called. And when Momma calls, you just have to come runnin.’ ”
With those words, Bryant took over the coaching reins at his beloved Tuscaloosa alma mater, and the improvement was immediate. First year: More wins (5) than the Tide had seen over the past three years combined. Second year: 7 wins, a Liberty Bowl appearance, and a shutout over defending National Champion Auburn.
So with two seasons of rapid improvement under their belts, the Tide then faced a brutal test in its 1960 opener at Legion Field, drawing 5th ranked Georgia in what was the first football game ever to be nationally televised by ABC. The Bulldogs had slammed the Tide in the previous year’s opener, en route to a 10-1 season that ended with 8 straight wins and a triumph over Missouri in the Orange Bowl.
But this year was going to be different, as the Georgians were to discover once the second quarter began. With little 168-pound Billy Richardson outgaining the Bulldogs in rushing all by himself, the Tide struck for three quick touchdowns on two runs by quarterback Tommy Skelton and another by halfback Tommy White. And that was all that Bama needed. Georgia’s future Hall of Fame quarterback “Francis” (Fran) Tarkenon was shut down completely whenever the Bulldogs got within range of the goal line, managing to pass for but a lone touchdown as the final buzzer sounded to end the game, as Alabama won it 21-6. .
With this inspirational win under their belts, the Tide went on to a fine eight-win season that ended with Bryant’s first bowl game victory as an Alabama coach. And that was just the beginning. In 1961, the Tide ran the table from start to finish, ending with a perfect 11-0 season and the first of the Bear’s six National Championships. And opponents all over the country were heard to be crying the once and eternal lament: “In Alabama, it’s better to bear the Cross than cross the Bear.”
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