The most important game in Southern football history

While the reputation of football south of the Mason-Dixon line had been creeping gradually upward by the mid-1920s, at the end of 1925 there had yet to be a signature moment that could prove to Yankee skeptics that any Dixie eleven could compete with the powerhouses of the northeast, the midwest, and the west coast. So when the Pasadena Rose Bowl committee looked for a suitable opponent for the mighty Washington Huskies to kick off the 1926 New Year, its first choice was the unbeaten Dartmouth Indians, who swept through eight opponents by an average score of 43-3.

Fortunately for everyone, the Dartmouth team declined the invitation. Too many miles, they said. Hearing this, a former student manager named Champ Pickens signed the unsuspecting Alabama governor’s name to a telegram to the Rose Bowl Committee that read, “If you are interested in a real opponent for your West Coast football team, then give Alabama serious consideration.”

And when the committee took up the “Governor’s challenge, Wallace Wade’s team in turn took about two minutes to accept the invitation and set out on a five-day train trip to Pasadena, embarking on a crusade to put Alabama football on the national map.

It wasn’t an easy game. The Tide gave up the first two scores, and at halftime they found themselves camped on a collection of crimson blankets set up in the end zone, trailing by a 13-0 count. But then coach Wade channeled his inner Knute Rockne, and fired up his troops by telling them that the late general Robert E. Lee had said on his deathbed to “Tell the boys to win one for the general” if they ever needed inspiration.

Well, maybe that last part didn’t quite happen that way, but in any event the Tide rallied furiously in the third quarter behind Pooley Hubert and future Hollywood star Johnny Mack Brown, scoring three touchdowns in quick succession and holding off a fourth quarter Husky rally for a nailbiting 20-19 victory.

The legendary Birmingham News writer Clyde Bolton described it as “the most important game before or since in Southern football history,” and who are we to argue with Clyde Bolton?

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