DALLAS — All those 74,281 football fans who turned out for the 45th annual Cotton Bowl Classic here New Year's Day saw two things that were perfection itself — the weather and the Alabama defense.
Perhaps the order should be reversed. The Alabama defense was better than the weather, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous.
The fans also saw on thing that was remarkably imperfect — the Baylor offense. Well, make that two imperfect things, because Baylor's punt return game also was fatally flawed.
WITH THAT IN mind, does anyone have to tell you who won Thursday's long-awaited battle between Alabama's celebrated Bear and Baylor's ambitious Bears? Alabama's Bear — head coach Bear Bryant and his quick-as-a-snake Crimson Tide — won the game, and won it from here to yonder.
The scoreboard's final reading favored Bryant and Alabama, 30-2, and those are cruel figures to drop on a Baylor team that had enjoyed so many favorable figures during the regular season.
But in all truth, the Bears brought a lot of it on themselves. Alabama brought the rest. For much of Thursday afternoon, the Bears found that trying to move against the Tide was about like standing on some lonely beach and trying to hold back the tide.
Wherever Baylor's vaunted running backs went, Tide defenders were sure to follow — closely. Indeed, they often showed up in the Bears' own backfield, and as a result, Baylor could not only 54 yards overland.
The major thorn was Alabama tackle Warren Lyles, who had eight tackles, including five for 26 yards in losses. Lyles was an easy choice as the game's top defensive player.
Still, Alabama's runners often had their problems, too. Baylor's defense did not play all that badly for most of the game.
BUT WHATEVER chance Grant Teaff's representatives had of turning the game into a near-even battle vanished when the Southwest Conference champions developed a bad case of the turnovers.
The Bears lost four of five fumbles and suffered three interceptions and they picked the most gosh-awful time and place to make some of those turnovers — the Baylor 12-yard line, for instance, the Baylor 25 and the Alabama 8. And two of Alabama's touchdown drives followed interceptions.
"Turnovers — that's the story in a nutshell," said a glum Teaff when it was all over.
Quarterback Jay Jeffrey echoed his coach. "The darn turnovers just killed us. When it came time to move, we would make a mistake and kill ourselves. All year we avoided the errors, and then today we had enough for a whole season."
Certainly turnovers were a significant part of Baylor's second straight one-sided defeat in the Cotton Bowl Classic (the Bears lost to Penn State, 41-20, on New Year's Day of 1975). But the way the Crimson Tide played defense, Alabama's chances for victory would have been excellent even it Baylor had bobbled nary a time.
Bryant's iron curtain was just too strong, too quick, too well-schooled, too deadly for the best offensive in Baylor's 81-year history. The Bears could block 'em for an instant — but they wouldn't stay blocked.
AS A RESULT, quarterbacks Jeffrey and David Mangrum operated under relentless pressure, Bryant's veterans rolled in truly like a Crimson Tide and runners Walter Abercrombie and Dennis Gentry, the two leading footmen in the SWC, had to try to run through holes that simply were not there.
The guys from 'Bama had it easier — not a lot, but somewhat. They had a hard time sustaining much of anything for a long time, but thanks to a few big plays and those Baylor turnovers, they didn't have to sustain all that much to dominate the scoreboard.
Actually, Alabama didn't exactly overwhelm the scoreboard for the game's first 45 minutes. But they were never behind, and never appeared in any real danger of falling behind — except maybe near the end of the first quarter, after they had grabbed a 6-0 margin on field goals of 29 and 28 yards by Hawaiian import Peter Kim.
But then, for the first time, the Bruin offense started showing some life. It moved 71 yards in four plays (the big play was a 50-yard pass interference call against Alabama) before Gentry lost a fumble at the Alabama 8-yard line.
Two players later, Bruin tackle Tommy Tabor trapped Alabama's second-team quarterback Walter Lewis in the end zone, giving Baylor a safety and forcing 'Bama to make a free kick from the 20.
Gerald McNeil returned the punt brilliantly for 30 yards before being dropped by Mike Clements at the Alabama 37. Thus the Bears started with delicious field position. If they could have pushed to the pay window there, they could have moved in front.
ALAS, JEFFREY'S first-down aerial fell into the arms of Alabama's Jeremiah Castille, who returned 10 yards to the Alabama 24, and from that point the Tide rolled 76 yards in seven plays for a touchdown.
Baylor was never that much in the game again, and at the finish the Bears still could show only the lone safety for eight quarters of play against the men from Tuscaloosa (Alabama blanked Baylor in 1979, 45-0).
"I thought we had a touchdown when I started to throw," Jeffrey said about the momentum-turning interception. "Mike Fisher was wide open. But I got hit (by standout tackle Byron Braggs) as I threw and the ball was short and intercepted."
After that it was all 'Bama, but grudgingly so through three quarters. Going into the final period, the Crimson Tide led only 16-2 and the Bears still had a chance.
But Alabama rallied at the finish instead.
Solid senior quarterback Don Jacobs, who played most of the game and played well, scored from a yard out with 6:54 left in the game, winding up a nine-play, 57-yard drive, and Mark Nix got the final three yards of a seven-play, 66-yard drive with 1:16 remaining on the clock.
But those touchdowns were scored after the Baylor defense had sort of worn out. The point 'Bama scored earlier — Kim's Cotton Bowl record-tying field goals of 29, 28 and 42 yards and halfback Major Ogilvie's one-yard scoring run that came at the end of the 76-yard march in the second quarter — were earned against a Bruin defense that was still full of fire and fight and playing for keeps.
OGILVIE, THE game's leading rusher, with 74 yards on 15 carries, was also his team's most valuable offensive player in a bowl victory for the second year in a row. And when he dived into the end zone with 13:26 to play in the second period, he made a little bit of history, becoming the first player in NCAA history to rush for a touchdown in a bowl game for four straight seasons.
Interestingly, Alabama's two most heralded players, Ogilvie and All-America defensive end E.J. Junior, described the Bears as perhaps the best team the Crimson Tide played this season.
"Baylor is the best team we played, including Notre Dame," said Junior, who was in on 10 tackles and also recovered a fumble. "Baylor didn't quit, they kept coming at us. Don't look at the sore. We had 10 or 11 days to prepare and we just wanted it more."
Ogilvie said we was surprised "that our defense shut them down like that, but I know our coach had some good schemes. Baylor is one of the best teams we played this year, if not the best. Physically, they were the toughest."
In all truth, the Bears did do some impressive things, especially on defense. But they also kept digging a hole for themselves with their miscues.
On their first possession, for example, a holding penalty wiped out a 9-yard run by Gentry and set Baylor back to its own 17-yard line, and the punt that followed put Alabama in business at the Tide 39-yard line. Alabama used that good field position to drive the Baylor 15-yard line in seven plays, with a pass from Jacobs to fullback Billy Jackson for 20 yards and a 12-yard run by Joe Carter doing most of the damage.
BUT THEN Baylor's defense proved for the first time that it came to play. 'Bama advanced exactly three yards on its next three plays and had to turn to Kim to salvage three points out of the opportunity.
The Bears got a full taste of that fierce 'Bama defense on their next possession. The Bears started at their own 22 and lost nine yards in three plays, and Ron Stowe's punt turned the ball back over to the Crimson Tide at the Baylor 48.
It was on that series, incidentally, that Abercrombie got his first chance to run with the football. But he got the ball at the end of a poorly executed option play and had to make a fine play to retain possession and lose only six yards. It was a sign of things to come.
At the end of the game, the SWC's leading rusher had been dealt his poorest hand of the season — nine yards rushing on eight carries, and four yards on two pass receptions.
To say that Alabama was ready for Walter Abercrombie would be a very large understatement.
"It seemed like every time we came out of the huddle, they were able to adjust to what we did," he said. "My job is not to coach and I don't know why I didn't get the ball more. This is the fewest number of carries I've had since I've been at Baylor, but the options just were not there. We finally stopped using them at the half."
With Abercrombie snuffed out, Jeffrey became Baylor's leading ball carrier, finishing with 18 yards on eight carries. Gentry managed 17 yards on 11 carries and, as noted earlier, the Bears had to settle for 54 yards in 35 rushing attempts and 158 yards on 62 plays in total offense.
BAYLOR HAD been averaging 440 yards per game in total offense and 296 yards rushing. But they hadn't been going against defenses such as Alabama's, either.
With Alabama poised at the Baylor 48 on its second possession of the game, things looked bleak for the Bears. But the Baylor defense quickly forced a punt. Woody Umphrey booted a low spiral that Gerald McNeil fielded on the fly at the Baylor 5-yard line and returned to the 12, where Mike Pitts blasted him loose from the football and Russ Wood recovered.
And guess what? The Bruin defense, led by Doak Field, Lester Ward and Thomas Earl Young, became an iron curtain itself, limiting the Tide to a meager two yards in three plays. Kim had to come in to kick, and again, he kicked true.
Baylor then got back in the game. Jeffrey aimed a long pass that Fisher might have caught, but Ricky Tucker and Mike Clements were called for interference. After the 50-yard penalty, Jeffrey's running and passing (a 10-yards to Gentry) got the Bears to the Alabama 15, where it was first down.
But on the next play, disaster struck. Gentry went around left end and defensive back Jim Bob Harris almost obliterated him, sending Dennis one way and the ball another. Randy Scott recovered for 'Bama at the Tide 8-yard line.
Two plays later, Tabor sacked Lewis for the safety, and two plays after that, Jeffrey threw the pass that Castille picked off, and there went 'Bama on a touchdown drive.
LINNIE PATRICK (45 yards on 12 carries) got it started with some nifty running on four straight carries, but the big play was a 49-yard pass from Jacobs to Jesse Bendross that carried to the Baylor 4. Ogilvie scored two plays later from the 1-yard line.
Baylor never got out of its end of the field for the remainder of the first half, and Alabama twice drove inside the Baylor 40, only to get it rebuffed.
So at the half, it was a 13-2 game and the Bears were still very much in it. And when they stopped the Tide on its first possession of the third quarter and then gouged out two first downs on their first chance, things started looking up. But that was an illusion.
First the Crimson Tide got an interception, then McNeil fumbled another punt — this one at the Baylor 25. And although the Tide couldn't move on three tried from the 25, Kim kicked his third field goal from the 32, and Alabama was in front, 16-2.
Later, Teaff sought to explain the usually sure-handed McNeil's problem. "Part of it was that he dislocated two fingers in practice last week and he had the two taped together," Teaff said.
With the Bears behind by 14 points, David Mangrum made his first appearance at quarterback for the Bears. He ran three straight times, losing a fumble on the third time and turning the ball over to 'Bama on the Baylor 33. Thomas Earl Young got the ball back for Baylor by grabbing a fourth-down Alabama fumble at the 29. That was Alabama's only turnover of the game.
MANGRUM THEN directed the Bears 31 yards in nine plays to the Crimson Tide 40 before being stopped, and he had the team back in 'Bama territory on Baylor's next possession when one of his bullet passes deflected off a receiver's fingers and into the willing hands of Jim Bob Harris.
That proved to be the blow that killed the Bears. The Baylor defense went back onto the field, but it walked back to the battle line that time, and a voice in the press box noted, "Those guys have about had it."
Later, linebacker Doak Field admitted as much. "The defense let down," he said. "The Baylor defense wasn't the defense we showed during the regular season."
Even so, it limited 'Bama to 17 first downs, 241 yards rushing and 339 in total offense while often laboring under highly unfavorable conditions. And the Tide got 132 of those yards, and 14 points, in the fourth quarter.
Ogilvie's 12-yard run, a 19-yard burst by Jackson and a 12-yarder by Joe Jones were the big gainers in the 57-yard drive that boosted the score to 23-2. The Tide's final scoring thrust was mainly the work of Joe Carter, who turned a simple option pitchout into a 56-yard burst around right end against the dead-tired Bruin defenders.
In the final minute and 16 seconds, Jeffrey escorted the Bears 52 yards in seen plays to the Alabama 28 before the clock closed him out. Baylor's final play of a remarkable season was a long pass into the end zone that Radar Holt almost caught. But against Bryant's Crimson Tide, almost is not good enough.
"I FELT WE could play with them defensively, and we did," Teaff summed up. "They had one long run int he fourth quarter and a long pass in the first half. Other than those, we more or less held them to three field goals. It was a disappointing loss, but I told our players one game does not a season make. We can't forget all the good things we accomplished this year."
Bear Bryant, as usual, had the last word. "We made some mistakes, but they forced us into some of those. However, I guess you could say we forced them into some, too. Baylor has a fine football team. I'm just as tickled about winning this game as I would about winning the national championship."
Aw, Bear, not really. But he has put career victory No. 306 in the record book. Another nine and he'll move past Amos Alonzo Stagg as football's winningest coach of all time. Judging his Tide by the way it played on the first day of 1981, he ought to get those nine victories before the year is out.