Bear Bryant’s Last and Bo Jackson’s First Iron Bowls

Alabama’s legendary football coach, Bear Bryant, was one of my childhood heroes and an all time favorite coach.

Auburn’s Bo Jackson was one of the all time great Running Backs and one of my all time favorite players. Bo is famous for being such a tremendous athlete and a super star in both football and baseball. Not only was he the best athlete to ever come out of the state of Alabama, he was also one of the greatest athletes this nation has ever produced. He was just phenomenal and a lot of fun to watch.

Bear versus Bo would only happen one time and that was in the 1982 Iron Bowl and the very last game of the great Bear Bryant’s almost magical career. As Bear Bryant’s career was coming to a close it was the beginning for Bo Jackson’s and his  freshman season at Auburn.

Bo Jackson grew up in Bessemer, Alabama which is really close to Birmingham and Tuscaloosa and this town was the home of quite a bit of football talent including the latest first round draft pick and Heisman winner, Jameis Winston.

According to legend, Alabama recruited Bo Jackson. But, they told him he would have to wait a couple of years before he could play. Auburn, or most anyone else, offered him early playing time and Bo was insulted that the Crimson Tide told him he would have to wait. Bo Jackson was clearly way too good to wait or sit on a bench. He signed with the Auburn Tigers and the rest is history as they say.

The Iron Bowl was mostly played at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, back in the older days. I wish they were all played there, much like the Texas versus Oklahoma games which are always in Dallas. Or, the Georgia against Florida rivalry which always takes place in Jacksonville, Florida. Playing the game in Birmingham reminds of Bear Bryant, or even Shug Jordan, or Pat Dye. The state of Alabama is not large geographically, so why not play all Iron Bowl games there? But, for some reason the Auburn Tigers didn’t like it and wanted home and home games, which they got. The game is still great and a lot of fun, but I miss the Legion Field games.

Coming into this 1982 version of the game, the Alabama Crimson Tide had reeled off 9 straight wins over their chief rivals, the Auburn Tigers. The major reason for that is Bear Bryant had the Tide rolling in the 1970s and early 1980s. Great Auburn coach Shug Jordan had retired after the 1975 season and he took his 175-83-7 record with him. Auburn had replaced Jordan with Doug Barfield, but he didn’t stick around long because he

didn’t win any football games finishing with a 29-25-1 record. Those numbers were slightly better than his record actually was because the Tigers were awarded some games that they lost due to troubles with the NCAA by Mississippi State.

After Barfield, Pat Dye was the head football coach at Auburn and this was his second season. Dye was a former member of Bear Bryant’s staff at Alabama.

Auburn was 7-3 coming into this game, and Alabama was also 7-3 and ranked #20 in the latest Polls.

This game was maybe not the all time best Iron Bowl game, but it was one of the better ones. One day, I will write about this rivalry and rate these games by which I think were the greatest. But, for now, let’s just say this game was a good one for the fans to watch.

Being a fan, I watched it back then and I watched it again recently.

It’s also interesting to me how more than 30 years of water flowing under the bridge and my viewpoints of this event are somewhat different.

These were the years of the Wishbone Offenses. The Texas Longhorns invented the Wishbone, Barry Switzer and his Oklahoma Sooners perfected it. But, Bear Bryant and his Alabama teams used their own modified and tweaked version of the Wishbone offense and they ran it very well and won championships with it.

Pretty much the same was true of the Auburn Tigers. The Wishbone offense worked very well for both of these schools even though the 1982 season was not their very finest.

Change was in the air.

 

 

Bear Bryant would be stepping down after this season and this would be his last Iron Bowl game. Pat Dye at Auburn was the new kid on the block and big things were on the

horizon for the Tigers of Auburn.

Dye was an excellent recruiter and true freshman Running Back Bo Jackson was the proof of that. This game signified a great change and instead of Bama domination, the Tigers won 6 out of the next 8 games in this rivalry.

Alabama Wishbone Quarterback Walter Lewis, a homegrown product from Brewton, Alabama was a much better passer than I remembered and Lewis, plus the Alabama Offensive Line dominated parts of this game.

Alabama really took control of most of the game and other than a huge run by Bo Jackson and a few costly turnovers, the Crimson Tide would have more than likely won big. But, Auburn kept in there and fought as hard as they could.

Auburn came out in a 5-2 defense. It’s front 5, with Defensive Ends Scott Riley and Jeff Jackson, the Defensive Tackles with Doug Smith and Ben Thomas, plus Middle Guard Dowe Aughtman were just too strong. Alabama came in with a game plan to spread the Auburn defense out and Walter Lewis came out throwing the ball.

They wanted to get their Offensive Line a little help early on, before running the ball down the Tigers throats. The Bama Offensive Line consisting of Tackles Doug Vickers and Bob Cayavec, plus

Guards Gary Bramblett and  Mike Adcock and Center Steve Mott did a great job for most of the games and at times took over and had the Tiger defense back peddling.

These guys were well coached and smart, too. One particular play clearly demonstrated that when the Crimson Tide ran a reverse with Split End Joey Jones and the Bama Left Tackle Doug Vickers had a chance to annihilate Auburn Defensive End Scott Riley, but he pulled up because it could have been called a clip if he had actually made that block.

As an outsider, it is interesting to me to see just how similar these two programs were in this game. They both operated out of a Wishbone Offense and they both ran a 5-2 type of defense. The Crimson Tide defense was built around speed and they could fly to the ball and the Tiger defense was not much slower, if any.

Linebacker Eddie Lowe, the younger brother of another hero Woodrow Lowe, was one of the

Crimson Tide’s best defensive players along with Cornerback Jeremiah Castille. This defense flew to the ball and got there with attitude.

The Auburn defense was led by Linebacker Gregg Carr, but on this day their star was Strong Safety Bob Harris.

Auburn coach Pat Dye was anxious to beat Alabama and with what many would have considered a poor decision he decided to go for it on 4th and 1 from their own 49 yard line. They failed, which gave Alabama great field position and momentum.

The Crimson Tide quickly drove the ball down field and scored with Quarterback Walter Lewis hitting Wide Receiver Joey Jones in the back of the End Zone from 22 yards out.

The Tide went up 7-0.

Alabama stuffed Auburn and got the ball back and was driving again when Alabama Running Back Joe Carter fumbled the ball and Auburn Defensive Back Tim Drinkard caught it in mid air and returned it 62 yards to the Alabama 14 yard line.  He was run down by remarkably athletic Alabama Quarterback Walter Lewis. Lewis had the angle on him, but still showed great speed for a Quarterback by saving the Touchdown.

The Touchdown was only saved for the moment as on 3rd and 10 with the ball still on the 14, Auburn speedster Lionel James ran it in on a draw play tying the game up at 7 each.

Alabama had dominated the first quarter leading the Auburn Tigers in yardage gained by more than 2 to 1.

But, that turnover was key and turnovers would come back to haunt Alabama all day.

In the second quarter the Crimson Tide of Alabama continued their supremacy on the line of scrimmage and drove the ball pretty easily on the Auburn defense by spreading out the ball with the pass mixed in with a few runs. But, they had to settle for a Field Goal to go up by 3 thanks for a big play by Auburn Strong Safety Bob Harris dropping the Bama ball carrier for a loss.

It was 10 to 7, Bama with the lead.

Interesting move here by the Auburn coaching staff as they leave their Wishbone attack and run the I-formation. Bo Jackson lined up at Fullback and Lionel James at Tailback. I would question why not have their regular Fullback in the game at that position and have Bo at Tailback with his incredible speed and ability. But, I suppose their strategy was to get their best 2 Running Backs in the game in a different formation and James was too small for Fullback. Auburn starting Fullback, Ron O’Neal, was a human bowling ball at 5-9, 245 and would have made a great I-Formation Fullback.

It didn’t make any difference and Auburn had to punt yet again. At this point in the game, the score did not reflect it, but Alabama had controlled the game on both sides of the ball.

Alabama got the ball back and was ready to move the ball down the field. The Alabama Offensive Line played great for most of the game, but on this drive Quarterback Lewis was back to throw when he was hit hard by an Auburn Lineman which caused his pass to suddenly become something similar to a wounded duck. The guys from Duck Dynasty would have been proud.

Auburn Strong Safety Bob Harris stepped in front of Alabama receiver Fullback Jeff Fagan and picked off the pass setting the Tigers up in scoring position.

Auburn went back to their bread and butter, the Wishbone Offense, and Quarterback Randy Campbell hit Split End Mike Edwards for a nice gain before running it in himself to put Auburn up on top 14-10 with little time before half time.

Walter Lewis and his Bama teammates didn’t throw in the towel and drove the ball down to the Auburn 39 yard line with 19 seconds left. Lewis dropped back to pass and hit Daryl White down to the Auburn 15. But, he clearly did not see a wide open Jesse Bendross in the End Zone which could have put Alabama up by 3 points at the half. Costly mistake made by Lewis which may have resulted in a Tide Touchdown.

The Tide had to settle for a short Field Goal and Auburn led 14-13 at the half.

Alabama had dominated the first half with 14 first downs to Auburn’s 4.

The Crimson Tide had 284 total yards compared to the Tigers 99. But, all that matters is the scoreboard and the Tigers held a one point lead at half time.

The 3rd quarter began with more of the same. The Bama Offensive Line came out controlling the line of scrimmage.

Alabama moved the ball in huge chunks down to the Auburn 8 yard line where Walter Lewis pitched the ball to Halfback Paul Ott Carruth who took it in for a score.

Little Joey Jones showed another reason why Bama was always good under Bear Bryant when he made an outstanding block on Auburn Cornerback David King to clear up running room for Carruth.

Bear Bryant decided on going for the 2 point conversion instead of kicking the extra point, but they failed and the new score was 19-14 with Alabama taking the lead.

The bad news for Alabama fans was that they really should have been up much bigger than that. 2 Turnovers had handed the Auburn Tigers their 14 points and Alabama really should have been up by several Touchdowns at this point and it came back to haunt them.

Unlike most coaches, Bear Bryant wasn’t scared to play his back up Quarterback and his backfield was deep and he played several groups of Running Backs and Wide Receivers.

The Alabama defense stopped Auburn yet again and Bear inserted his back up Quarterback, senior Ken Coley, and he led the offense all the way down to the 1 yard line before the Tigers stopped them and the Bear opted to kick the Field Goal to put the Tide up 22-14.

It was in the 4th quarter now with Alabama leading Auburn by 8 and seemingly in control of the game.

The speedy Bama defense had held Bo Jackson in check most of the day.

Auburn got the ball back at it’s own 28 yard line and Randy Campbell pitched the ball to Lionel James who took it for 7 yards.

Then, it finally happened for the Tigers. Bo Jackson finally found some running room and used that incredible speed to take the ball all the way down to the Alabama 13 yard line.

The Crimson Tide defense arose to stop the Tigers from there and Pat Dye elected to kick the Field Goal.

Their kicker was Al Del Greco a long time NFL star, and he easily booted it between the goalposts.

Alabama still led the game 22 to 17 with 9 minutes left in the 4th quarter.

But, now the momentum had changed over to the Tiger side. The Auburn defense took it’s turn to shine while stuffing the Bama running game and getting the ball back. The Tigers slowly began moving the ball down the field and face 4th and short at the Bama 44 yard line.

Bo Jackson showed his incredible talent here by going up and over the Alabama defense when he dove over the masses of bodies for a 1st down.

A couple of plays later, Auburn Quarterback Randy Campbell hit Split End Mike Edwards to the 31 yard line. After a missed pass, he threw another at Edwards and Alabama All American Cornerback Jeremiah Castille stepped in front of the receiver and picked off the pass.

Luckily for the Auburn Tigers, the officials called pass interference against Castille basically giving the Tigers a first and goal at the Alabama 9 yard line.

After a couple of mistakes, Campbell hit Bo with a short pass which he ran down to inside the one yard line, but now it was 4th down for the Tigers and they were about half a yard short of going

ahead on the scoreboard.

What happened next is probably the play that first made Bo Jackson famous. The Alabama Defensive Line crushed the Auburn Offensive Line and they went low as they are trained to do. The Bama tacklers were mostly in the backfield of the Tigers, but Bo had already gone overhead and dove into the End Zone putting the Tigers up 23 to 22.

Pat Dye wanted to go for 2 points, but it failed and the  score remained 23 to 22 with Auburn leading.

Alabama got the ball back, after Del Greco kicked off into the End Zone, at their own 20 yard line.

The old Wishbone offense’s passing game was usually effective because the other team was not looking for the pass. Not to bore with details, but a defense is coached to stop the run up the middle first and then on the option attack, a player must play assignment football and be responsible for the Quarterback and the Pitch man. The Quarterback would fake the Fullback up the middle and start to run the option and then drop back and hit his Split End or his Tight End and they were often open because a defense played basically 10 men in the box to stop the run. I have many memories of guys like Cotton Speyrer of Texas and Tinker Owens of Oklahoma making play after play because they were hard to cover in man coverage and the rest of the defense had sold out to stop the run.

But, that same effective Wishbone passing game  did not work well in a 2 minute drill type of situation which is a reason why that offense eventually disappeared other than the version that Georgia Tech uses now.

Lewis threw a pass that should have been picked off, but it wasn’t. Then, Lewis hit his Fullback with a short pass, but it was only good for a 4 yard gain. Walter Lewis dropped back to pass again and hit probably his best receiver, Jesse Bendross right in the hands at the 40 yard line, and the pass was dropped. It was 4th and 6 at their own 24 yard line with time running out and Bama had to go for it.

Lewis dropped back and had a receiver open, but Auburn Strong Safety Bob Harris stepped in front and picked off the pass. Harris had to have been the defensive player of the game, he had 2

interceptions and some big tackles. His plays set up one score and should have finished off the Crimson Tide.

1:25 left to play in the game and the Tigers intended to just run out the clock. Bo Jackson, as great as he was, made an almost tragic error by fumbling the ball as he tried diving over the pile and it was recovered by Bama.

Alabama had the ball back on it’s own 21 yard line and they had one more chance to win the game with 1:09 remaining on the game clock.

Bama Quarterback Walter Lewis hit Bendross at the 35 yard line, then he connected with Bendross again to the 47. Bama was moving the ball, but the clock was running.

Lewis threw the ball out of bounds with 35 seconds left.

Then, on the next play, Lewis is chased out of the pocket by Auburn Defensive End Ben Thomas and he barely got the ball off. However, it was called intentional grounding and a 15 yard penalty.

Penalty moved the Tide back to their own 25 yard line.

The Alabama Offensive Line had dominated much of the game, but now they couldn’t keep the Auburn pass rush off of Walter Lewis.

In a hurry now, Lewis hit his Fullback out of the backfield with a short pass and he gained just a few yards.

Bama was now in a 4th down and 32 yards to go for a first down.

Lewis was unable to connect with a receiver and the Tigers got the ball back and downed the ball ending one of the better Iron Bowl games.

I remember this game on the day it originally happened, and I have seen it again recently. It’s almost odd to me now watching Bear Bryant on the sidelines. He was 69 years old in 1982 at the time of this game. Looking into his eyes as they showed him on the sideline, I thought nothing of it back then. Now that I know

he was only a short time from his own demise, and  I have aged considerably and realize now that nobody is invincible, I wonder what he was thinking standing there.

Did he know he was going to die soon? Was he tired? Did he feel old and out of touch? What were his thoughts knowing this was his last regular season game? Bear coached one more game at Alabama, which was a win in the Liberty Bowl over Illinois, 21-15. At least it was a win, but it was not the most fitting way to go for such a legend. He should have finished up in the Sugar Bowl or the Orange Bowl, or somewhere similar, on a bigger stage.

Bear retired after achieving an incredible 323-85-17 record and numerous national championships. Not that many football coaches smoke, but Bear was a chain smoker and a heavy drinker.

He died of a massive heart attack less than a month after he retired.

So, again,  after looking at his face on the sideline during this last Iron Bowl, I have to wonder if the great and legendary Bear Bryant knew he was close to his last days on earth? I will wonder that now till my own last days on earth.

Bo Jackson is alive and well. He went on to win the Heisman Trophy and play both in the NFL and the Major Leagues in baseball. He was one of the greatest Running Backs, or athletes, of all time. The numbers won’t back up the claim of greatest Running Back, but you just needed to see the man play. The debate has always been who was better in the SEC? Herschel Walker or Bo Jackson? The numbers say Walker, but Jackson was simply incredible as well and on the baseball diamond he was unbelievable. He was just one of the all time great athletes and a pure joy to watch.

I will always have great memories of Bear Bryant and Bo Jackson. Men like these are the reason I keep coming back and watching the game over and over. In current times, we have criminal after criminal playing the game and under aged guys hitting women in bars. The thugs have seemingly taken over, but if you ever feel nostalgic, just remember the good ole days and Bear versus Bo on November 27th, 1982.

3 thoughts on “Bear Bryant’s Last and Bo Jackson’s First Iron Bowls

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