Alabama was a super powerhouse in the 1960’s winning 3 national titles and coming close several more times. But, by the end of the decade, the Crimson Tide began to crumble a little bit even with one of the very best college coaches of all time.
In 1969, the Tide finished 6-5 with an almost embarrassing loss in the Liberty Bowl to Colorado. In 1970, much was made about the famous game between Alabama and the USC Trojans and how badly the black players from USC trounced the white players from Alabama. But, most every other white team they played that year beat them as well and the Crimson Tide finished up 6-5-1 that season after a tie in the Bluebonnet Bowl with Oklahoma.
Alabama fans were not very happy.
They were happy, on the other hand, with Alabama Running Back Johnny Musso.
Banks High School in Birmingham, Alabama put out some talent back in the day. Legendary Alabama Running Back Johnny Musso came out of Banks High School.
The Rutledge brothers, Gary and Jeff also played at Banks High School and both Quarterbacked the Crimson Tide. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe played at Banks and then at Alabama, also.
Former Banks and NFL players like Larry Willingham, Jimmy Sidle, Billy Shields, and Jeff Herrod pad the stats for the school. Willingham and Sidle went to Auburn, Shields to Georgia Tech and Herrod attended Ole Miss.
Johnny Musso signed with his dream school in 1968 and played on the freshman team his first season because of the ancient rules not allowing freshmen to play on the varsity.
Bear Bryant tried a Pro Style offense in those seasons and 1969 was not one of his proudest years. Their Quarterback, Scott Hunter, threw for over 2,000 yards which was a lot for those times and especially for Alabama. Hunter went on to play in the NFL for 7 years for several different teams.
Musso was their leading rusher, but only had 516 yards rushing with 10 Touchdowns, during his first season as a starter. But, since Alabama ran a Pro Style offense, Musso also had 26 receptions which accounted for 3 more
Not only did Alabama finish with a 6-5 record, but they lost to Vanderbilt, and then LSU. But, worst of all, they got pounded by their 2 biggest rivals losing 41-14 to Tennessee and 49 to 26 to Auburn. Alabama fans are like most fans in that they hate losing, but taking beatings from their biggest rivals is almost too much.
1970 would prove to be just as bad. I was just a wee lad back in those years, but I can bet the Alabama fans out there were beyond a little upset with the way things were going. It’s probably a good thing that Al Gore had not invented the internet back then.
Much drama has been made of the game that supposedly changed everything in Southern football against USC. However, Alabama had 2 black kids on the freshman team that season which means they were already recruiting blacks.
1971 was the first year that blacks played on the Alabama varsity football team, but that was not because of the game with USC, obviously.
Also, Bear Bryant was not the racist that some made him out to be. He asked to recruit African-Americans as a coach in Kentucky in the early 1950s. He asked again when he moved on to Texas A%M. The powers that be said that they would be the last school in the then Southwest Conference to allow that to happen. He requested again at Alabama and was told similar things.
Bear Bryant was never the problem.
Another issue regarding recruiting black kids to come to all white colleges is that the majority of these kids didn’t really want to go through all of that. Most of them would have rather gone to a traditional black school such as Grambling or many others just so they could fit in with the rest of the student body. Who could blame them? They wanted to play football and get an education, not fight a race war. Who really wanted to go to a school where you weren’t even wanted by the majority of the people there?
But, this story is about Johnny Musso, the Italian Stallion and not race relations of the 1960’s South.
USC trounced Alabama in their opening game, 41- 21.
But, then Ole Miss beat the Tide almost as badly with a 48-23 win in Jackson, Mississippi and they were as white as Alabama.
Tennessee thumped Alabama, 24-0, and these guys hate each other so this couldn’t have been a very thrilling situation for the loyal fans of the Crimson Tide. They also lost to LSU and to arch-rival Auburn. This was not one of the better Alabama teams, winding up 6-5-1 after the smoke had
Johnny Musso was one of the few bright spots of that 1970 team becoming the first player in Alabama history to go over the magical 1,000 yard rushing barrier with 1,137 yards. He scored 8 Touchdowns on the ground and another through the air on his 30 total receptions.
Bear Bryant was not a loser or a quitter. He was not happy with his new style passing offense and wanted to go back to a run dominated offense. Teams that ran the ball well still controlled college football.
Over in Texas, the Longhorns under Darrell Royal and Offensive Coordinator Emory Bellard took a similar situation as Alabama was currently in and turned it around with the Wishbone Formation. Texas had gone 6-4 in 1967, installed the Wishbone in early 1968 and registered a 9-1-1 season. They won 30 straight games including the 1969 national championship and one of the 1970 national championships.
Bear Bryant had coaches that wanted to go to Texas and learn from the inventors of the offense and so they did.
Alabama tweaked the offense ever so slightly to have their own version of the Wishbone which was slightly different than the version used by Texas and then later perfected by the Oklahoma Sooners.
The greatest thing about this story, at least in my own eyes, is that Bear Bryant and his staff installed the Wishbone offense and kept it a nationwide secret.
In September 10th of 1971, Bear Bryant and the Alabama Crimson Tide surprised the entire nation with their new Wishbone and they beat the totally unprepared 5th ranked USC Trojans out in Los Angeles, 17-10. From there, another decade of dominance would begin for the Alabama Crimson Tide. They ran the table in their regular season of 1971 with Johnny Musso leading the way.
They got revenge on all of the old rivals beating Ole Miss, 40-6, and then Tennessee, 32-15. They whipped those pesky Bayou Bengals of LSU, 14-7. But, best of all they beat the most hated rival of all, Auburn, 31-7, and their Heisman Trophy winning Quarterback Pat Sullivan.
Alabama, Bear Bryant and Johnny Musso finished the season 11-0 easily winning the SEC.
The only problem is the season ended in the Orange Bowl against a Nebraska team that many still consider one of the best teams of all time and they lost, 38-6, knocking them out of the national championship race.
Johnny Musso ran for 1,088 yards and 16 Touchdowns earning Consensus All-American honors. He would finish 4th in the Heisman race behind winner Pat Sullivan of Auburn, Ed Marinaro of Cornell and Greg Pruitt of Oklahoma.
Musso was the first and second 1,000 yard rusher in the history of Alabama. His 2,741 career rushing was the Alabama rushing record until Bobby Humphrey came along and broke it.
Musso was all SEC in 1970 and 1971 and his best rushing game came against Auburn in 1970 with 221 yards.
He was a hard charging runner that gave maximum effort on every play which made him a fan favorite in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Johnny Musso was a 3rd round draft pick by the Chicago Bears, but the NFL didn’t pay as well back then like they do now. It wasn’t uncommon for an NFL draft pick to choose a Canadian team to play for instead of playing here in the states.
Musso ran for 1,029 yards for the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. He came back to the United States to play for the new World Football League’s Birmingham Vulcans. But, by 1975, Johnny Musso finally made it to Chicago to play for the Bears.
He was a marginal NFL player. But, in all fairness, the Chicago Bears just happened to have a certain Running Back named Walter Payton one of the best NFL Running Backs of all time.
Musso will always be a Crimson Tide legend. He was the first to crack the 1,000 yard barrier. Since that time, many great players have passed Musso like Shaun Alexander, Bobby Humphrey, Alabama’s only Heisman winner Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. They are all legends as well.
Johnny Musso had 4 sons and a daughter. Two of his sons played football at Northwestern. Brian was a star Wide Receiver for the Wildcats and played briefly with the New York Jets. One of his other sons, Scott, was a Defensive Back and special teams player for the Wildcats. Sadly, his career ended on an injury.
Johnny Musso was not just a good football player. He also made Academic All American. Once he was finished up with football, he started a trading company in Chicago. He showed the same talent, drive and work ethic as a business man as he did on the football field and has done very well with his life.