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1973 Texas-Alabama: Walking The Line

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Stan Mauldin, more than most, can fully appreciate the intensity of the upcoming BCS Championship battle between Texas and Alabama.

Mauldin's older brother, Dan, was a letterman on the 1963 National Championship Longhorn squad, and Stan was a sophomore letterman on the 1969 title team. After completing his playing career in 1971, Mauldin decided he wanted to get into coaching.

Bear Bryant knew of Mauldin, and when Darrell Royal gave the him a strong recommendation, Bryant took Mauldin on as a graduate assistant for the 1972 football season.

At the end of the year, the Cotton Bowl invited #4 Alabama (10-1) to play #5 Texas (9-1). The day the invitation came out is the day that Stan Mauldin's coaching venture at Alabama came to an end.

Bryant called Mauldin into his office and told him that he would not be participating in bowl preparations.

“With me having played at Texas, he (Coach Bryant) didn't want anything that would be considered inappropriate, Mauldin told the Tuscaloosa News. He didn't want anyone to suggest that I might give the Alabama staff an advantage.”

It was a different era. Times change.

Just ask Bob Stoops. Or Bo Pellini.

THE CHICKEN BOWL
That was the name given for the 1973 Cotton Bowl by some. It was in part because the game would highlight two teams who featured the Wishbone attack. For others the name referred to 'Bama's decision to play Texas in the Cotton Bowl, rather than facing a 10-1 OU in the Sugar Bowl or an 8-2 Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl.

After running off 10 straight wins in '72, Alabama had suffered a devastating defeat to arch-rival Auburn in the last regular season game 17-16. The Tigers blocked two punts for touchdowns late in the contest.

As for the battle of the Wishbones, that came about because of two men who believed that sharing information about offensive and defensive trends made the game stronger.


Darrell Royal willingly shared the intricacies of the Wishbone offense with programs like Alabama and OU.

Bear Bryant first saw the Wishbone in person in the 1970 Bluebonnet Bowl when the Tide and the Sooners played to a 24-24 tie. Alabama had back-to-back 6 win seasons, and the new offense intrigued Bryant. He called Royal during the off-season, spent several days in the spring in Austin and decided to change to the 'Bone. That summer Bryant invited Royal and his offensive staff to a coaching clinic in Tuscaloosa where they went into even more detail.

Royal told Bryant to call him anytime he had a question on the offense, and Bryant later claimed to have run up $10,000 on his telephone bill taking Royal up on his offer.


Through 1972, Texas was 48-6-1 in the Wishbone while Alabama was 21-3 in two years running the offense.

As for the Cotton Bowl, the Alabama 'Bone featured All-American runner Wilbur Jackson and a passing game headed by QB Terry Davis and Wayne Wheeler.

Texas was strictly a power offense with QB Alan Lowry and sophomore fullback Roosevelt Leaks heading up the rushing attack.

Alabama was posted as a 7-point favorite for the game, and the Tide started out like they were being under valued. After an early field goal, 'Bama took a 10-0 lead on a 51-yard sprint around end by Jackson, and eventually led 13-3 at the half.

One other factor the two teams shared on offense. Each had perhaps the best offensive lineman in school history blocking for the 'Bone -- John Hannah for Alabama and Jerry Sisemore for Texas.


Behind All-American Jerry Sisemore, Roosevelt Leaks averaged 110 yards rushing per game in 1972.

Lowry, a converted defensive back, was suffering from tonsillitis and almost didn’t play, but he and Leaks were a handful for the Tide defense. Lowry rushed for 117 yards on 16 carries, while Leaks gained 120 yards on 15 attempts. Lowry cut the Alabama lead to 13-10 with a 3-yard run.

Alabama quickly came back and had an apparent touchdown pass when defensive back Terry Melancon ripped the ball out of the hands of receiver Wayne Wheeler.


Terry Melancon's touchdown saving interception was his second pick of the game.

The Longhorns then started their game-winning drive, reaching the Alabama 34-yard line when Royal called a quarterback bootleg that had been used only once before during the season. It was 3rd and 2, and Alabama had been pinching in the middle all game waiting for Leaks. Lowry - no speed demon - found himself virtually alone until he reached the 10-yard line, where he cut back to the inside to score.

Or did he.


The view from the Texas sideline as Alan Lowry scores the winning touchdown against Alabama.

Eight years earlier, Alabama fans felt Joe Namath had scored the winning touchdown against Texas in the Orange Bowl. This time Tide fans felt that the refs allowed a phantom score. Video and photos indicate that Lowry may have stepped on the line as he made his cut at the ten.

Bryant would have none of that talk. Texas deserved to win the game, they have a great team," Bryant said. He then went on to add, Still, I'm proud of this team...but not too damn proud."

The win capped off a 10-1 season for the Longhorns as they finished #3 in the Final Top Ten poll. Alabama, 10-2, dropped to 7th in the rankings. It was the last time Royal and Bryant would face each other on the field. But Bryant had his offense, and in 1973 Alabama outscored opponents 477-113 on their way to an 11-1 record and the national championship.

POSTSCRIPT

A personal aside that should help Texas fans understand the breadth and depth of the passion of Alabama football fans.

Several years after the 1973 Cotton Bowl, Alan Lowry was an assistant on the Texas staff. A road trip conversation turned to the controversial run, and Lowry explained that his score had ramifications for him after his playing days.


Alan Lowry felt the wrath of 'Bama fans for a long time after his winning score in the 1973 Cotton Bowl.

Lowry began his coaching career as an assistant at Virginia Tech, under head coach Jimmy Sharpe -- a former Alabama player. There was a graduate assistant on the staff, also a former Alabama player. Lowry, a bachelor, became friends with the grad assistant and his wife. She took pity on Lowry and would have him over several times a week for a home cooked meal.

Then she realized that he was THAT Alan Lowry.

The warm meals stopped. The cold shoulder began.

Finally she talked to Lowry - berating him for cheating her school.

She said I should have told the ref that I stepped out of bounds," Lowery laughed. "I told her that I really didn't think I had stepped out, but it still took her a couple of weeks to forgive me."

It seems that Alabama fans have the memory of an Elephant.