In prayers and predictions, Bob Devaney, outstanding coach that he was, batted a thousand.
Rain swept the city for two days before the Sugar Bowl. A steady, light shower finally stopped an hour and half before kickoff, but the field remained in good condition – with the exception of one spot at the 10-yard line on the north side.
As Devaney predicted, on the game’s first play from scrimmage, at the Alabama 28, Ken Stabler faked fullback Les Kelley into the line, stepped back and lofted a pass to Ray Perkins at the 49. Perkins made the catch and slithered down to the Nebraska 27 for a 45-yard gain. “We wanted to give them a set we would use the first time we got the ball,” Coach Bear Bryant said. “We wanted to throw long to Perkins and see what defense they were in. If Ray was covered, Kenny Stabler was to overthrow him. Perkins got behind his man, though, and that really gave us a big lift.”
Perkins, who in 1983 succeeded Bryant as coach of the Crimson Tide, said the completion was no big surprise. “We felt it would work because we were pretty certain our receivers could get open on their defensive backs. They were kind of slow.”
Seven plays afterward, Kelley scored from the 1. That, for all practical purposes, ended the game.
Stabler took the Tide on a 71-yard drive, then went around end from the 14 as the ‘Huskers appeared to be grabbing at a ghost. Steve Davis’ PAT made the score 14-0 with 7:28 left in the opening quarter. The weight advantage Devaney expected to be one of his chief allies wasn’t working out. “We couldn’t do the things against them we did against other teams,” Devaney offered.
Davis, brother of Tim, the kicking machine of the 1964 Sugar Bowl, came in to boot a 30-yard field goal with 28 seconds left in the first period. Bryant had used 35 players in digging Nebraska’s football grave in that 15-minute swirl of offense.
Only the final score was in question by this time. Bryant had his team gobbling up real estate at a staggering 295-112 yard advantage in the opening 30 minutes. “Well, we were pretty confident at the half,” Perkins said, “but we felt we had to win convincingly.”
The victory extended an unusual accomplishment.
It was Alabama’s 23rd consecutive game without a holding penalty. But the 34-7 blowout also made the results of the MacArthur Bowl presentation even more disappointing. Notre Dame won that, too.
“The hardest part about the whole season,” Perkins recalled, “is that we were never recognized. They gave us the national championship the year before and we probably didn’t deserve it with a loss and a tie. But in 1966, with an 11-0-0 record and beating a good team soundly in a bowl game, I think we did deserve some recognition. It was disappointing.”
Devaney was also disappointed, although he immediately knew where he went wrong. “Sure, I prayed for rain. But that was a mistake,” he admitted. “I should’ve prayed for a driving rain.”
Recap excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Tulane Stadium Att: 82,000
Alabama 17 7 3 7 – 34
Nebraska 0 0 0 7 – 7
Ala: Les Kelley 1-yard run (Steve Davis kick), 1st (11:05)
Ala: Ken Stabler 14-yard run (Davis kick), 7:28 (1st)
Ala: Davis 30-yard field goal, 0:28 (1st)
Ala: Wayne Trimble 6-yard run (Davis kick), 7:02 (2nd)
Ala: Davis 40-yard field goal, 3:31 (3rd)
Neb: Dick Davis 15-yard pass from Bob Churchich (Larry Wachholtz kick), 14:51 (4th)
Ala: Ray Perkins 45-yard pass from Stabler (Davis kick), 11:40 (4th)
Ala: Ken Stabler 9-38 TD; Ed Morgan 10-37; Gene Raburn 3-22; Frank Canterbury 7-15
Neb: Dick Davis 10-37; Ben Gregory 4-26; Harry Wilson 4-24
Ala: Ken Stabler 12-18-0, 218 yards, 1 TD; Wayne Trimble 2-6-0, 40 yards; Joe Kelley 2-1-1, 21 yards
Neb: Bob Churchich 21-34-2, 201 yards, 1 TD; Wayne Weber 1-4-3, 12 yards;
Ala: Ray Perkins 7-178 TD; Dennis Homan 5-36; John Reitz 1-31
Neb: Dennis Richnafsky 6-48; Tom Penney 6-42; Ben Gregory 4-19; Harry Wilson 2-35; Dick Davis 1-15 TD
Miller-Digby Award recipient: Ken Stabler, Alabama quarterback