The Alabama-Washington matchup in the college football playoffs recalls the 1926 Rose Bowl game between the two schools, in which the Crimson Tide's monumental upset over the Huskies marked the national emergence of Southern football.
The defending national champion and top-ranked Crimson Tide is heavily favored to beat Washington in Saturday's national semifinal Peach Bowl.
In 1926, Washington was the overwhelming favorite, with Southern football receiving little national respect.
Following Wall Street Journal writer Andrew Beaton's comprehensive Dec. 20 article about the 1926 game, The New York Times's Marc Tracy weighs in Wednesday, looking at the historic bowl's national significance while all but ignoring the game's details.
Beaton's explores the national impact of the game as well as giving an entrancing recap of the Tide's astonishing 20-19 victory. The sport was then dominated by Northeastern and Midwestern schools, and national writers believed Alabama had no chance, as reflected in humorist Will Rogers' "Tusca-loser" gibe.
After Washington built a 12-0 first half lead, the Tide shocked the Huskies by scoring all of its points in the third quarter. The game's most famous play was a 50-yard pass reception by Alabama star Johnny Mack Brown. Huskies All-American George "Wildcat" Wilson was hurt before Alabama's surge, but Wilson returned to spark Washington's final score. A missed extra point gave the Tide the win.
With the victory, Alabama took its first national championship, although undefeated Dartmouth claimed the title as well. Brown, shown in the picture above running the ball in the game, went on to a Hollywood career as a cowboy star.
The 1926 game marked the South's emergence as a football power. In subsequent years, other Southern teams traveled West to play in the Rose Bowl. In one of the most famous games, Georgia Tech beat Cal in 1929 when Bears star Roy Riegels' wrong-way run gave the Jackets a winning safety.
In 1934, Alabama took another title, sparked by star receiver Don Hutson. The Tide's other end was a tall, skinny scrapper named Bear Bryant.
As the Times relates, the Rose Bowl had a difficult time finding participants for the 1926 game, which led to Alabama's appearance. Coach Walllace Wade's Crimson Tide made a week-long train ride, stopping for practices along the way, as Beaton writes.
Colleges' reluctance to play in the 1926 Rose Bowl resulted from a failed effort by school presidents to curb football. The Rose was then the only bowl, but by 1935, the game's popularity in the South brought the advent of the Sugar, Orange and Sun bowls, soon followed by the Cotton Bowl. Now, even schools with losing records can find a bowl somewhere.