We have recruiting, spring practice, freshmen reporting and the start of fall camp, but there’s nothing that compares to this, the season opener.
As an old man, these openers seem to roll around way to quickly. It’s a blur, really, the span from early January until early September. But as a young boy, though, that span was an eternity. I was baby in the 60s, a child in the 70s and a teenager in the 80s. These were the days before recruiting lunacy and spring games on 24-7 sports channels. In between January and September there was nothing to quench my appetite for the Tide. I was always looking forward to the next season, looking to the season opener.
As a 13 year old, I was hitting full stride as a Tide fan. The upcoming season was 1981 and ‘Bama was set to open on Labor Day weekend with a night game against LSU in Baton Rouge. Alabama was coming off of a disappointing 10-2 1980 season which included a stunning 6-3 loss to Mississippi State and a 7-0 loss to Notre Dame two weeks later.
Questions abounded heading into the ’81 season. Did two losses in 1980 mark the start of the Tide’s decline under coach Paul Bryant’s or were they just a hiccup? Coach Bryant was aging and how many more seasons would he coach? Would this be his last? Amos Alonzo Stagg’s record was on the horizon and sure to fall, but who would be the lucky opponent?
As for me, I was sure that Bryant would coach forever and I was sure that my Tide would have no problem with LSU on that muggy September evening. After all, we had already won 10 in a row against the Tigers. LSU opened the season with second year coach Jerry Stovall and a load of optimism. The Tigers weren’t ranked, but they were hoping for their first win over ‘Bama in Red Stick since 1969. They’d have to wait a little longer, though, because the Tide throttled them from the get-go. Shotgun Kenny Simon ran 51 yards for a first quarter touchdown and the Tide led 17-0 at the half en route to a 24-7 win.
The 1981 season did include Bryant reaching and breaking Stagg’s record and also included another SEC championship (shared with Georgia), but the end was indeed near for Bryant as a 2-2-1 out of conference record helped to indicate. For a 13 year old deep in Alabama, though, time stood still one more time as Alabama opened the season with a win over LSU.
Here are a few highlights…