The University of Alabama football team was coming off a 7-1-1 season and won the inaugural championship of the new Southeastern Conference, which included Sewanee, Georgia Tech and Tulane.
Glenn "Pop" Warner and Frank Thomas shake hands before meeting in the 1935 Rose Bowl. Courtesy of the Bryant Museum
But the Crimson Tide also had an amazing collection of young talent, including fullback Joe Demyanovich, halfback Dixie Howell, end Don Hutson, tackle Bill Lee, quarterback Riley Smith, and a rugged end named Paul W. "Bear" Bryant.
It was easily the best team Coach Frank Thomas had ever had. After opening with a 24-0 victory against Howard, which was coached by former Alabama All-American center Clyde "Shorty" Propst, the Crimson Tide blew through its SEC schedule, with the lone close game a 13-6 victory against Tennessee.
The wins kept piling up, with an impressive season-ending stretch of 40-0 against Clemson, 40-0 at Georgia Tech, and 34-0 vs. Vanderbilt in Birmingham. Consequently, Alabama was headed back to Pasadena to play in the Rose Bowl, but for the first time without Wallace Wade. Thomas pushed all the right buttons to motivate his players including making sure they knew many sportswriters had declared Minnesota would have been a better choice to face Stanford, and again the West Coast team was expected to win.
"I'll never forget going to the Rose Bowl," Bryant said. "I remember everything about it. We were on the train and Coach Thomas was talking to three coaches and Red Heard, the athletic trainer at LSU. Coach Thomas said, 'Red, this is my football player. This is the best player on my team.' Well shoot, I could have gone right out the top. He was getting me ready, and I was too. I would have gone out there and killed myself for Alabama that day."
Duly inspired, and aided by scouting reports from former standout Johnny Mack Brown, Alabama dominated 29-13 before a sellout crowd of 84,484.
Rose Bowl archives describe the game this way: "Frank Thomas' Alabama (9-0) brings the first great aerial circus in Rose Bowl history to Pasadena to hand Stanford's 'Vow Boys' (9-0-1) another Rose Bowl defeat, 29-13. The 85,000 spectators are amazed by the soaring footballs propelled by Dixie Howell to Don Hutson. Howell completes nine of 12 passes and averages 44.8 yards with six punts."
Howell scored two touchdowns, one on a 67-yard run, and passed 59 yards to Hutson for another. He passed for 160 yards and ran for 111 more to be named the game's most valuable player.
Thomas called Howell's performance the "greatest I've ever seen."
Fans up Tuscaloosa were eager to welcome the team home. Courtesy of the Bryant Museum
"That boy has ice water in his veins, if ever a competitive athlete had. I've never seen him nervous before, but that morning he couldn't look at his breakfast, let alone eat it. And he couldn't eat lunch."
Alabama had won its fourth national championship by averaging 31.4 points per game while yielding just 4.5. Howell was named SEC player of the year in addition to All-American along with Lee and Hutson, who would go on to revolutionize the National Football League with the Green Bay Packers.
Noted Will Rogers, "Stanford made a mistake in scoring first. It just made those Alabama boys mad."
1934 Crimson Tide
Coach Frank Thomas
Assistant coaches: Hank Crisp, Harold “Red” Drew, J.B. “Ears” Whitworth, John Cain, Jim Dildy
Freshman coach: Paul Burnum
Manager: Hugo Max
Captain: Bill Lee s
Date, opponent, location, W/L/T, score
Sept. 29: Howard, Tuscaloosa, W 24-0
Oct. 5: Sewanee, Montgomery, W 35-6
Oct. 13: Mississippi State, Tuscaloosa, W 41-0
Oct. 20: Tennessee, Birmingham, W 13-6
Oct. 27: Georgia, Birmingham, W 26-6
Nov. 3: Kentucky, Lexington, W 34-14
Nov. 10: Clemson, Tuscaloosa, W 40-0
Nov. 17: Georgia Tech, Atlanta, W 40-0
Nov. 29: Vanderbilt, Birmingham, W 34-0
Jan. 1, 1935: Stanford, Rose Bowl, W 29-13
Record: 10-0; Total points: 316-45
Don Hutson, left end
James Whatley, left tackle
Charlie Marr, left guard
Kavanaugh Francis, center
Bob Ed Morrow, right guard
Bill Lee, right tackle
Paul Bryant, right end
Riley Smith, quarterback
Dixie Howell, left halfback
Jimmy Angelich, right halfback
Joe Demyanovich, fullback
All-American: First team _ Millard "Dixie" Howell, back; Don Hutson, end; Bill Lee, tackle.
All-SEC (first team): Dixie Howell, halfback; Don Hutson, end; Bill Lee, tackle; Charlie Marr, guard.
Alabama: Dunkel, Houlgate, Poling, Williamson
Minnesota: Billingsley, Boand, Dickinson, Football Research, Helms, Litkenhous, National Championship Foundation, Sagarin, Sagarin (ELO-Chess)
E Don Hutson, Alabama, 6-1, 185, Pine Bluff, Ark.; E Frank Larson, Minnesota, 6-3, 190, Duluth, Minn.; T Bill Lee, Alabama, 6-2, 225, Eutaw, Ala.; T Bob Reynolds, Stanford, 6-4, 220, Okmulgee, Okla.; G Chuck Hartwig, Pittsburgh, 6-0, 190, Benwood, W.Va.; G Bill Bevan, Minnesota, 5-11, 194, St. Paul, Minn.; C Jack Robinson, Notre Dame, 6-3, 195, Huntington, N.Y.; Darrell Lester, TCU, 6-4, 218, Jacksboro, Texas; George Shotwell, Pittsburgh; B Bobby Grayson, Stanford, 5-11, 186, Portland, Ore.; B Pug Lund, Minnesota, 5-11, 185, Rice Lake, Wis.; B Dixie Howell, Alabama, 5-10, 164, Hartford, Ala.; B Fred Borries, Navy, 6-0, 175, Louisville, Ky.
SEC Standings (conference, overall)
School ............ W-L-T Pct. Pts. Opp. W-L-T Pts. Opp.
Tulane............. 8-0-0 1.000 148 49 9-1-0 195 69
Alabama ..... 7-0-0 1.000 223 32 9-0-0 287 32
Tennessee ....... 5-1-0 .833 98 32 8-2-0 175 58
LSU ................ 4-2-0 .667 133 41 7-2-2 172 77
Georgia............ 3-2-0 .600 51 33 7-3-0 141 56
Vanderbilt ....... 4-3-0 .571 66 94 6-3-0 105 100
Florida............. 2-2-1 .500 52 74 6-3-1 113 110
Ole Miss .......... 2-3-1 .417 39 78 4-5-1 114 98
Kentucky ......... 1-3-0 .250 30 73 5-5-0 123 86
Auburn ............ 1-6-0 .143 37 87 2-8-0 58 107
Sewanee.......... 0-4-0 .000 12 105 2-7-0 40 147
Mississippi State . 0-5-0 .000 6 94 4-6-0 79 126
Georgia Tech..... 0-6-0 .000 42 125 1-9-0 56 187
Bowls: Rose (Alabama 29, Stanford 13), Sugar (Tulane 20, Temple 14).
(Sources: "100 Things Crimson Tide Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die," by Christopher Walsh; "Huddle Up: Alabama Football 2009," by Christopher Walsh; NCAA; Southeastern Conference; 2011 Alabama Football Record Book)