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SEC's Greatest College Football Rivalries: Alabama vs. Arkansas

Back in 1913, a boy named Paul Bryant was born in the small town of Fordyce, Ark., and about a decade later he picked up the nickname Bear. The football team in his native state wasn’t that great, so Bryant ended up choosing to play at Alabama, where he would later become a championship coach and legend.

For years that was the only connection between the two programs, whose first meeting didn’t come until the 1962 Sugar Bowl. That year, Alabama entered No. 1 and Arkansas was No. 9. The Crimson Tide had a great defense, but the Razorbacks had star halfback Lance Alworth. The Tide won 10-3, with that Razorback field goal being the first points scored on Alabama since October, but Alworth being held to 15 rushing yards. Bryant had enough respect for Arkansas that he said he had “nine heart attacks out there,” according to the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History,” by Marty Mule. But Broyles summed up the game by saying that “we were in it on the scoreboard, but never in it on the field.”

That classic didn’t ignite any desire by Bryant to keep facing the team from his native state. They wouldn’t meet again until 1980, also in the Sugar Bowl, and also with Alabama harboring national title hopes. This time the Crimson Tide were No. 2, while the Razorbacks were No. 6. Bryant was still coaching the Tide, while Lou Holtz had replaced Broyles, who had moved up to athletics director. 

This one featured a bit more offense, as Alabama used its double wing offense – just installed – to jump out to a 14-3 lead. The Tide won 24-9, and won the AP national title when No. 1 Ohio State lost to Southern California. 

Finally, Arkansas joined the SEC and the teams met in the regular season for the first time, on Sept. 12, 1992. The game was in Little Rock, but once again Alabama won, 38-9, on its way to yet another national championship.

Yes, a quirk of this rivalry is the first three times they met, Alabama went on to win the national championship. 

As Alabama began its backslide, the rivalry became more even-matched: Arkansas beat the Tide for the first time in 1995, in Tuscaloosa, and they won in Bryant-Denny a couple more times over the next decade. 

There have been some classic finishes: Twice the games have been decided in double-overtime. 

Then Arkansas began a rise to national prominence under Bobby Petrino, adding more spice to the rivalry. When Alabama visited Fayetteville in 2010, it was nationally-televised and full of hype. Both were unbeaten. The Razorbacks led 20-7 late in the third quarter, but the Crimson Tide scored the game’s final 17 points, punctuated by a Mark Ingram 1-yard run with 3:18 left.

Last year, Alabama left the drama for another time, winning in a 38-14 rout – on the way to yet another national championship for the program. 

There was one year that they never met and were rivals: Both teams were unbeaten after the 1964 season, but Alabama was voted the national champion by the AP and coaches poll. Back then there was no BCS, so they didn’t face each other in a bowl. Alabama lost in the Orange Bowl, and Arkansas won the Cotton Bowl, but there were no further bowls so Alabama still claimed the major national titles – but Arkansas was recognized as the national champion by the Football Writers Association of America. 

The split championship led the AP to change its policy and pick its national champion after the bowl season.