For nearly a century, every time the Crimson Tide have taken the field or scored a touchdown, Alabama has rubbed Washington’s face in the ground.
As Bama hits the Peach Bowl semifinal against the Huskies, listen closely. The Million Dollar Band will be playing the fight song “Yea Alabama,” the Tide’s fight song since 1926. There’s one line, near the end, that’s steeped in Bama-Washington history.
The Tide and the Huskies have met on the field four times, but it is their 1926 meeting that is the most noteworthy. These teams will always be linked whenever the band gets to this line:
For 'Bama's pluck and grit
Have writ her name in crimson flame
Fight on, fight on, fight on, men
Remember the Rose Bowl, we'll win then!
So let’s remember the 1926 Rose Bowl, when Washington was expected to beat Alabama.
The Rose Bowl was the sport’s only postseason game and had traditionally paired a team from the East/Midwest against a team from the West Coast.
Bama had been successful before coach Wallace Wade arrived in Tuscaloosa in 1923. The 1920 team went 10-1 under Wade’s predecessor, Xen C. Scott. That was Bama’s first 10-win season, but in those days, real respect was earned by playing and beating teams outside of the South.
Scott took the 1922 Crimson Tide on the road to play at Penn, coached by the famed John Heisman. They returned with a 9-7 victory. The Tide reportedly saw the Quakers as indeed mortal after watching Penn and Navy — the Quakers had beaten the Midshipmen the previous week.
Because of poor health, Scott resigned, and Bama brought Wade in from Vanderbilt in 1923. Wade won the school’s first conference title in 1924, and following the successful ‘25 campaign, the Tide were in line for a postseason berth. But they weren’t first in line. They weren’t even second.
According to the documentary Roses of Crimson, Dartmouth, Yale, Illinois, and Washington were in the running. A wire report references Tulane and Colgate as also being in consideration. Washington’s players even denied the bid on three separate votes before accepting.
According to Sports Illustrated, Alabama’s governor appeared to send a telegram to the Rose Bowl committee chairman that read "If you are interested in a real opponent for your West Coast football team, then give Alabama serious consideration."
But in fact, the telegram came from a man named William “Champ” Pickens with the governor’s blessing. Pickens has the distinction of giving Bama’s band the “Million Dollar” moniker in 1922. He was also a team manager in the 1890s. It may have been called the Million Dollar Band, but it couldn’t raise the money to travel for the ‘26 Rose Bowl.
After Bama became the first Southern team to accept an invite, a student magazine, Rammer-Jammer, urged fans to support the team as it marched on to California.
Then, the December 1925 edition of Rammer Jammer, a student literary and humor magazine, had a section for “Of California and Greetings” where it referenced the Crimson Tide going “to California to show the natives a few tricks,” and implored the readership to be with the team in spirit because “why, in the name of all that is patriotic, should we let a small matter of three thousand miles keep us from being with the Crimson Tide in their sortie?”
The Tide were not some plucky band of upstarts. They had talent that was simply unproven and not respected outside of its geographic footprint. They allowed only one touchdown all season. Halfback Mack Brown and guard Bill Buckler received All-America honors on the AP’s third and second teams, respectively. Future College Football Hall of Famer Pooley Hubert starred at both fullback and quarterback and threw a 65-yard TD pass in the game against Washington. It was, at the time, dubbed a world record.
But before the game, they weren’t getting much respect from their opponents.
No less than coaching legend Glen "Pop" Warner said Washington was just too big for the smaller Crimson Tide squad to handle. Entertainer Will Rogers summed up the general sentiment when he called the Alabama the "Tusca-losers."
Washington’s players took a lot of such talk to heart, treating their game preparation as light workouts. Wade, on the other hand, promised his team three weeks of "tough hard practice" and kept his word.
The stops on the 2,000-mile train ride were punctuated with wind sprints and practices. Moreover, when the team arrived in Southern California Wade kept the player’s sightseeing jaunts to an absolute minimum.
The Huskies had consensus All-America halfback George Wilson. The AP game story referred to him as Washington’s “tower of strength.” But Wilson missed the entire third quarter of the game, thanks to an injury suffered shortly before Washington went into halftime with a 12-0 lead. The third quarter that Wilson missed saw Alabama score all of its points in the 20-19 win, while the Huskies gained only 17 yards.
The Tuscaloosa team had seen and seized its opportunity. Under the brilliant field generalship of Pooley Hubert, the lads from Dixie crowded enough scoring into a small portion of the third period to carry off the game. With the reckless abandon of an almost forlorn hope they cut the Husky defense to ribbons with a dazzling succession of passes, runs and bucks.
Here’s the box score, via Remember the Rose Bowl:
From the season finale of 1924 through the third game of the ‘27 season, the Crimson Tide went on a 22-game unbeaten streak. The Tide would return to the Rose Bowl at the end of the 1926 season, tying Stanford, 7-7.
But the catalyst for Southern supremacy was that New Year’s Day in 1926.
The fight song would forever commemorate it.
Bama’s original fight song was adapted from a tune popularized at Washington & Lee University called “Swing.”
Although many schools used it as a fight song during the time, Alabama president George H. Denny had been president at Washington & Lee before coming to Tuscaloosa in 1912. His is the other name in Bama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Following the Rose Bowl triumph, the Tide needed a song to call their own. Rammer-Jammer held a contest.
A man named Ethelred Lundy Sykes submitted the winning entry.
Sykes got paid, and his song was etched into Bama lore forever.
Ethelred Lundy Sykes, editor of the Crimson White, wrote the tune in 1926. It was penned in the days following Alabama's first bowl appearance, which resulted in a 20-19 victory over Washington in the Rose Bowl (hence the reference, "Remember the Rose Bowl, we'll win then") and the school's first national championship.
"Yea Alabama!" won a contest sponsored by Rammer-Jammer magazine. It had issued a call for a new fight song. "Yea Alabama!" replaced the "Alabama Swing," a parody of the "Washington and Lee Swing." For his efforts, Sykes won a prize of $50, beating out more than a dozen other entries in the contest.
In announcing the winner, the Rammer-Jammer wrote, "RAMMER-JAMMER has no power to make the student body accept this song. We do ask that the song be played on every occasion in which a battle march is needed, and, if it is liked, for the students to accept it."
Here’s the full sheet music as it appeared in the May 1926 edition of Rammer-Jammer.
There are a few disses in here beyond the one directed at the Huskies.
Former SEC founding father Sewanee gets a dig in the first verse (“Let the Sewanee Tiger scratch/Let the Yellow Jacket sting/Let the Georgia Bulldog bite/Alabama still is right!”), which isn’t played by the band at football games. Georgia and Georgia Tech both get some shade in the main chorus as well (“Go teach the Bulldogs to behave/send the Yellow Jackets to a watery grave!”).
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Bama’s fight song is that there isn’t any mention of Auburn, although the fight song was created during the 40-year stretch in the first half of the 20th century when the teams didn’t play each other. That probably explains that.
Either way, direct fight-song jabs are a thing a few schools do. Texas and Texas A&M, for instance, both have lines in their fight songs about each other. Georgia Tech’s fight song has the line “To hell with Georgia.”
But those are about blood rivalries. This is a continued reminder that it was the Tide who first put a region’s sporting prowess on the map.
Bama fans should sing that “Remember the Rose Bowl” line with renewed vigor. The legend of the Crimson Tide as we know it, and by extension the modern SEC, can be traced all the way back to a win over the Washington Huskies 90 years ago.