The date: January 1, 1926.
The matchup: Alabama (9-0) vs. Washington (10-0-1)
The stakes: The 1925 national title and the pride of an entire region. No biggie.
The back story: From The 50 Best*:
By 1925, the Rose Bowl had become college football’s showcase game. It was designed to pit an eastern team against a western team, in a gorgeous locale, in a de facto national title game. It conveyed status. It also hadn’t yet invited a team from the South. [...]
Technically, the Rose Bowl’s streak of non-invitation should have continued in 1925. Undefeated Dartmouth was offered a bid, but school officials turned the invitation down in mid-November. The school was not prone to accepting such bids anyway, but in this case snowfall in New Hampshire was so significant that the school feared the team wouldn’t get adequate practice time in to do the game justice.
Depending on who you believe, Colgate either turned down an invitation as well or got eliminated when it finished the season with a tie against a bad Brown team. Tulane, Princeton, Illinois, Michigan, and Yale were all supposedly approached as well.
Eventually, by either choice or the lack of any other options, the Rose Bowl invited a dominant, unbeaten Alabama squad. And for the second straight year, the Rose Bowl and its result changed the trajectory of the sport’s history, despite itself.
Early in the game, the southern team was on the short end of a 12-to-0 score and appeared doomed to defeat by a considerable margin. Under such conditions, most any eleven would have acknowledged defeat, but not so with the gallant sons of Dixieland, who kept threatening the Husky goal after receiving the kick-off of the game.
That 12-point lead meant nothing to Capt. Jones, Hubert and Mack Brown, not to mention the rest of the stockingless squad which Coach Wallace Wade trotted on the gridiron. They simply bided their time and when the proverbial breaks presented themselves, the Crimson Tide warriors from the South took advantage and converted them into scores.
Translation from 1920ese: Alabama trailed early but erupted in the third quarter, took a 20-12 lead, and held on to win, 20-19.
The box score: From the LA Times.
The Tide’s train had to stop in basically every city in the South on the way home as a celebration of the achievement. This game lit a fire like few have; within a decade, the SEC had formed out of the ridiculous mass that was the Southern Conference. The most serious football schools in the South got together, then got even more serious about the sport. You probably know the rest of the story.