EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third story in a series counting down the top five players in University of Alabama football history. Companion series are planned for Georgia (May 11-15) and Tennessee (May 18-22).
No program has dominated a decade in Southeastern Conference football the way Alabama owned the 1970s.
Paul "Bear" Bryant's Crimson Tide won every SEC title from 1971 to 1979 with the exception of 1976, and tight end Ozzie Newsome was named Alabama's best player during that glorious frame. The Tide achieved their success in those years out of the wishbone offense, with "The Wizard of Oz" repeatedly providing a blocking and pass-catching mismatch for opposing defenses.
Newsome's athleticism was evident from his days in and around Muscle Shoals, where he was a Colbert County High School receiver, defensive back, power forward, catcher and first baseman. Colbert County played for 3A state championships in all three sports while Newsome was there.
As an Alabama freshman in 1974, Newsome led the team in receiving with 20 catches for 374 yards and an average of 18.7 yards per reception. Alabama posted an 11-0 regular season and a No.2 ranking that year before suffering a 13-11 setback to No. 9 Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, which extended the Tide's postseason misery under Bryant.
Alabama went 5-2-1 in Bryant's first eight bowl games before enduring an 0-7-1 mark in the next eight, but Newsome took it upon himself to end that slide. After the Tide won their final 10 games of the 1975 season after a 20-7 upset loss to Missouri in the opener — Newsome accounted for Alabama's only score against Mizzou — they earned a No. 3 ranking and a Sugar Bowl date with No. 8 Penn State.
The Tide's wishbone struggled during the first Sugar Bowl to be played inside the Superdome, so Alabama broke a 3-3 deadlock with a 55-yard pass from Richard Todd to Newsome that set up Mike Stock's 14-yard touchdown run. That would be the difference in the eventual 13-6 Tide triumph.
Newsome's blocking prowess was repeatedly showcased during his time in Tuscaloosa, most notably in a 20-13 victory at Tennessee in 1976. Alabama starting quarterback Jeff Rutledge had an injured shoulder and took all of two snaps, which left the offensive load to backup Jack O'Rear.
O'Rear rushed 18 times for 119 yards against the Volunteers, while running backs Johnny Davis, Tony Nathan, Calvin Culliver and Rick Wilson combined on 48 rushes for 228 yards.
Alabama's 1976 season yielded a 9-3 record and a 36-6 thrashing of UCLA in the Liberty Bowl, and it was viewed as a disappointment. The Tide rebounded to go 10-1 in Newsome's senior season of 1977, falling only at Nebraska 31-24 in mid-September, and they entered the Sugar Bowl against No. 9 Ohio State ranked third behind No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Oklahoma.
Texas and Oklahoma handily lost the Cotton and Orange bowls, while Alabama obliterated the Buckeyes 35-6 in New Orleans, but voters propelled Notre Dame to the national championship as a result of the No. 5 Fighting Irish routing the top-ranked Longhorns 38-10 in Dallas.
That left Newsome without a coveted national title, but his senior season yielded All-America honors and 36 catches for 804 yards and 22.3 yards per reception, a single-season average that remains in the SEC's top 10 today.
Newsome's four-year numbers include 102 receptions for 2,070 yards and 16 touchdowns, with his 20.3 yards per catch resulting in an SEC career record that stood for more than two decades until it was surpassed by Arkansas receiver Anthony Lucas, who averaged 21.0 yards in his career that concluded in 1999.
As if being the best player of Alabama's premier decade of SEC dominance isn't enough to warrant a place among the elite in Tide football history, there is the fact Bryant labeled Newsome "the greatest end in Alabama history, and that includes Don Hutson."
Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999, Newsome would go on to make history in the sport by becoming the NFL's first black general manager in 2002.
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