Honoring Maryland’s Most Memorable Season: Terps Roll Tide on the Way to College Football Glory

Alabama's Bart Starr Photo credit: encyclopediaofalabama.org
Alabama’s Bart Starr
Photo credit: encyclopediaofalabama.org

On November 21, 1953, Alabama was essentially the only hurdle standing between Maryland and their first-ever national championship. While Maryland would still have to play in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day if they won, the national champion would be voted on and crowned before that. With one more win to cap off an impressive undefeated season, Maryland would be one of the clear favorites, along with an undefeated Notre Dame team which also had one game remaining. Alabama, under the leadership of future Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr, refused to go down without a fight though, and they were more than anxious to face Maryland in their final regular season contest. Just two days prior to the game, the Crimson Tide held a “Beat Maryland” pep rally where a few Alabama players told their fans they would “bring back Terrapin shells from Maryland.” They would soon find out that they wouldn’t be able to deliver on that promise.

Alabama’s plan was to score early and hold the ball. The longer the Crimson Tide could control the ball, the longer the Terps’ high-powered offense was kept off of the field. Tatum also feared that Alabama coach Red Drew may use some trickery. With their sucker shift technique, Alabama could draw Maryland off-sides and make them hesitant to blitz for the rest of the game. This plan deteriorated immediately, however, after Chet Hanulak galloped 81 yards for a touchdown on his first touch of the game. The Tide found themselves down seven after just seconds. Maryland was able to tack on two more scores before the first half ended with Maryland ahead 21-0.

Chet “The Jet’s” 81-yard scamper was only the first of many highlights. The glory in this game belonged to the Terps’ defense, which was ruthless all day. Alabama racked up only 50 yards less than Maryland, but it was Maryland’s performance and effort in goal line situations that made the difference. Every time it seemed that Alabama was certain to punch the ball into the end zone, Maryland would slam the door in their faces. The Terps stymied Alabama’s efforts four times inside the 10-yard line. When it wasn’t Maryland’s bruising line slamming through the middle, it was their shifty defensive backs cutting in to take down the ball carrier. The immovable forces of Bob “Blubber” Morgan and Stan Jones, in particular, combined to completely dismantle the Crimson Tide’s running game.  This level of play continued throughout the second half, even when Tatum gave his second-stringers some playing time. Maryland coasted in the second half without scoring as Alabama fell flat in front of 36,000 loyal fans at Byrd Stadium. With this win, Maryland notched their sixth shutout and capped off their undefeated season.

Stan Jones and Bob Morgan anchored the defensive line
Stan Jones and Bob Morgan anchored the defensive line

During the post-game celebration, as the crowd slowly filed out of Byrd, the announcement that the number-one team in the country, Notre Dame, had just tied their game with Iowa blared from the loudspeakers. The Notre Dame tie all but promised Maryland a number-one national ranking from the AP and Coaches polls, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The quest for the perfect season was now over, and the Maryland Terrapins football team was awarded their first national championship. While the Terps could celebrate on this day, there was still work to be done. They patiently awaited an Orange Bowl showdown with the Oklahoma Sooners on New Years Day.

You can watch actual video footage of the Maryland-Alabama game at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHynIf7kiI4 (Note that the quarters are not in order. Hanulak’s TD is around 24:45)

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