SAN ANTONIO – Commanders head coach Mike Riley is busy building a team that kicks off its season in the upstart Alliance of American Football in a month at the Alamodome.
But if Riley’s tight schedule allows, he’ll look in on the Alabama-Clemson showdown Monday night that will determine college football’s national championship.
“When I get a chance, I definitely will,” Riley said after the Commanders completed their third workout of training camp at Central Catholic’s Benson ’66 Stadium. “We have meetings, but when get a chance, I’m going to take a look.”
An Alabama alum, Riley was a reserve defensive back for the Crimson Tide during a four-year career (1971-74). He played for Paul “Bear” Bryant, one of college football’s iconic coaches. It’s not a stretch to say that Bryant was a legend long before he retired in 1982.
Riley was a freshman in 1971 when top-ranked Nebraska secured its second consecutive national title with a 38-6 beatdown of Alabama in the 1972 Orange Bowl.
The Crimson Tide won the 1973 UPI national championship, but shared the crown with Notre Dame after losing to the Irish 24-23 in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Eve. The UPI coaches poll crowned its national champion before the bowl games. Notre Dame finished No. 1 in the final AP poll, taken after the bowls.
The 1973 Sugar Bowl had one of the most exciting finishes in bowl history. Bob Thomas kicked a 19-yard field goal to put Notre Dame ahead 24-23 with 4:26 left, but the Irish’s lead appeared precarious after the Crimson Tide pinned them deep in their territory with a punt.
If Alabama forced a three-and-out, the Tide would have a good shot at getting in range for a field goal. Facing third-and-8 at the Notre Dame 3 after a false-start penalty, Irish quarterback Tom Clemens completed a 35-yard pass to tight end Robin Weber to move ND to the 38 with 1:56 left. The Irish ran out the clock to secure the victory.
“That was a memorable, memorable game,” said Riley, 65. “The other neat thing about that game even though we lost is the quarterback at Notre Dame was my first quarterback as a head coach in the Canadian (Football) League, Tom Clements. Proud of that.”
A standout player at Corvallis High School in Corvallis, Ore., Riley grew up wanting to play for Bryant at Alabama. His father, Bud, grew up in Alabama and an uncle, Hayden Riley, became the Crimson Tide’s head basketball coach, baseball coach and associated athletic director.
San Antonio’s latest minor-league football team, the Commanders open their season against the San Diego Fleet on Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Alamodome. The Commanders will play a 10-game regular season.