After the most dominant decade in school history, the 1980s marked a period of transition for the Alabama Crimson Tide. After posting the last of his 13 SEC Championships at Alabama in 1981, 1982 marked the final season for legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. The rest of the decade saw an eclectic mix of struggles and success, including another SEC title in 1989.
A 6–3 loss to Mississippi State ended Alabama's all-time school record 28-game winning streak and all-time SEC record 27-game conference winning streak. It also cost the Tide a share of the SEC championship, the first time since 1976 they failed to win the SEC. It was Alabama's first loss to Mississippi State since 1957. Despite surrendering 35 points to Ole Miss, the Alabama defense still allowed only 98 points for the entire season. Prior to the 1980 season, the SEC presidents voted that a game scheduled by two SEC teams against one another, but not scheduled by the conference office, would not count in SEC standings thus the Alabama/Ole Miss games in 1980 and 1981 did not count as league games.
Alabama recovered from a shocking upset loss to a 1–10 Georgia Tech team to win its ninth SEC title in eleven years (shared with Georgia). It was Bama's 18th SEC championship, and the 13th and last conference title for Paul "Bear" Bryant at Alabama. Alabama's 28–17 win over Auburn was Coach Bryant's 315th career victory, breaking the then all-time record held by Amos Alonzo Stagg. Alabama's Cotton Bowl Classic loss to Texas dropped the Tide's all-time record against the Longhorns to 0–7–1.
Alabama was 5–0 after beating Penn State 42-21, with the decisive play coming when a Penn State player blocked his own team's punt. But after that it was all downhill. Paul Bryant's last season as Alabama football coach saw a nine-game winning streak against Auburn and eleven-game winning streaks against Tennessee and LSU all come to an end. The loss to Southern Miss was Alabama's first loss in Tuscaloosa since 1963, breaking a 57-game win streak in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Coach Bryant retired after Alabama's bowl victory against Illinois and died one month later, on January 26, 1983.
Ray Perkins, who played as a wide receiver for Coach Bryant in the 1960s, became the new head coach at Alabama. The Tide suffered a controversial 34–28 loss to Penn State when tight end Preston Gothard was ruled out of bounds after appearing to catch a game-tying touchdown pass with eight seconds left in the fourth quarter. Bama avenged the previous year's losses to LSU and Southern Miss but lost to Tennessee and Auburn again and had to settle for the Sun Bowl, where they beat SMU.
Florida's title was later vacated by the SEC.
Rankings from AP Poll
In 1984 Alabama went 5–6, its first losing season since the Tide went 2–7–1 in 1957 under J.B. Whitworth. This season ended Alabama's streak of 25 consecutive bowl appearances. Lowlights included blowing a 17-point lead in a season-opening loss to Boston College (and their quarterback, Doug Flutie, who went on to win the 1984 Heisman Trophy), a third consecutive loss to Tennessee in which the Tide blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead, and Alabama's first and loss to Vanderbilt since 1969. However, Alabama fans got a big consolation prize with an upsetIron Bowl victory over archrival Auburn to end the season, denying the Tigers a berth in the Sugar Bowl.
Florida ineligible for SEC championship due to NCAA probation.
Rankings from AP Poll
Highlights of the 1985 season included a dramatic last-second comeback on Labor Day against Georgia at the beginning of the season and, at the end, possibly Alabama's most dramatic Iron Bowl victory ever. A game that Bama led 16–10 after three quarters saw four lead changes in the fourth quarter, including two in the final minute. It ended with Van Tiffin's 52-yard field goal as time expired to give Alabama a 25–23 victory. Tiffin's field goal is remembered simply as "The Kick".
Due to NCAA sanction that led to the forfeit of Alabama's 1993 17–17 tie with Tennessee, and college football's adoption of an overtime that does not allow ties, the 14–14 tie with LSU remains the last official tie in school history.
The Crimson Tide rose to as high as #2 in the rankings but lost to eventual national champion Penn State and lost out on an SEC title after losses to LSU and Auburn. Highlights of the season included Alabama's first ever victory over Notre Dame and a 56–28 victory over Tennessee that snapped a four-game losing streak to the Vols. After the season, Ray Perkins left to become head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
New coach Bill Curry led Alabama to a wildly uneven season that included remarkable lows (a 31-point loss to Notre Dame, a shutout loss to Auburn, an embarrassing loss to Memphis) and dramatic highs (victories over Penn State, Tennessee and LSU).
The Tide played all home games this season at Legion Field in Birmingham while Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa was in the midst of a major expansion.
Alabama suffered close losses to LSU and Auburn in November but possibly the low point of the season was a 22–12 loss on Homecoming to Mississippi, Alabama's first ever loss to Mississippi in the state of Alabama. The Tide had zero yards passing in the game. Highlights included a victory over Penn State, Alabama's third straight win over Tennessee, and a come-from-behind 29–28 victory in the Sun Bowl over Army in which quarterback David Smith threw for 412 yards, an all-time bowl record for an Alabama quarterback.
Alabama's road game against Texas A&M, originally scheduled for September 17, was postponed to December 1 when Coach Curry declined to make the trip, worried about oncoming Hurricane Gilbert. When Gilbert made landfall in Mexico and the weather in College Station was clear on gameday, A&M fans called Alabama's coach "Chicken Curry".
Alabama won its first ten games en route to its best record since 1980 and first SEC championship since 1981, and 19th overall. Highlights included beating Mississippi 62–27 after falling behind 21–0, beating Tennessee 47–30 in a match of unbeatens, and a 17–16 victory against Penn State in which Alabama blocked an 18-yard field goal try with 13 seconds left for the win. However, in the season finale against Auburn—the first Iron Bowl ever played at Auburn, Alabama—the Tigers beat Alabama 30–20. Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee finished in a three-way tie for the conference championship. Miami won the national championship after beating Alabama 33–25 in the Sugar Bowl. After the season was over, coach Bill Curry quit and took the head coaching job at Kentucky.