MONTGOMERY, Ala. — When Alabama first played in the Rose Bowl, the university and its home state weren't very well known on the West Coast. A newspaper declared that "Alahambra" was going to play in that 1926 game.
Twenty years later, Alahambra was back in the Rose Bowl, this time with a new media moniker.
"The Los Angeles Times was talking about a group of players from 'Redneck Alabama' who were coming over for the bowl game," recalls Clem Gryska, a halfback on the 1946 Alabama team. "That didn't sit well with us."
The Crimson Tide, fresh from a 10-0 season and national championship, handed Southern Cal a 34-14 drubbing. It improved Alabama's Rose Bowl record to 4-1-1, but it was the first time the Tide played the mighty Trojans.
No. 3 Alabama returns to Rose Bowl Stadium for the first time since that 1946 game on Saturday against UCLA. A number of players, including Gryska and Hall of Famers Harry Gilmer and Vaughn Mancha, will accompany them to the scene of that triumph 54 years ago.
"I think it brought us national recognition, not just as a little old school down South but as a national power," Gryska said.
This time, the four-day train ride will be replaced by a five-hour plane trip. Chances are, with 12 national championships, the media will be more familiar with Alabama.
"The newspapers there called us hillbillies and river rats," Hal Self, a backup quarterback on the '46 team and North Alabama head coach, told The TimesDaily of Florence. "That really motivated us.
"We just outquicked them. They were big, but they couldn't keep up with us."
The Rose Bowl has been something of a lucky charm for Alabama. The Tide claimed national titles in 1925, 1930 and 1945, back when the championships were decided before the bowl games. Alabama's combined records in years it has played in the Rose Bowl stadium: 58-1-1.
The loss and tie both came in Pasadena.
This trip coincides with the Tide's return to near the top of the polls, and talk of winning another nation title has been rekindled.
Alabama quickly sold its allotment of 17,000 tickets, and more than 20,000 Tide fans are expected at Saturday's game.
Mancha flew from Tallahassee, Fla., to Birmingham on Wednesday.
"I met four people on the plane going to Pasadena," the former Florida State athletic director said. "They don't even have tickets."
Mancha has plenty of fond memories of Alabama's last trip to the Rose Bowl.
"Old-time Hollywood," said Mancha, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990. "Man, that was great fun. We'd go to MGM one day and go to Paramount the next day.
"What a feeling it's going to be to go back. I'm thrilled to death about it."