One of the first Alabama shirts I ever owned read “Got 12?” on the front of it. On the back, it listed all 12 of the Crimson Tide’s claimed national championships from 1925 to 1992. As a kid, I wanted to claim all of the trophies I could so of course I was going to claim all of them.
That story can probably be said for many Alabama football fans. As a new fan, you get sucked into the idea that Alabama has a certain amount of championships and you do not question it because they’re your team. It is the Alabama Crimson Tide. If other fanbases decide to challenge the team’s 16 championships, you stand up for your team because that is just what good fans do.
Unfortunately, we may have all been fooled by the same ruse and somehow we, as a fanbase, have done nothing about it. Sure it’s fun to look down to the little brother in Auburn and give them the old “16-2” argument but even that one makes little sense. However, before we get into the count, we need to know how we got to the 16 championship mark.
Former Alabama Director of Sports Information Wayne Atcheson is the man credited with bringing in the extra national championships. Before he came along, the University of Alabama claimed just one title before Bear Bryant’s tenure. They now claim five.
There were plenty of good reasons to go back and claim the extra championships. What program wouldn’t like extra national titles to claim? Atcheson explained why in an interview with AL.com’s Jon Solomon in 2010.
“I tried to make Alabama football look the best it could look and just make it as great as it could possibly be… I want to say the right thing here. I made the change because Coach Bryant had these 25 years and six national championships and they were emphasized so much. It was on all the stationery. And when I got there, it was a matter of seeing there were five others (before Bryant) and we should put them all together. It was as simple as that.”
Maybe Atcheson knew exactly what he was doing or maybe he had no idea what chaos and arguments would follow his decision. In any case, he made the number into 11 and five more have been added since thanks to Gene Stallings and Nick Saban.
Now the number 16 has become the face of the Alabama football program. The number 16 will be on the helmets in front of the College Gameday set. There will be 16 different flags on top of Bryant-Denny Stadium claiming the university’s titles.
According to the Associated Press, Alabama has 10 national championships. Overall during the poll era, Alabama has claimed 11 championships. Both of those are more than any other program in the country. So why make things debatable if you already have the best college football program in the world?
The NCAA officially grants the Crimson Tide a total of 14 national titles. They also give Yale 18 championships and Princeton a whopping 26 titles. So that’s cool, that makes Alabama the third best and I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s still not 16 so how did we get to that?
Oh yes, the ever debated 1941 national championship which Alabama claims, thanks to the Houlgate System. The Houlgate System used a mathematical formula to decide that Alabama was somehow better than the undefeated Minnesota team, which claimed every major poll including the AP. The Crimson Tide finished 20th that year in the AP poll.
But hey, if we still want to claim that title then why stop there? According to Wikipedia, there are four other seasons that Alabama was named national champion by other “major selectors.” So maybe the Crimson Tide fans should start wearing their “Got 20?” shirts.
When it comes down to it, maybe there is not a perfect number. And some argue that all the debating is just the beauty of college football. Others may argue that the current number is a part of Alabama tradition and we cannot start recounting now.
However, I think it’s clear that 16 is not the right number. Maybe we want to claim the 14 that the NCAA gives to Alabama and that would be tough to argue against.
Alabama fans like to be first though and that includes in the number of titles. The only way that happens is if the Crimson Tide decide to take the 11 national championships that have been awarded since the poll era began in 1936. Second place is Notre Dame and they’re still three back while Alabama and Nick Saban are continuing to add more.
Once you add more, the debates begin and as long as Alabama claims 1941, any school can retroactively claim whatever year they want to. Plus an 11-2 argument against Auburn fans is way more effective than 16ish-5ish.
Caleb Turrentine is a columnist at Touchdown Alabama Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @CalebTurrentine.