Here's the most accurate version (coming from a lifelong Bama fan.) This is borrowed from a Bama website, and this story is written about in Winston Groom's (of Forrest Gump fame) book on Bama football:
Behind the "Crimson Tide" nickname and the elephant mascot are two bits of trivia that might stump even the most loyal of Alabama football fans. The team was not always referred to as the "Crimson Tide." Early newspaper accounts of Alabama football simply listed the team as the "varsity" or the "Crimson White" after the school colors. Headline writers then made popular the nickname "The Thin Red Line."
It was not until 1907 that the name "Crimson Tide" was used to describe Alabama. The name was supposedly first used by Hugh Roberts, former sports editor of the Birmingham Age-Herald. Roberts coined the nickname to describe the 1907 Alabama - Auburn game, played in a sea of mud. Although Auburn was favored to win, Alabama played well in the red mud and held Auburn to a 6 - 6 tie, thus gaining the name "Crimson Tide." Zepp Newman, former sports editor of the Birmingham News, probably popularized the name more than any other writer.
Big Al, Alabama's elephant mascot, certainly holds a special place in the hearts of Crimson Tide fans. Perhaps surprisingly to some fans, Alabama has not always boasted an elephant for its mascot. Coach Wallace Wade's 1930 Alabama football team was the first to be associated with the elephant. Sports writer Everett Strupper of the Atlanta Journal wrote a story of the October 4, 1930 Alabama - Mississippi game. Strupper's story called the Alabama team big, tough, fast and aggressive. Strupper also commented that the Alabama players looked " like they had nearly doubled in size" since the previous season.
"At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble, there was a distant rumble that continued to grow," Strupper wrote. "Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ' Hold you horses, the elephants are coming,' and out stamped this Alabama varsity."
Strupper and other writers continued to refer to the Alabama linemen as "Red Elephants," the color referring to the Crimson jerseys.That 1930 team of "Red Elephants" posted a 10 - 0 overall record and defeated Washington State in the Rose Bowl to be declared National Champions.