The 1986 Alabama squad opened the season 7–0, only to lose three of its final five regular season games to finish with a 9–3 record. Following their loss against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, university officials announced they accepted an invitation to play in the Sun Bowl. The appearance marked the second for Alabama in the Sun Bowl, and their 39th overall bowl game appearance.
The 1986 Washington squad finished the regular season with a record of 8–2–1. Tied for second place in the Pac-10, the Huskies lost to USC, Arizona State and tied UCLA. Following their victory over Washington State in the Apple Cup, university officials announced they accepted an invitation to play in the Sun Bowl. The appearance marked the second for Washington in the Sun Bowl, and their 17th overall bowl game appearance.
After a scoreless first quarter, Alabama scored first on a 64-yard Bobby Humphrey touchdown run to take a 7–0 lead. Washington responded with a pair of Jeff Jaegerfield goals to cut the lead to 7–6 at the half. Alabama extended their lead to 21–6 with a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter. Mike Shula was responsible for both touchdowns with the first coming on a 32-yard pass to Greg Richardson and the second on a 17-yard pass to Bobby Humphrey. Humphrey then scored the final points of the game midway through the fourth on a three-yard run to cap a 16 play, 92 yard drive.