I knew the anniversary was coming up, but had forgotten about it until I read an excerpt on The Birmingham News’ blog asking readers to share their memories of Paul William “Bear” Bryant, Sr. Saturday is the 25th anniversary of the death of our beloved coaching legend. That day, I think the entire state mourned his passing. I remember Gramps saying, “Today, a good man and a great coach has died.” Ever since that day, I’ve heard fellow fans refer to him as “The Greatest Coach That Ever Lived.”
I was only 8 years old when he died, but I had heard stories about “The Bear” all of my life, and they’ve stayed with me. I was born an Alabamian, but I was a University of Alabama fan “but by the Grace of God.” Where I come from, he’s more than just a man, he was a legend. But I think most Alabama fans didn’t know how good we had it until it was over. In the 24 years that we had The Bear, Alabama had 232 wins and only 46 losses. His teams gave us 6 national championships — the most number celebrated by Southeastern Conference members and among the most of any school in the whole country!
With those kind of numbers, it’s no wonder many fans want to compare every coach that steps up to him. Why, I’ve heard my own husband gripe, saying that if fans would stop doing that, they could appreciate the coach they do have more. While I agree with that to an extent, but you know the truth is: we were spoiled. And I think now people are realizing that we’ve been missing that kind of quality coaching for a long time. I like what I hear about the guy we have now. I hear Saban’s very tough on the kids. Good, we need someone who can keep those boys in line and teach ’em a thing or two. He’s no Bear, but if you ask me, he has a lot of the same qualities that make him just as good a coach — let’s hope he proves me right in the next few years.
Selective reading/viewing and link love
- The Birmingham News has put together a photo gallery of Bryant-related Birmingham News photos.
- My own collection of Bear Bryant pictures are here. (though Zooomr is currently in a move, so if they’re down please try again later!)
- There are a TON of Bear Bryant videos on YouTube.
- RedElephants’ Bear Bryant bio and timeline.
- Mike Puma’s “Bear Bryant ‘simply the best there ever was'” for ESPN.
- Phillip Casteel’s And What “The Bear” Had To Say… page of Bear Bryant quotes and anecdotes.
I know there’s a LOT more out there, but those are what I keep bookmarked…
EDIT: Here’s a few more I’ve found along the way…
- Alabama jokes posted over at Wade Kwon’s blog
- Fox 6’s coverage of the anniversary
- The archived footage of Bear’s funeral
I’ve heard tons of Bear Bryant stories over the years, but there’s one in particular I have heard told by several people and it’s by far my favorite. I’d like to leave that here with you all, following my favorite clip of The Bear, giving one of his famous half-time speeches:
Bear Bryant knew how to be nice. At a TD Club meeting many years before his death, Coach told the following story … typical of the way he operated:
“I had just been named the new head coach at Alabama and was off in my old car down in South Alabama recruiting a prospect who was supposed to have been a pretty good player and I was havin’ trouble finding the place. Getting hungry I spied an old cinder block building with a small sign out front that simply said “Restaurant”.
“I pull up, go in and every head in the place turns to stare at me. Seems I’m the only white fella in the place. But the food smelled good so I skip a table and go up to a cement bar and sit. A big ole man in a tee shirt and cap comes over and says, “What do you need?” I told him I needed lunch and what did they have today? He says, “You probably won’t like it here, today we’re having chiltlins, collard greens and black eyed peas with cornbread. I’ll bet you don’t even know what chitlins are, do you?”
“I looked him square in the eye and said, “I’m from Arkansas, I’ve probably eaten a mile of them. Sounds like I’m in the right place.” They all smiled he left to serve me up a big plate. When he comes back he says, “you ain’t from around here then?” And I explain I’m the new football coach up in Tuscaloosa at the University and I’m here to find what ever that boy’s name was, and he says, “yeah I’ve heard of him, he’s supposed to be pretty good.” And he gives me directions to the school so I can meet him and his coach.
“As I’m paying up to leave I remember my manners and leave a tip, not too big to be flashy, but a good one, and he told me lunch was on him, but I told him for a lunch that good, I felt I should pay. The big man asked me if I had a photograph of something he could hang up to show I’d been there. I was so new that I didn’t have any yet. It really wasn’t that big a thing back then to be asked for, but I took a napkin and wrote his name and address on it and told him I’d get him one. I met the kid I was lookin’ for later that afternoon, and I don’t remember his name, but do remember I didn’t think much of him when I met him. I had wasted a day, or so I thought.
“When I got back to Tuscaloosa late that night, I put that napkin from my shirt pocket and put it under my keys so I wouldn’t forget it. Hell, back then I was excited that anybody would want a picture of me. And the next day we found a picture and I wrote on it, “Thanks for the best lunch I’ve ever had, Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant.”
“Now let’s go a whole buncha years down the road. Now we have black players at Alabama and I’m back down in that part of the country scouting an offensive lineman we sure needed. Y’all remember, (and I forget the name, but it’s not important to the story), well anyway, he’s got two friends going to Auburn and he tells me he’s got his heart set on Auburn too, so I leave empty handed and go on see some others while I’m down there. Two days later, I’m in my office in Tuscaloosa and the phone rings and it’s this kid who just turned me down, and he says, “Coach, do you still want me at Alabama?” And I said hell yes I sure do. And he says, OK, he’ll come. And I say, “well son, what changed your mind?” And he said, “When my grandpa found out that I had a chance to play for you and said no he pitched a fit and told me I wasn’t going nowhere but Alabama, and wasn’t playing for nobody but you. He thinks a lot of you and has ever since y’all met.” Well I didn’t know his grandad from Adam’s housecat so I asked him who his grand daddy was and he said, “You probably don’t remember him, but you ate in his restaurant your first year at Alabama and you sent him a picture that he’s had hung in that place ever since. That picture’s his pride and joy and he still tells everybody about the day that Bear Bryant came in and had chitlins with him. My grandpa said that when you left there, he never expected you to remember him or to send him that picture, but you kept your word to him, and to Grandpa, that’s everything. He said you could teach me more than football and I had to play for a man like you, so I guess I’m going to.”
“I was floored”, he said. “But I learned that the lessons my mama taught me were always right. It don’t cost nuthin’ to be nice. It don’t cost nuthin’ to do the right thing most of the time, and it costs a lot to lose your good name by breakin’ your word to someone. When I went back to sign that boy, I looked up his Grandpa and he’s still running that place, but it looks a lot better now, and he didn’t have chitlins that day, but he had some ribs that woulda made Dreamland proud and I made sure I posed for a lot of pictures, and don’t think I didn’t leave some new ones for him too, along with a signed football. I made it clear to all my assistants to keep this story and these lessons in mind when they’re out on the road. And if you remember anything else from me, remember this, “It really doesn’t cost anything to be nice, and the rewards can be unimaginable.”