The Legend Lives On
I know I said there wouldn’t be any more Alabama blogs for a while, but I nearly forgot about today, January 26th.
Some people may say that Alabama puts too much emphasis on Bear Bryant and his legacy, but until you’ve walked on that campus and seen it for yourself, you have no idea how much this one man means to his alma mater. (I do agree that sometimes the Athletic Dept. puts too much stock in hiring employees who worked for the Bear at one time, but until I can donate the big bucks to my alma mater, I don’t get to complain.) In any case, I can attest to the strength of the legacy. I have stood, cheered, and screamed in Bryant-Denny Stadium with my hair standing on end, goose bumps on my arms, and tears in my eyes when that unmistakable baritone voice comes over the PA system saying, “I ain’t never been nothin’ but a winner” and the Alabama Tradition video rolls on the jumbotron. Beyond that, the feeling is indescribable.
A lot of people have seen the ESPN movie “Junction Boys,” which dramatized Bear Bryant’s 1st year of coaching at Texas A&M. They portrayed him as a hard-nosed coach who never let up on his players. In fact, it portrayed him partly as a monster. Players quit because they couldn’t take it, and they hated Coach Bryant, but what Coach was left with after all of that were players who were strong and dedicated, who wanted to play for him, who wanted to win. Make no mistake, he was rough in his coaching, but what he taught his players was not only how to be strong football players, but also, how to be strong men. Every one of his players knows they are the men they are today because of what Coach Bryant taught them about life in the midst of playing a game.
At home games in Tuscaloosa, you can almost see him standing on the field. Little boys grow up learning all about his legacy, and develop a desire to play for the Crimson Tide just for the opportunity to walk where Bear Bryant walked and say they were part of the tradition. As described to me by football players I knew, the first time you run out of that tunnel is an experience you never forget. Every week it starts with the team standing at the entrance to the field, and from somewhere in the midst of them, a player whispers, deeply, TIDE. Then another, a little louder, says GET READY TO ROLL. This continues until they’re all chanting TIDE…GET READY TO ROLL…TIDE…GET READY TO ROLL. And then they run out onto the field, Big Al and the cheerleaders leading them. They run through the band that is playing the fight song, and do what so many have done before them. They play the game of football, for themselves, for a team, for their fans, for a school, and for a legacy.
Paul William “Bear” Bryant coached his last game on December 29, 1982 and retired from coaching that same season. He intended to stay on as the athletic director, but less than a month later, the physical Bear Bryant died on January 26th, 1983 in Tuscaloosa of a massive heart attack. But, if you listen carefully on Saturdays in the fall, you can hear his voice and feel his presence. It’s deeply rooted in a small town in West Alabama, and I, for one, know no other college football tradition that I’d rather be a part of.
“If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride – and never quit, you’ll be a winner. The price of victory is high but so are the rewards.” ~ Coach Bryant
(This week, The Washington Times ran a story about his legacy. I have included the link to that story below. It’s a great story about a man who wasn’t afraid of change and knew that even though he was considered the best in the business, he could always learn something from his peers. Bear Bryant’s retirement was too short)