Bear by Paul "Bear" Bryant and John Underwood - Read Online
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A reissue of Paul "Bear" Bryant's autobiography, this edition features a completely new introduction and an accompanying audio CD of Bryant himself, in his own voice, talking about his life and football. It's all here, in his own inimitable words and with a candor that is both remarkable and eminently revealing. From his hardscrabble youth as the third youngest of 13 children of a dirt-poor farmer in Moro Bottom, Arkansas, to his playing days at the University of Alabama and fortuitous marriage to the remarkable Mary Harmon Black, to his first stabs at coaching as an assistant coach, to his 38 years as a head coach, coaching marquis names like Namath and Crow and Parilli, to his 323 victories and a record six National Championships.

Published: Triumph Books an imprint of Independent Publishers Group on
ISBN: 9781617499166
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Bear - Paul "Bear" Bryant

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To Mama, who put me on my way; and to Mary Harmon, who made it a pleasant journey; and to the players, the coaches, and the fans of college football, the greatest game there is.


An Introduction




































Photo Gallery

An Introduction

The image endures, defined even better by the breadth of his life’s impact. We were sitting on the patio of a friend’s house in the Florida Keys, a haven to which he retreated when his peripatetic life, and the telephone, wore him down. It was July; seasonably, unreasonably hot, windless, and washed out, a day drained by the enervating sun. A sign in red and white could be seen protruding from the sandspurs in the vacant lot next to the house: Bryant Field. Over the lavatory inside was a super-enlarged postcard depicting him walking on water with the inscription: I believe!

Paul Bear Bryant, in a lounge chair, pushed his thick white legs out from his baggy swimming trunks into the sun. The brim of his straw hat cast a shadow over his face and accentuated the lines around his eyes. I was reminded how the lines had deepened and proliferated since we’d first met, like those on a fine antique, but yet, remarkably, had not diminished the handsomeness of his face. Rather, they tended to enlarge on his strength, to accentuate it—granite and ice and true grit. Seeing that face for the first time years before, George Blanda thought (as he wrote later of quarterbacking at Kentucky for Bryant), This must be what God looks like. When Bear Bryant walked into the room, Blanda said, you wanted to stand up and applaud.

You lost your mind? Bryant said, straightening in his chair. From my own mooring in the sun I had suggested that having done everything he had set out to do as a football coach at least once—national championships; bowl games won in all sizes, shapes, and dollar values; Coach of the Year awards; books written about him, songs written about him, buildings named after him—that Bryant might just as well quit and go watch the bullfights in Spain.

I’d croak in a week, Bryant said. I’m more fired up now than I was 20 years ago. He paused to let me appreciate how fired up that meant. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had honors. But if I couldn’t stay in it, I’d go crazy. I don’t have as much fun as I used to because I’m not as close to the kids, not coaching as much. But still. Today, tomorrow. When I walk out on that practice field cold chills run up my back. A new day. And it’s something I wouldn’t swap for anything. I don’t know how else to say it.

As time would tell, Bear Bryant was, indeed, far from done. His Alabama teams won three more national championships after that to bring his grand total to six (nobody else comes close), and when he announced his retirement and finished off the 1982 season with another bowl victory, he had won more games than any college coach in history. It was irresistible from then on for sports historians and other armchair quarterbacks to dredge the 44 years of his career for fragments to explain his greatness. I anticipated no new evidence, and got none—not then, not since. Bryant’s success had a lot to do with his being tough to pin down. It was part of his genius that it was impossible to pin him down for long. Stifle his offense and he beat you with defense. Graduate his passing attack and he hammered you with wishbone running. Take him for granted at Kentucky and he slipped away in the night to win at Texas A&M. Bryant said and Bryant did, but he always kept you off balance doing it.

At Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Alabama, Bryant won 323 times. The record stood until Bobby Bowden at FSU and Joe Paterno at Penn State stuck around longer and passed him by. One of Bryant’s former assistants, Bum Phillips, used to say that Bryant didn’t coach football, he coached people. I would refine that only to say that coaching people checked out to be a unique ability to communicate. The hard-eyed toughness, the mumbling, and the baggy pants were only trappings. Bear Bryant out-communicated everybody.

Before an important road game one year, he invited me to live with the team to help get the makings of a story I was doing for Sports Illustrated. At the pregame breakfast on Saturday I sat next to an Alabama professor and department head who had been invited along. Bryant curried faculty support by doing things like that, itself a form of communication. When he made his talk to the team, he barely spoke above the growl of a whisper that he activated whenever he wanted (demanded) your utmost attention. The players leaned forward in their seats, eager to hear, and in so doing one accidentally tipped over a glass of water. The spill hitting the floor sounded like Niagara Falls. When Bryant finished, the professor turned to me, awed. If I could reach my students like that I’d teach for nothing, he said.

Effective as he was with a group, Bryant was even better one-on-one. In person he really communicated. He coaxed and cajoled, and scared the hell out of people. He knew he could do this, and he used it like a wrench. Bum Phillips told me that John David Crow stood outside Bryant’s office for more than an hour one afternoon at Texas A&M, waiting for the man to come out, but not daring to knock. And all Crow had done was win the Heisman Trophy. Bryant’s assistant coaches were no less awed. One day after a particularly uninspired practice at Alabama he ordered his coaching staff to meet in my office first thing in the morning to, as he put it, get this damn train back on track. Not knowing for sure what Bryant meant by first thing, and not daring to ask, Dude Hennessey slept on his office floor that night.

But the Bryant who could intimidate could also care deeply, and those who overlooked this part missed the best part. If he took advantage of your fear, he also appreciated your love. Those who saw this sought him out. He enjoyed being sought out. My daughter Lori, when she was in school at Alabama, used to drop in on him unannounced, invading the posh inner sanctum of his office to forage into the refrigerator he had given her access to and bullying him with affectionate needling about his insatiable smoking habit. He never turned her away. Years afterward, he would preface our phone conversations with How’s Lori? When she heard he had retired, Lori cried. I love that old man, she said. I told Bryant. Yeah, my grandchildren cried, too, he said.

Most of all Bryant loved the communication he had with athletes—getting my message across—and even if he scared them silly, they sensed his empathy. Joe Namath, whom Bryant always called the best athlete I ever saw, never called him anything but Coach Bryant, but told me their private pregame walks were voyages rich in discovery (or words to that effect). It was reciprocal. A favorite story Bryant told me at least twice was of a time he enjoyed with his players after a victory over Florida in Gainesville, when "we got out to the airport afterward and the doggone plane wasn’t there. Our kids could have been home and out enjoying themselves, but there we were standing around in that heat, and I was so mad.

Well, I don’t know why—it was Mary Harmon’s idea, really—but I went around and said, ‘When we get back, if you don’t have anything better to do, bring your wives or your dates and come over to our house. We got a new pool with AstroTurf all around, and Mary Harmon will cook up something.’ (Mary Harmon, of course, was the agelessly beautiful wife Bryant had won over when they were students at Alabama; he routinely referred to her as the best thing that ever happened to me, and obviously meant it.) I expected a handful [of the invited players] to come to the house, but a whole bunch of ’em came. I was inside having a drink and listening to a game and they were around the pool, and one by one they started coming in until they were all in there, laying around like little pigs, listening to the game with me. It was one of the best times I ever had.

Only when you’ve seen the grinding poverty of Moro Bottoms, Arkansas, the town that spawned him, and the active distrust he had for failure thereafter, can you fully appreciate another otherwise implausible Bryant character trait. The one that combined ham and humble pie, and an unabashed joy in celebrity (and, yes, being catered to by celebrities). He really dreaded going back to The Bottoms, and embraced any affirmation that it wouldn’t be necessary. When we put together his life story for a series in SI, then expanded on it for the first edition of this book, we went over the manuscript at that same house on the Florida Keys, owned by a close friend named Sloan Bashinsky, the president of Golden Flake Potato Chips. Sloan was a sponsor of The Bear Bryant [television] Show. He and a couple more of Bryant’s cronies were there, and Bryant was so pleased with the written evidence of his imminent apotheosis that he carted the manuscript around, from one guest to another, making each read a favored portion or two.

Later that year, on the eve of the Hall of Fame banquet, we had plans to meet in New York City. My flight arrived late, it was raining and near freezing in Manhattan, and I was on the edge of a substantial head cold. When I got to the hotel I found he had left word to meet him at Patsy’s Restaurant, but in no mood to venture back out, I ignored the order and went to bed. The phone rang.

Where the hell are you?

It’s raining. It’s cold. I’m sick. I’m in bed.

Frank Sinatra is at my table. You better get on over here.

"Yeah, sure. I wouldn’t want to miss Old Blue Eyes. Is Bing there with him?

Okay, smart guy. Just hold on.

There was a short pause, then an unmistakable voice. Hello, John? This is Francis Albert Sinatra. The Bear says for you to get your ass over here.

Bryant got back on the phone, tickled.

What’d I tell you?

I regret to admit that I stayed in bed.

We spent hundreds of hours in conversation over the years, mostly when I was in quest of his viewpoint for SI. His candor, from the beginning, was remarkable. And unsettling. I wasn’t always sure I wanted to be entrusted with the classified stuff he threw at me. Before games he would pour out the wisdom of his battle plan, detailing what his team would do to win on Saturday, and then ask, Are you sure you understand this? I would say, Sure I do. And he would say, I don’t think you do. Let’s go over it again.

More remarkable was his frankness in explaining himself in that he left nothing unsaid. When he wanted a name protected, or a fact kept confidential, he simply asked it, as if trust was a given. His ability to recall conversations, incidents, names, places, dates, yard lines, etc., was uncanny. I have on record the same stories told six years apart. Not only are his words the same but so are his voice inflections.

But what really got me was that three or six months or a year later he would throw something back at me that I had said, something in passing during a gin game on a private airplane or poolside in the Keys when he was relaxing. He would say, Wait a minute. Didn’t you tell me last June that so and so and so and so?

Yes, I would be forced to admit, "but I thought I was interviewing you." I got by with no imprecisions.

It’s absurd to believe that because Bryant said he knew less about football than he did about people that this meant he wasn’t brilliant about football. Football got him out of the Bottoms, he tied to it, and clearly he knew it as well as anyone. He was always doing things a little better or a little different, and if it was something he borrowed, like Darrell Royal’s wishbone, he invariably improved on it. He was so adept in winning at the limits, in fact, that the NCAA watched him like a hawk. His use of the tackle-eligible pass was so sneaky and effective that the rules committee eventually banned the play.

One Friday night before a big road game he invited me by his hotel room to continue a conversation we’d started that afternoon at the field. I got there before he had taken his sleeping pill. He was sitting by the radio in red pajamas, charting a game that involved a future opponent who was supposed to be very good that year. Bryant was scribbling on a legal pad as the broadcast progressed. But the game was barely into the second quarter when something happened that made him growl, and he abruptly stopped charting, scribbled in bold letters across the page, and threw the pad aside. I picked it up to see what he’d written: CAN’T WIN. It was underscored twice.

Who can’t win? I asked. He named the future opponent, a surprise because the score was tied at the time and the team in question was heavily favored. I left long before the game was over but made it a point at breakfast the next morning to check the local paper to see who won. The future opponent that couldn’t win hadn’t, by 24–7. Later that year Alabama beat the same team by five touchdowns.

On the field Bryant seemed always to be three or four moves ahead of the competition. During one game in Birmingham I was on the sidelines when he turned to his offensive coordinator, Mal Moore (now Alabama’s athletics director), and asked what amounted to a very technical question about the rules on quick kicks. I remember neither question nor answer, only that it struck both Moore and me as a strange inquiry. It was first down at the time, and the other team had the ball. Two plays later the other team quick kicked.

For a Saturday afternoon, Bryant was the consummate competitor, willing to take a chance, unafraid to challenge the odds. It was the gambler in him. He loved to gamble, in any venue that made it pos-sible, and made no bones about it. That reputation, some have said, might have contributed to The Saturday Evening Post’s misguided attempt to pin a fixed game on him and Georgia’s Wally Butts in the 1960s, a convulsion of bad journalism that cost the Post dearly (as the text ahead will recall). But that’s a stretch. Gambling was fun for Bryant, that’s all. Fun was the object. His gin games were legendary for their arcane scoring methods, and we never took an extended flight together that he didn’t break out the cards and a score pad. Similarly, his golf games at the Indian Hills course near Tuscaloosa were raucous with good-natured arguments over the betting contingencies.

One spring afternoon I teed it up as a first-time addition to his regular foursome. I had arrived late after a delayed flight, hurriedly changed, and assembled my clubs and nerves to make it to the first tee—just in time to find that I had been given the dubious honor of leading off, and that we were a foursome only in the sense that we had four golf carts. There were actually seven players, and the bets were cross-wired with such complexity that I figured I could win about five bucks or lose a month’s wages. Bryant said, We got a rule on the first tee. You hit till you get one you like. I hit my tee shot reasonably straight, and far enough so that I couldn’t see the writing on the ball, and decided one was enough. I stepped aside.

The other six hit until each got one he liked. When they were finally done, the fairway looked like a field of freshly sprouted mushrooms.

The craps tables at Las Vegas were equally favored when Bryant could avail himself. One night I was with him when he was enjoying the action at a particularly crowded table. He had the dice, whooping it up, when the man on his left suddenly pitched nose-first into the chips. I was on Bryant’s other side, and from that angle I could see the man sprawling forward, his right hand in Bryant’s bearlike left—and Bryant’s wallet protruding from his fingers. A split second before they had been in Bryant’s back pocket. Security guards quickly moved in and took the thief away, marveling at how deftly he had been done in by his prey. Bryant, unfazed and matter-of-fact, went back to the dice.

We had joined up in Las Vegas—Bryant and Mary Harmon, USC’s John and Corky McKay, and myself—for a short respite before Bryant’s scheduled appearance at a coaching conference at Pepperdine University in Malibu. He and I flew there the next day, Bryant not exactly hale and hearty. It was the off-season and he had been playing hard. From childhood, as he explains in this book, there had been many demons in his life, and alcohol had become one of them. He said he drank when he was bored, but for better reasons, too. Years later he went to a place where he could get help (You got to have a plan for everything, he said) and took on that particular demon head-on. When he told me about it afterward he said he was glad to report that he had won. And I was glad to hear him say it.

But the flight to Pepperdine was some time before that, and I could see when we boarded that he was drawn and washed out from the Las Vegas adventure. Just before his appearance at the coaches’ meeting, sweat popped out on his forehead, and he was barely into his speech when with a clarity reserved for critical moments (no mumbling then), he said, Excuse me, gentlemen, but is there a doctor in the house? And he collapsed.

I was one of the first to reach him, and an ambulance was called. Bryant knew what had put him down, but he let the rescue take its course. As we waited he reached into his pocket and gave me his wallet to hold, and in the ambulance asked me to check the contents to be sure what I was carrying. The wallet was stuffed with $100 bills. He had taken a good piece of Las Vegas out with him. Hospital visit aside, it had been another triumphant weekend.

When he announced his retirement in December of 1982, just before a Liberty Bowl victory over Illinois, I waited a few days, then called to tell him, kiddingly, of course, that I’d been watching the papers to see if he’d croaked. I said I was wondering if he’d changed his mind. He laughed and said he’d thought about it but that he still had things to do. When I asked what things, he said, I’m not sure yet. (See? Tough to pin down.) He said he actually felt great, but that the team’s four defeats in a single season were too many around here and he thought it was time to leave the chores to someone else.

I hung up thinking he sounded a little subdued, but that it was to be expected. His coaching days were over. He said nothing about being sick. He died a month later, on January 26, 1983. The funeral procession ran three miles long, drew more than a quarter million people, and stretched from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham. The sitting U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, and three former presidents, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon, sent flowers.

Now, with so much time having passed and so many memories to choose from, I struggle to find that special something that would most accurately encapsulate his ongoing influence. It finally opened to me, ironically enough, through Bobby Bowden. I’d been in Bowden’s office at Florida State just before Bryant’s retirement and Bobby, not only a terrific coach and quintessential Christian gentleman, but an open-faced sandwich, pointed to where a first-edition Bear stood out among a small line of favored books on the front of his desk. He said he referred to it often. Years later, when Bobby was bearing down on Bryant’s record for games won, I happened to be in Tallahassee again and couldn’t help but notice that it was still there.

Then just the other day, when the 2006–07 bowl season was in full swing and Bowden had won again to add to his lead over Bryant and everybody else, I was buttonholed by an Orange Bowl Committee member at a meeting in Miami, a friend who said he couldn’t wait to tell me something. He said he’d been at FSU the day before, in Bowden’s office, and right there on his desk was—what else?—the book. He said Bowden told him it was an inspiration. I had to think, still.

And while at first imagining how proud the Papa Bear would have been, I realized that the implications were greater than that. And if I hadn’t always seen it during those times I was around him, I certainly could see it now. That the things Paul Bear Bryant did, and the things he said, achieved a relevance far beyond the context he said and did them in. Beyond anything even he would have dared imagine, actually. I believe now that the length of his shadow might very well be endless. A coach for the ages, yes. But much more.

Read on.

—John Underwood


When I was generating all that heat in the Southwest Conference in the mid-1950s, and Abe Martin of TCU was saying how I’d made the other coaches in that league put away their golf clubs, a Dallas sportswriter named Harold Ratliff asked me if I thought I was a genius. Ratliff always had the needle out. Compared with what a lot of folks were saying in those days, old Harold’s twits were like love taps. I smiled—this was at a party and I was on my best behavior— and said, No, Harold, I’m no genius. But I’m a damn good football coach.

I doubt there are any geniuses coaching football, but if you were to ask me if football is a coach’s game, I’d have to say it is. And always was. And if you were to ask me why some coaches are going to win more than others—why they get their players to win, and why a certain few win consistently, no matter where they coach—I wouldn’t tell you if I knew. This is my book you’re buying, not my blood.

When I was at Kentucky I got booed one night by a group of students who came to the train to see us off for a game with Cincinnati. I had fired some of our star players, and they didn’t like that. And we’d lost three of our first five games, and they didn’t like that either, which I can understand. I didn’t like it myself. In fact, I hated it. For a young coach—which I was then—so keyed up I couldn’t get to work in the morning without vomiting along the way, it was not exactly heaven on earth. The Cincinnati game took on added importance.

Cincinnati had fine teams then, coached by Sid Gillman, who has been a big name in the pros and is with the Houston Oilers now. What I’m about to say should not be taken as a lack of respect for Sid. You have to appreciate that my collar was tighter than it is now.

We got to the stadium at Cincinnati and I sensed something was wrong. When we went out to warm up for the game there was nobody in the stands. Just a handful of people scattered around. I thought for a minute I was in the wrong place. When we finished our warm-up and the Cincinnati team still hadn’t made an appearance, I said to Carney Laslie, one of my original assistant coaches, What’s that no-good, conniving smart aleck—meaning the eminent Coach Gillman—up to now? What the hell is that damn thief trying to pull?

Carney just shook his head. He was as dumbfounded as I was.

I ordered the team back into the locker room—and then it dawned on me. I’d screwed up the schedule. We were an hour early.

I was too embarrassed to tell what I knew. I just walked around, up and down the aisles where the players sat waiting, my big old farmer’s boots making the only noise in there. I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I didn’t say a word. For an hour I clomped up and down. Finally, when I’d used up enough time, I delivered a one-sentence pep talk, the only thing I could think to say.

Let’s go.

They almost tore the door down getting out. Cincinnati was favored that day, but it was no contest. We won, 27–7.

For years afterward Carney Laslie and another longtime assistant named Frank Moseley used to tell the story whenever they spoke to football groups or at clinics, describing it as the greatest psychological ploy they had ever seen. I didn’t let on because I was embarrassed. I finally spilled the beans to Carney fifteen years later, before he died, and I wish now I hadn’t because he was sure disillusioned.

You mean, he said, that what I’ve been calling the smartest move I ever saw turned out to be dumb luck?

I had to admit it was.

Well, if you’d rather be lucky than smart—and I’ve certainly been lucky—that makes a pretty good story. Bobby Dodd used to say if you think you’re lucky, you are, and that’s probably right. I’ve done dumber things trying.

I had a hot appendix at Kentucky in 1952 and was in the hospital just before our game with LSU. The team was all primed to win one for me (or in this case, without me), just like in the movies. Dr. Grandison McLean, my physician, said it was no sense my begging to go because it was impossible. He removed the appendix on Thursday night, and Harry Jones, one of the Jones twins who played so great for us and went on to make a fortune in real estate, came by to see me on Friday.

As he walked out Harry said, Coach, you’ll be there tomorrow, won’t you?

Not Will you? or Can you? but You will.

I said, Yeah, Harry, I’ll be there.

And when the time came I dragged myself out of bed and went, just as I’d seen John Wayne do a hundred times. And the sight of me being delivered to them, held up on either side by attendants, was such a shock that my players forgot all their plays and got murdered, 34–7. I had to be taken back to the hospital immediately after the game, so weak and sore I could hardly move. If I’d stayed in bed to begin with, I’m convinced they would have won.

What we’re talking about here, really, is motivating people, the ingredient that separates winners from losers—in football, in anything—and one way or another everything I’ve done most of my life has been wrapped up in the question of how to motivate.

Coaches always want to know how you make winners out of chronic losers, a problem familiar to all of us. You seldom inherit a warm bed in this business. Maryland had won one game the year before I took that job. Kentucky hadn’t won as many as six since 1912 and had never been to a bowl game when we got its program going. Texas A&M hadn’t had a Southwest Conference championship in seventeen years when we won it there in 1956. At Alabama the tradition was rich, and tradition is something you can tie to, as a start. But the Alabama teams had won four games in three years when we arrived in 1958.

There is no formula, no prescription I could lay out. But I wouldn’t tell coaches that. I would tell them about my first season at Texas A&M. I never had a season like it. We lost nine games, and everybody was on us, and it was a matter of picking up the paper today and reading something a little bit nastier than what had been in there the day before.

Talk about gut checks. We had taken the team down to training camp at Junction to find out right off who the players were and who the quitters were, and the quitters had outnumbered the players three to one. I remember Mickey Herskowitz had come down to Junction for his paper, the Houston Post. He said his boss, Clark Neyland, heard there was dissension on the squad, and he came to find out about it.

I said, Now, son, are you going to quote me on this?

He said, Yessir.

I said, Well, you call your boss and tell him I said if there isn’t any dissension now, there’s damn sure going to be in a hurry, and I’m going to cause it.

And he wrote it that way.

We struggled along, down to the end of the season, and were getting ready to play SMU. The kids we had left had been playing their hearts out every week, and every week I was afraid they were going to throw in. But they were hanging in there all the time, losing games by a point or two or a touchdown, and all the time winning the people over. And certainly winning me over.

They’d been dead all week in practice before the SMU game, and I wondered, what could we do? What was left to try? I’d run out of ways to motivate them. Elmer Smith, one of my assistants, said he remembered one time when he was playing for Ivan Grove at Hendrix College. Grove woke him up at midnight and read him something about how a mustard seed could move a mountain if you believed in it, something Norman Vincent Peale, or somebody, had taken from the Bible and written in a little pamphlet. It impressed me.

I didn’t tell a soul. At 12:00 on Thursday night I called everyone on my staff and told them to meet me at the dormitory at 1:00. When they got there I said, okay, go get the players real quick, and they went around shaking them, and the boys came stumbling in there, rubbing their eyes, thinking I’d finally lost my mind. And I read ’em that little thing about the mustard seed—just three sentences—turned around, and walked out.

Well, you never know if you are doing right or wrong, but we went out and played the best game we’d played all year. SMU should have beaten us by forty points, but they were lucky to win 6–3. In the last minute of play we had a receiver wide open inside their 20-yard line, but our passer didn’t see him.

Several years after that, Darrell Royal called me from Texas. He was undefeated, going to play Rice, and worried to death. He said he’d never been in that position before, undefeated and all, and his boys were lazy and fatheaded, and he wanted to know what to do about it.

I said, Well, Darrell, there’s no set way to motivate a team, and the way I do it may be opposite to your way, but I can tell you a story. And I gave him that thing about the mustard seed. He said, by golly, he’d try it.

Well, I don’t know whether he did or not, but I remember the first thing I wanted to do Sunday morning was get that paper and see how Texas made out. Rice won, 34–7.

So if you ask me what motivates a team, what makes them suck up their guts when the going is tough, I’ll tell you I don’t have the answers, but I know for myself I’ve been motivated all my life. When we were losing at A&M—and I never doubted we would win with the boys we had left—the losing just made me get up a little earlier to get started the next day.

I still get up at 5:00. I’d like to sleep later but after thirty-seven years in this business I find I can’t. To me it’s still time wasted when you sleep past 6:00. At Alabama one morning at 7:00, I placed a call from my office to Shug Jordan or somebody at Auburn, and the girl said nobody was in yet. I said, What’s the matter, honey, don’t you people take football seriously?

Everybody thought that was a nice joke, but I meant it. You can get the Auburn people now at 7:00, or thereabouts, because they’ve been trying harder. To be honest, they soon copy everything we do. As an example, they were using those big, burly boys and we beat ’em with little quick ones. They switched to the little quick ones and we went to the big ones and beat ’em some more. Now they’re back to the big ones. It’s flattering, actually.

At Kentucky I was always so keyed up I didn’t know what it was to get to work in the morning without having to make an emergency stop along the way. When our Alabama team bus was taking us to the game at Lexington last year we passed the little filling station where I usually left my mark. I pointed it out to the players. My private monument. I’ve had some terrible gut checks, too, I’ll tell you, and I’ve cried like a baby over some things. Literally cried.

I cried from Houston all the way to College Station the night they put us on probation at A&M. I had to suspend the best athlete I ever saw, Joe Namath, with two games to play at Alabama in 1963, both games on national television, and I cried over that. I cried like a big fat baby when I got up there in front of those Aggie players to tell them I was leaving to go to Alabama. And in private I’ve cried out of plain madness over the dirtiest journalism I’ve ever seen, when I had to defend myself and my program and my boys against the worst kind of lies.

It’s an old story. You stick your head above the crowd and you’re going to have people trying to knock it off. We’ve done it wherever I’ve been, got it up there pretty high, and they’ve tried, and I’ve had to be darned active defending myself. Duffy Daugherty used to tell me, Bear, you may not be the best coach in the world, but you sure cause the most commotion.

Football has never been just a game to me. Never. I knew it from the time it got me out of Moro Bottom, Arkansas—and that’s one of the things that motivated me, that fear of going back to plowing and driving those mules and chopping cotton for 50¢ a day. I used to think it would be nice to wind up being one of those guys who gets up on a Saturday morning and goes fishing, but I know now it’ll never be. Benny Marshall, the late Birmingham News sports editor, asked me once, How long can you go on like this? How long does it last?

I said, Why, I guess I hope it lasts forever.

I’ve found, over the years, that I’m not alone in my obsession. I remember that first year at Kentucky, 1946, when we were trying to determine which boys the game meant a lot to. It was difficult because so many were just coming out of the service. In our second game that year we played and beat Cincinnati, who had beaten Indiana—the Big Ten champion the year before—and I didn’t know how a team was supposed to act before a game. But I knew this bunch was really fired up, really motivated.

I looked around the room, and I had a kid in there named Jess Tunsil who had been a prisoner of war for about three years, and another named Jim Babbs who’s a principal of a high school in Lebanon, Tennessee, now. Babbs had fought on Iwo Jima. And I got to thinking about it, looking around, and I said to myself, hell, here are all these guys and me who never fought anybody, and if they can get so emotionally worked up over a game of football after what they’ve been through, then football must be something pretty good.

I believe that football can teach you to sacrifice, to discipline yourself. Bobby Dodd of Georgia Tech has been quoted as saying some super-tough coaches have found they can take a group of lesser boys, an inferior team, and beat a superior team by super-tough conditioning. He’s right about that, and I’m flattered if I fall in that category. Some teams get all those big, fine, wonderful athletes, and they play about 75 percent, and teams that live tough and play tough and are dedicated beat their fannies seven out of nine times, which our boys did with Georgia Tech. Has anybody thought to ask the boys if it was worth it?

Dodd and I were at odds there for a long time. We had been close friends before, and we have mended the fences and are friends again. Tech is back on Alabama’s schedule. But for a while our philosophies and objectives were in direct, bitter conflict. I had a hate for Georgia Tech, and the entire city of Atlanta, too, for any number of reasons, and I probably let it blind my respect for Bobby.

I said once, years before,