Monday, November 7, 2011

This week for Monday's With Murray we welcome guest writer Kevin Wilkerson for an Alabama vs. LSU recap.
Alabama played LSU in a clash of the titans on Saturday, a game that was as publicized for its coaches — Nick Saban and Les Miles — as it was for its players and significance. Of course, Alabama is known for having larger-than-life coaches, none moreso than Paul (Bear) Bryant. Among his many accomplishments, Bryant pretty much ended segregation in southern football.
When Bryant's teams played LSU, it was a matchup of him and one of his many disciples, for Charlie McClendon both played under and coached with Bryant at Kentucky. After the usual Crimson Tide victory, ol’ Charlie Mac, as he was known, would lament, "somehow, I don't think Bear taught me all he knows."
But ol’ Charlie Mac tried. He employed a trick that is still in place today. Before games, LSU puts a live bengal tiger by the visitor's locker-room The cheerleaders jump up on the cage and stomp on it when the visitors run out of the tunnel. For some, this can be a frightening experience. But not Bryant and Bama. "Don't worry about him," Bear would tell his players. "He's as old as I am."
Kevin Wilkerson writes sports commentary at
And now, we present this Jim Murray column on Bryant and Alabama from 1961.



'Bama and Ol' Bear

   BIRMINGHAM — The University of Alabama just about wrapped up the all-white championship of the whole cotton-picking world here this weekend in a game quietly relegated to the 18th century before it began by a band of Negro students at UCLA.
   The Uclan students' announcement that under no circumstances would they be willing to waive the Emancipation Proclamation even for a single New Year's afternoon hit this southern city as hard as if Fort Sumter had suddenly returned fire after all these years.
   Alabama had sincerely hoped to use this game for a ticket to Pasadena, Disneyland and probably a squad lunch with Tuesday Weld but the invitation from the coast was to stay where they get the front of the bus all to themselves.
   Alabama is an integrated institution — but only in the boiler room. What withered the roses was the fact the only Negro student it ever had didn't dare stop running (till she reached Texas.) They are left now only with the white supremacy bowl — the single syrup of Sugar or New Year's at home.
   In a way, it's a shame the idiocy of policy set by potbellied politicians can keep the lean-flanked Alabamans — who will play with and against Negroes cheerfully in the pro leagues — from scaring people to death on the TV screens New Year's afternoon.
 Stretcher Crew Keeps Busy
   The color scheme put the game back to pre-Civil War but the blocking and talking was Dinosaur Age. It should have been called Multiple Contusion Bowl. The stretcher crew was as busy as the backfields.
   The outcome was about as big an upset as Russia taking Hungary. The only way to get through the Alabama line is under the cover of darkness. It is light but, as someone asked, "Who ever weighs a school of sharks?"
   The game was played under the eerie shadow of an upper deck at Legion Field with 8,500 seats in it and not a soul sitting in them. The city of Birmingham built the magnificent superstructure but after the structural engineers got a look at it they wouldn't even okay it for bird baths. The weight of a cigar ash, they said, and it suddenly wouldn't be an upper deck any more but a necklace suddenly cutting off the view — and the heads — of the people below.
   Alabama is a place where the Confederate flag flies below the American flag but it doesn't matter to a true Southerner — he stands on his head to salute.
   Alabama's attack is about as subtle as Khrushchev pounding a shoe but its defense chews up ball-carriers like the blades of a disposal. It gives up yards so miserably Georgia Tech got stage fright when it got as far as mid-field. They gained 30 whole yards all day.
Competition for Robert E. Lee
   But these stars did not fall on Alabama. They were gathered together and welded into this hard homicidal bunch by a man who may yet make the south forget Robert E. Lee — at least South Alabama.
   Alabama coach Paul (Bear) Bryant could get elected governor of the state — if it weren't beneath him. He may, however, make sainthood. In Alabama, no one needs the surname. "Bear" means only one person. The Man.
   The jokes are wry. "Atheism in Alabama is not believing in Bear Bryant." goes one. "You'll be able to tell ol' Bear in the crowd. He's the one that's GLOWING." One time, he assembled his team for a "fishing trip" on an island in the middle of a lake. "Did they row out?" someone asked.  "The team did" was the answer, "but ol' Bear, he just walked on the water."
   A mortuary is trying to sell Bryant a mausoleum, goes another, "How much?" asks Bear's accountant. "$5,000." "For three days?" shrieks the agent.
   Lightning plays on the field during one 'Bama game. "Tell ol' Bear to cut out the tricks and play football," the other coach shouts. Newsman Furman Bisher comes over from Atlanta. "I just want to see if the team at least is mortal," he explains. "You don't have to genuflect when you're in the presence of Bear Bryant. On the other hand, why take chances."
Sudden Eclipse at His Coming
   Frank Howard of Clemson is a non-believer. "There wasn't a star in the east when ol' Bear came to Alabama. But there sure was a sudden eclipse of football players everywhere else." When Bear's longtime good friend Frank Rose became president of Alabama, Howard was ready. "Bear Bryant is the first coach in history to bring in his own president and give him a one-year contract."
   Bear Bryant has always attracted this kind of notoriety. A career coach who found out early in the game that the best strategy is to get the best players, he was raised in an area of Arkansas so rustic that legend has it the first pair of shoes he ever put on had cleats in them. The first time he ever saw 100 people in one place they were yelling "hold that line."
   He learned under Sanders at Vanderbilt. His recruitment techniques would make models for the German army and rival coaches even circulated the canard he once dressed two assistant coaches in clergymen costume to draw in a devout boy.
   At Kentucky, Bear had a winning football team - but the sport there was basketball. "When they gave Adolph Rupp a new car and me a cigar lighter, I knew it was time ol' Bear ambled on," he said.
   At Texas A & M, he had the country so hunted over — and got caught at it so often — the team was almost put on probation into the next century. He made so many trips on the carpet of the ethics committee of the NCAA he wore out the nap.
Brought Boys Home to Play
   The eyes of Texas were really on him when he shoved off for his alma mater Alabama. "When your mother calls, you come," he said cheerily, selecting three or four football players to take home to mother with him.
   He was a red-meat player himself. He once tore off a leg cast from a broken leg to take his place in a starting lineup. He once told a doctor to hurry up with an appendectomy as he had to get back on the sidelines for a game. He was so tough himself he thinks a broken back is a poor excuse for not suiting up.
   He played 57 minutes in the Rose Bowl game in 1935, most of it dismembering Stanford ball-carriers, but the other end on the team was Don Hutson and ol' Bear couldn't have been more overlooked in Alabama if he had been a damn Yankee.
   His team in the blood-colored uniforms is now No. 1 in the country. Coach Bobby Dodd of Georgia Tech was almost under smelling salts at game's end after totting up the injuries ("Graning may lose a couple of teeth and it's possible that he has a broken nose. But he should be okay for Georgia.") The rest of the team may not be okay for Christmas.
   Ol' Bear was imperturbable, scheduling a press conference for the cocktail hour. My problem is this: If you're from Alabama, you kiss his ring. But what do you do if you're from Pasadena? Regards.

Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times

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