Legendary college football coach at the University of Alabama.

His first major-college coaching experience was at University of Kentucky, but basketball coach Adolph Rupp pretty much ran him off. Kentucky's loss was Bama's gain, as Bryant led the Crimson Tide to an insane number of winning seasons, SEC championships, and Sugar Bowls. Demigod in Alabama, except for Auburn fans who consider him and anything else Tide-related demon spawn.

For those who aren't into sports, Bear Bryant might be more notable as Forrest Gump's coach (at Alabama, of course). The checkered hat was one of his trademarks.

Bryant's teams won 323 games, breaking the all-time record of Amos Alonzo Stagg (who had won 314). His all-time record was 323-85-17. The 323 wins was surpassed by Joe Paterno in 2001.

Every Alabama coach since Bryant retired in 1982 (he died the next year) has been compared with him...and has undoubtedly failed as a result.

The Auburn/Alabama rivalry mentioned above led Bryant to once say: "Sure I'd like to beat Notre Dame, don't get me wrong. But nothing matters more than beating that cow college on the other side of the state."

The annual college football coach of the year award (voted on by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association) is the Bear Bryant Award, in Bear's honor.

By the way, he got the nickname "Bear" for wrestling a bear at a fair when he was a child.


Let me preface this anecdote about the only time I met Bear Bryant face to face with another anecdotal news story from where I currently live, Arkansas, and their football coaching woes.

Arkansas is a state with only one major university sports program that anyone cares about, the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas had suffered 9 years of incompetent coaching by a redneck jughead named Houston Nutt before they hired Bobby Petrino away from his job as coach of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons in 2007. Petrino was fed up with one particular member of the Falcons, noted dog-torturer and quarterback Michael Vick, and was probably looking for an escape hatch anyway. Arkansas is no Alabama or LSU, but it is in the SEC, and the SEC is the toughest gang in college sports and therefore one of the highest paying as well as highest prestige gigs for a coach. It's not all that unusual for football coaches to try the NFL after a college gig, or vice versa. They say the hardest part in the college ranks is the recruiting, which often borders on methods illegal if not just plain immoral, and the subsequent hand-holding to keep these usually dim-witted kids on track, in class and out of jail. As for the NFL, coach burnout usually stems from dealing with overpaid prima donnas and tatted-up thugs who don't respect anyone's authority except their steroid dealer. Keep an eye on former USC coach Pete Carroll who has tried the NFL before and is trying it again with the Seattle Seahawks today.

So Patrino came to Fayetteville, Arkansas, and things were going swimmingly until one lovely Sunday fternoon when he wrecked his motorcyle on one of the many twisty backroads in the lovely foothills of the Ozarks. No one was badly injured, but a huge injury occurred when it came to light that one cute assistant was also along for the ride as well as wreck. In his defense, I suppose Patrino figured that being a high-profile man in Arkansas where Bill Clinton can skate scott free from screwing an intern, he could do likewise and no one would think twice. I mean, it's not like he was POTUS or anything. Unfortunately for him, being head coach at Arkansas is more important here than being Head of the Free World. Also, his wife cared a little more about marital fidelity than did our current Secretary of State.

Now back to my days at Tuscaloosa and Bear Bryant. This would have been around 1973 when he was having another one of his unprecedented seasons at Bama. I had been aware of him since my childhood when I'd watch his show on black and white TV each Sunday after a Saturday game. They'd replay the game in high speed clips and Bear would sip from his red waxy Coke cup and tell the fans about his brilliant decisions. The sponsors were, of course, Coca Cola and Golden Flakes potato chips.

Unlike Arkansas, Alabama has a choice in collegiate sports affiliations with Auburn University being the alternative. Granted, most of the state had barely graduated high school, but by God they love their chosen team. So approximately 50% of the state would have loved nothing more than see Bryant fall on his face via some motorcycle wreck or the equivalent. However; no one to my knowledge ever brought up the obvious fact that Bryant was an alcoholic who was sipping much more than Coke from those waxy red cups. I'm surprised the bottom didn't melt out on camera one day.

The names of the streets have changed, but I think we were living on 6th Street just across from a Krystal. It was a duplex with a front yard sloped toward the street. One night around 2:00 AM I was awoken by a loud clatter. I put on my only pair of jeans and went out front. A man was staggering around in my yard (well, my landlord's yard) and a new Cadillac was in the street, mashed into another Cadillac being driven by a shaken-up middle aged woman. I approached the man and immediately recognized the houndstooth hat and the jowly face. I said, “Coach, are you OK?” He mumbled something about calling the campus police, NOT the city police. I told my girlfriend who was standing in the door way what the deal was and she called campus police. Unfortunately, the city police showed up first; I guess someone else had called them. Then the campus police showed up and the cops all had a private little confab.

End result: I was told by the police that the man I talked to was NOT Bear Bryant. He was put in a cop car and driven off. The lady in the other car was driven off in another cop car and tow trucks were there within minutes to haul the Cadillidic evidence away.

No evidence of this event was ever mentioned on any news outlet. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? All I know is Arkansas would have been a hell of a lot better off if Bobby Patrino was still their coach.

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