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1966 SI Bryant Interview

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#1
Noah

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Posted Image   August 15, 1966
                        
Part I: I'll Tell You About Football

He fought a bear—and a lot more—in his youth. Still fearless, America's No. 1 college coach begins here the remarkably candid story of his turbulent rise to fame                                              

I KNOW I'VE BEEN MOTIVATED ALL MY LIFE
                              
Bear Bryant  (see cover) is the most successful and controversial college football coach in the nation. His         Alabama  teams—aggressive on offense, ferocious on defense and conditioned in the boot camp that         Bryant calls a practice field—have been national champions three of the last five years, have appeared in a bowl game in each of the last seven and, since Bryant  arrived eight years ago, have won 69 games, lost 12 and tied six. Over a span of 21 years Bryant-coached teams at         Maryland ,         Kentucky ,         Texas A&M  and         Alabama  have won 160, lost 51 and tied 14. Born Sept. 11, 1913 in Kingsland, Ark.,         Bryant  was an All-State football player at Fordyce High School and a three-year starter at         Alabama , where he graduated in January of 1939. After naval service, he was named head coach at         Maryland  in 1945 and took the         Terrapins  to six wins in nine games that fall before moving on to         Kentucky . In eight years under         Bryant ,         Kentucky  won 60, lost 23 and tied five, won three of four bowl games and a         Southeastern Conference  championship.         Bryant  went to         Texas A&M in 1954 and coached the Aggies to a Southwest Conference title and, despite a disastrous first season, a 25-14-2 record in four years. He returned to Alabama  in 1958—and in the last few years frequently has been urged to run for governor.
                    

A lot of coaches want to know how you motivate a football team, how you make winners out of chronic losers. In one way or another everything I've done most of my life has been wrapped up in that question, but if I knew 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'd taken the team down to 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. Said his boss 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.
                    

Anyway, eventually we got down to the end of the season and were getting ready to play SMU. The kids we had left then 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 and certainly winning me. Well, they'd been dead all week in practice before the SMU game, and I wondered, what could we do? What could we do? 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 written in a little pamphlet. It impressed me.
                    

I didn't tell a soul. At 12 o'clock on Thursday night I called everyone on my staff and told them to meet me at the dormitory at 1 o'clock. When they got there, I said, O.K., go get the boys 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 40 points, but they were lucky to win 6-3.
                    

Several years after that,         Darrell Royal  called me from         Texas . He was undefeated, going to play Rice and worried to death. 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 beat them 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 answer, 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, never doubted that—the losing just made me get up a little earlier to get started the next day.
                    

I still get up at 5 o'clock. At         Alabama  one morning at 7, 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 your people take football seriously?" Everybody thought that was a nice joke, but I meant it.
                    

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 stop and vomit along the way. I've had some terrible gut checks, too, I'll tell you, and I've cried, literally cried like a baby, over some things. I cried from Houston  all the way to         College Station  the night they put us on probation at A&M. I had to fire 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.

Edited by Noah.Dreams, 20 July 2008 - 05:25 PM.

After everything is said and done, more is said than done. - Noah

#2
Noah

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But football has never been just a game to me. Never. I knew it from the time it got me out of Moro Bottom, Ark.—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 remember that first year I was coaching at Kentucky and 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. That first year we played and beat Cincinnati , which 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 who had been a prisoner of war for about three years and another who 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 I know 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 supertough coaches have found they can take a group of lesser boys, an inferior team, and beat a superior team by supertough 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 the boys play about 75%, and teams that live tough and play tough and are dedicated beat their fannies seven out of nine times, which our boys have done with Georgia Tech . Has anybody thought to ask the boys if it was worth it?


I've tried to teach sacrifice and discipline to my coaches and my boys, and there were times I went too far and asked too much and took out my mistakes on them. I've made mistakes, a lot of stupid mistakes. I know that. I lost games by overworking my teams, and I lost some good boys by pushing them too far, or being pigheaded.


I'm older now, and not as dumb, I hope, and some things I would do differently because I know better, but that doesn't change my mind about the value of hard work.


Listen, does your boy know how to work? Try to teach him to work, to sacrifice, to fight. He better learn now, because he's going to have to do it some day. Lloyd Hale was a sophomore on that first team we took to Junction, and he asked me one time what I meant by "fight." Well, I don't mean fistfight, like we used to do back in Arkansas , I told him. I mean, some morning when you've been out of school 20 years and you wake up and your house has burned down and your mother is in the hospital and the kids are all sick and you're overdrawn at the bank and your wife has run off with the drummer what are you going to do? Throw in?


Well, like I say, I've done some stupid things and made some stupid decisions. I quit Kentucky because I got a mad on and made up my mind it just wasn't big enough for me and Adolph Rupp , and that was sure stupid.
I can tell you a lot about quitters. I used to have a sign at Kentucky : BE GOOD OR BE GONE. Jerry Claiborne used to say he had a different roommate every day. I don't have that sign anymore. Don't believe it's necessary now, because I don't believe you can categorize every boy who quits football as a quitter. For some it's just a matter of finding other interests, just like switching courses. But, from the time I played at Alabama until a few years ago, I believed that if you weren't a winner, if the game didn't mean enough to you, you'd probably wind up quitting. So I've laid it on the line to a lot of boys. I've shook 'em, hugged 'em, kicked 'em, and embarrassed them in front of the squad. I've got down in the dirt with them, and if they didn't give as well as they took I'd tell them they were insults to their upbringing, and I've cleaned out their lockers for them and piled their clothes out in the hall, thinking I'd make them prove what they had in their veins, blood or spit, one way or the other, and praying they would come through.


Well, you never know. When I was at Alabama I quit one time, and Coach Hank Crisp went to where I was staying and brought me back.


After a while I got to sulking around again, threatening to quit. Coach Hank was Frank Thomas ' assistant, and he was more what I am, a field coach. I'm not much on the blackboard, but I can coach on that field. Or could. My assistants do all the coaching now.


Anyway, I was big-dogging around, talking about quitting and going to LSU, and Coach Hank sent for me. He was down there where we had our equipment, and he had my trunk out. I had this big old country trunk. Don't know why, because I didn't have enough clothes to fill one-fourth of it. But he had the plowline out and said, "I hear you want to leave. Well, dammit, I want you to leave, and I'm here to help you and see that you do. Come on, let's get that plowline out and tie this trunk up and get your tail out of here."
After everything is said and done, more is said than done. - Noah

#3
Noah

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Well, you never heard such crying and begging and carrying on. I finally talked him into letting me stay, and I never let out a peep about quitting again. Some of my boys I've pushed to that point, some of the real good ones. John Crow tells me he was about to quit one time. He was a sophomore at A&M and he was sitting in the shower after a real hard practice, just sitting there worn out, and the manager came in and said, "O.K., Crow, come on. Coach Bryant was just getting the spectators out of the stands." Which I was. I used to do that, and still will, if a practice is going bad. Send the boys in, lock the gates after all the spectators are gone and bring the boys back.

Anyway, Crow told me he was about to quit that day. Said I came back out there, real calm, "and when you're real calm, it's trouble," he said. "We never paid any attention to you when you were raising hell. When you said, 'Now, gentlemen, we're going to put the ball down here, and we're going to get it behind the goal,' you were real calm, and we knew we were in for it." He said it was the doggonest scrimmage he'd ever been in, and I asked him why he didn't quit. He looked me square in the eye and said, "Because I'da killed you before I'd let you make me quit."

Well, it doesn't always work that way. One boy I remember telling I was going to help pack, just like Hank Crisp did me, only this boy let me help him, and he went on to another school and made All-America and played six years or so for the Cleveland Browns .

Bob Gain is a better example. Bob had been a big discipline problem, and I'd finally told him he was the sorriest thing I'd ever run up against and threatened him with everything I could think of. When he straightened out he was the best leader I ever had, but, boy, he hated my guts. Well, he went to Korea shortly after he got out of Kentucky , and the night before they were going into battle he sat down and wrote me a letter. It was a real surprise to me. He told me he hated my guts, all right, then. But, he said, "I love you tonight for what I used to hate you for." You don't think that makes it all worthwhile?
So I say I don't know any sure way of motivating a boy. You talk about paying players. That's a form of motivation. Very popular after the war, too. Well, I've done that, or at least let some of my alumni do it, and if I was a young coach 28 or 30 years old and just starting out I might do it again, if the competition was paying boys and I felt I had to meet the competition. Wouldn't do it now, of course. Don't have to and wouldn't anyway. I'd resign first. That's the one thing I told them when I came to Alabama . I wouldn't cheat.

But we had a couple boys at Kentucky that got something, and at A&M there were four or five, and I believe most of the time you could tell who was getting something by the way they played. The game just didn't mean quite as much to them.

So what motivated me? That fear, I guess, for a long time anyway. I can remember so well being on that old wagon with Mama, peddling milk and butter and eggs, turnip greens and black-eyed peas and watermelons and whatever else we had. In the Negro sections mainly. Papa was a semi-invalid, and our whole income was those truck patches. This was in Moro Bottom, which is no more than what it sounds, a little piece of bottom land on the Moro Creek about seven miles south of Fordyce. Wasn't any highway, just an old dirt road, and whenever it rained or snowed my older brothers would hitch up the mules, because somebody was bound to get caught in the mud and they could make a buck or two.

And, oh, my, so cold. Mama would heat those bricks to keep us from freezing to death on the wagon. I was always amazed how those old mules—a black one, old Pete, and a white one, old Joe—could swim as they pulled that wagon.

Boy, I hated it. I hated every minute of it, making those rounds. Whatever Mama had left over she'd take up to Uncle John's store at the hotel, and he'd buy up the rest to do her a favor. Then she'd go in there for a good meal. But I had such an inferiority complex I was too ashamed to go with her. I didn't know whether to use the knife or the spoon or what, so I'd go to Mr. Keeton, the cattle buyer, and for a dime he'd give me a hunk of cheese enough for four people and a stack of soda crackers. Then I'd get a quarter's worth of oats and chops for the mules and go down to Mr. Atkinson's livery stable right across from the railroad station, where there was a pump, because that cheese made you thirsty, and I'd get up on a boxcar and imagine how wonderful it would be to be an engineer or a fireman, and I'd eat my cheese and crackers until 4 o'clock. I could see the clock on the courthouse from there. At 4 I'd go back and get Mama, and we'd load up supplies she bought and head home.
They had school on Saturdays then, because they said they wanted to keep the children off the streets. Actually there was nothing to run over them but a mule or runaway horse, but on Saturday we invariably wound up at old Arch Weathers' at 10 to 12, and in front of school at 12. I can pass that school now and hear those voices. They'd be letting out for lunch, and those kids would come along and make fun of me and those old mules. I still remember the ones that did it.

Edited by Noah.Dreams, 20 July 2008 - 04:31 PM.

After everything is said and done, more is said than done. - Noah

#4
Noah

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Thing was, though, I must have craved attention, and maybe this has something to do with shaping a man. I still like attention. Little things make me proud. One of my television sponsors, Sloan Bashinsky, has a house on the Florida Keys at Islamorada, right on the ocean, and a lot next door that's nothing but coral and weeds, and he said he was going to call the lot Bear Bryant Field and put signs up. I went down there the other day, telling a friend of mine how much old Sloan thought of me, and when we got there he had the signs up, all right, but they said, TIDE FIELD. Old Sloan was going for something more permanent.

Anyway, I had to have attention. When I was a little-bitty kid if I wanted a dipper of water I wouldn't let my sisters get it. I'd want Mama to quit her washing or ironing and come get it, and if she didn't I'd hold my breath until I turned blue. She'd whip me, of course. Used an old plum-orchard switch that cut bad. But I got that attention.

I remember a revival meeting at the church down in Mt. Lebanon. I took a little old cat and threw it in the window, right into a girl's lap, and like to scared her to death. I got a whipping for that, too. And a lot of attention.
My folks were very religious. Wouldn't go to shows or anything, never even go to a football game, and they sure didn't believe in sparing the rod. I got more of the same at school. I took a turtle and put it in a girl's desk one day, and when it crawled out onto her lap you never heard such screaming. At that time they'd just fired a lady teacher, who we'd laugh at when she whipped us, and brought in this great big old guy who'd played football over at Henderson-Brown, Alec Wysinger.


Well, Mr. Wysinger got that little girl calmed down and ran off my turtle. Then he took me up front of this one-room schoolhouse, up on the stage where we recited our lessons, and he put me over his knees, like a sack of flour, and held me with one hand and took a paddle with holes in it in the other. Every time he hit, it raised a blister. I told him when I got old enough I was going to whip him. My brothers wanted to go whip him right then when they heard about it, but Papa said I probably deserved more than I got, which was true.
Years later, when I was in school at Alabama , I came hitchhiking home one summer, and a fellow picked me up and asked me if I remembered what I'd promised to do when I got big enough. It was old man Wysinger. I laughed and said, "Yessir, I remember, but I'm still not big enough."


I was always a big kid, and I remember one summer we walked in from the farm to Mr. Smith's picture theater in Fordyce. Drucilla Smith, who was a good-looking little gal, was standing by this poster that showed a picture of a bear and a guy offering a dollar a minute to anyone who would wrestle that bear. Mr. Smith was out front, and he was all excited because the man that was going to do the wrestling hadn't showed up. Somebody said to me, "Why don't you go in there?" and I sorta glanced at Drucilla Smith and said, "For a dollar a minute I'd do anything."
You know, big-dogging it. This was in the summer, because I was chopping cotton for 50� a day at the time and I felt I'd wrestle King Kong for a dollar a minute.


Anyway, they egged me on, and Mr. Smith lined it up with the fellow who had the bear. There wasn't anything else to do anyway, and the picture cost a dime. Mr. Smith agreed to let me and my friends in free.


The theater was a little old thin room, and the seats went downhill. At the bottom was the big stage, and if you sat right in front you couldn't see the screen for the stage. Well, when they brought that bear out it was the scrawniest thing my friends had seen, but to me it looked 30 feet tall. I must have wanted that money real bad. Anyway, I knew one thing about wrestling. I knew if you got hold of somebody and kept your body away from him, he'd have a hard time breaking your hold. That was what I was going to do. Keep that bear from rolling over on me.
After everything is said and done, more is said than done. - Noah

#5
Noah

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Well, the man made his speech about this big, ferocious thing and introduced me, and about the time the bear reared up I charged him and in a second had him down where he couldn't move, and there we lay. Finally the man began pushing at me, telling me to let him up, but I wasn't ready to do that because time was flying by. I know what he wanted, though. He wanted action. But I just lay there.


Finally the bear worked loose, and I got him again, and he got loose again, and now he was getting pretty mad, and when I looked up his muzzle was off. I felt this burning on the back of my neck, and when I reached to touch it I got a hand full of blood. When I saw that, I jumped off that stage and nearly killed myself getting behind those seats to hide. After a while I went around to get my money, but the man with the bear had flown the coop. All I got out of the whole thing was a nickname.


About that time Mama took a couple of rooms up in Kingsland—a little apartment—because it was so cold riding in. I'll tell you when it was; it was when Floyd Collins was in the cave in Kentucky , because we walked down to the railroad station every afternoon and the train came by and brought the papers. We didn't buy the paper, we just looked at the headlines. Anyway, instead of having to drive those mules around and unharness them and turn them out at noon when everybody else was playing basketball and stuff, I got my first chance to play.


Of course, nobody wanted me on their side. I was always the last one picked, and that didn't do a whole lot for my inferiority complex. Well, I must have got a little better, because I remember there was a big bully in about the sixth grade, and one day he chose me first on his basketball team. I thought, boy, I really got it made now.


Eventually my mother rented a big house over in Fordyce and took in boarders and we moved over there, and one day I was walking past the field where the high school team was practicing football. I was in the eighth grade. I'd never even seen a football. The coach, naturally, noticed a great big boy like me, and he asked if I wanted to play. I said, "Yessir, I guess I do." I said, "How do you play?" He said, "Well, you see that fellow catching the ball down there?" Yeah. "Well, whenever he catches it, you go down there and try to kill him." I didn't know it then, but they were covering punts, and I just happened to get down there about the time the ball did and just kind of ran over that little boy. The following Friday I played on the team, and I didn't even know what "end zone" meant.


My daddy didn't want me to play, but Mama said it was all right, and I took my high-top black shoes down to Mr. Clark, the shoemaker, to put some cleats on them. Boy, talk about proud! I wore those cleats to football, to class, to Sunday school. I wore them in the house, everywhere, clomping around and making a terrible racket. They were the only shoes I had.
It's a funny thing about what a pair of shoes or a suit or something will do for a fellow. I'll never forget how much those high-top black shoes with the cleats meant to me, or the time Collins Kilgore, my cousin, loaned me my first suit. Years later I saw Hank Crisp walk into a room at Alabama , where one of the players was wearing a pair of torn-up old shoes—a poor boy like me—and Coach Hank kicked off his own shoes, a brand-new pair, and told the boy to try them on. "How do they fit?" he asked. "Well, you just keep those. I can get more."


How much could that mean? I don't know, but I know what those shoes meant to me, and I know what they meant to that boy at Alabama , and I'll never forget at Kentucky when George Blanda was my quarterback. He'd been like I was, never had anything and always easing around, easing around, staying out of the way like he didn't want to be seen. For the first year or so I didn't get anything out of Blanda. He didn't go for that driving. Hollering, "Let's go!" and slapping him on the butt didn't mean a thing. I just couldn't reach him.


Well, the students had gotten on him pretty good. Mississippi had beat hell out of us, and they were on him because he was the quarterback. I saw him on the campus one day and I put my arm around him and told him it was all right, because they'd be cheering for him before long, and I noticed he had cardboard in the bottom of his shoes. Well, I was stupid not to have noticed it before. I called him into my office, and I said, "George, I want you to go down to Graves-Cox and buy yourself a new outfit, head to foot, and charge it to me." You could do things like that in those days. Well, he did, and you could just see him brighten up. He was a different guy after that. We didn't lose another game, either.


Anyway, for a little school like Fordyce we had a terrific football team those next three years. I played offensive end and defensive tackle, just an ordinary player, but I was in hog's heaven. I loved to play. I loved to practice. And I was a big kid, so I played regularly. I remember the biggest thrill I ever had was playing in Little Rock the first couple of years. Rode an elevator for the first time in Little Rock , and we went up there one year and beat them 34-0, and I caught a 70-yard pass for a touchdown. Biggest thing in my life. Clark Jordan called the play, and I ran under the ball and caught it, closed my eyes and kept running. Ran right through the end zone and through a fence.
After everything is said and done, more is said than done. - Noah

#6
Noah

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Posted Image
  

Well, I wasn't very smart in school, and lazy to boot. Of all the people who might do something in life, I was the one folks figured would do the least. I was always involved in something, and one of my brothers had gotten the family in a sort of feud with another family when he caught one of the boys slaughtering one of his cows. Actually a near-shooting feud. Stupid. And I'd busted up some boys from Camden at a basketball game one night. Must have fought everybody in the gym. So I was about the last one you would figure to go to college and get a degree.


I wanted to go to Alabama . Always had. I remember one time going down to a college All-Star Game in Dallas with Fred Thomsen, the Arkansas coach. He wanted me to come there. And at the half I slipped off and rode a streetcar back to town to listen to Alabama play Washington State in the Rose Bowl on radio.


So when they came over to ask the Jordan twins, our best players, about coming to Alabama , they didn't have to recruit me. I was ready. There were always a few Arkansas boys on the Alabama team because of the influence of Jimmy Harland, who recruited me, Don Hutson , Charlie Marr, Bill Young , Happy Campbell and Leroy Goldberg on that same Rose Bowl team of 1935.
But nobody in Fordyce thought I'd stick it out. I remember years later I'd go back just to take a walk downtown and nod and say hello and how are you and good to see you to those slickers who laughed at me on that wagon. I don't get the kick out of it now. I have very warm feelings toward the entire state. I go back to see the folks two or three times each year now.


But I'll tell you how close they came to being right. It was during the Depression. Daddy had died eating watermelon—got poisoned or something—and Mama was having a tough time, and if I was looking for an excuse I had one. I wrote Collins Kilgore, my cousin, a letter. I told him I was going to quit school and get me a job in Texas . Well, in no time I got this wire back. It was from Collins. I remember so well, I was walking between the soup store and where the stadium is now, when I opened the wire. It said, GO AHEAD AND QUIT, JUST LIKE EVERYBODY PREDICTED YOU WOULD.


I wasn't about to quit after that.


We thought then, and I know now, that Coach Thomas was ahead of the game. There wasn't a whole lot he didn't know about it, and there sure isn't much we do now that he didn't know then. He could have been a great baseball manager. (I think he was one of the first to discover Willie Mays .) He was a real intelligent man, a smart football coach and, like most coaches who have a reputation for being tough, he was a sentimental old man, just like me. His background may have had something to do with it. He was a punk kid from around East Chicago—I use his terminology when I say that—and he knew how to handle himself at the spur of the moment.
Well, how much can a man influence you? I tell my coaches, when they go out on their own, to be themselves, but that doesn't mean you don't learn from people who have something to teach you. I used to call long distance to get advice from Coach Thomas years after he quit coaching. Even after he got sick—and I hated to see him that way—I chartered a plane just to go and spend a few hours with him. I still go to Hank Crisp when I have a problem. There's a tip-off for you. Surround yourself with good people. Coach Hank didn't know a whole lot about fancy techniques, but he had more of what it takes to win. Techniques alone won't win. He had that other thing—he could get you to play. He had lost a hand in a cotton gink and he had that nub wrapped in leather, and he'd get down there with you and flail away, and it was like patting you on the back.


We were playing Tennessee in Knoxville in 1935, and the week before against Mississippi State I had broken the fibula in my leg. The night before the Tennessee game Dr. Sherrill came by the hotel and took the cast off. He said if it felt all right I could dress for the game, if nothing else. I said, is there any chance of a bone sticking out anywhere? He said no. So we go out there, and I dress, and Coach Thomas made his little pitch, his pep talk, and then he asked Coach Hank if he wanted to say anything. Coach Hank said he did. He had a cigarette dangling from his mouth (I was kinda looking at him sideways from around Riley Smith), and he said, "I'll tell you gentlemen one thing. I don't know about the rest of you, you or you or you, I don't know what you're going to do. But I know one damn thing. Old 34 will be after 'em, he'll be after their tails." I looked down, and I'm 34! I had no idea of playing. So we go out there, and cold chills are running up my back. He done bragged on old 34. Ben McLeod, whose son played for us last year, had never started a game in his life, and he was starting in my place. They lined up for the kickoff, and Coach Thomas turned to me and said, " Bryant , can you play?" Well, shoot, what you going to say? I just ran on out there. McLeod was so mad he could spit.


I played the rest of the season with that broken leg, but that day I was lucky as a priest. On one of our first plays, Riley Smith and Joe Riley—they knew I was hurt, so they were going to fix me up fast for big-dogging—called a pass. Everybody was there to get the ball, but it just fell into my hands, and a couple of them fell over, and I ran a little piece before they caught me. On about the third play we did the same thing, a little old hook pass, and I lateraled to Riley Smith, the All-America back, and he ran for a touchdown. We won the game 25-0.
After everything is said and done, more is said than done. - Noah

#7
Noah

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I think we probably had more fun in those days than the boys do now. None of us had any money or anything. I didn't have a stamp to write home with, and there was no such thing as a player having an automobile. I think there were about three on the entire campus. We didn't have to study a great deal, because the academic standards were not as high as they are now, so we practiced a lot. Spring practice would begin in February, and it wouldn't end until we got enough, which would be about the middle of April. I was majoring in physical education, but I wasn't studying anything. Heck, I didn't know how to study. Today these boys have to fight for their lives in that classroom.


We didn't get into any big trouble or anything, but we used to like to "go riding around," as we called it, which was no more than walking around to the sorority houses before 8 o'clock, when the girls went out on dates. We didn't have any money to take them out, so we'd drop by and let them take food out of their sorority houses so we could sit around having picnics and holding hands. Finally Coach Hank got tired of it. He was Coach Thomas ' disciplinarian.


We were over at a sorority house after hours saucering around, about 10 of us, and the girls had got the music going, and we were dancing and having a time. Well, the housemother started down the stairs, and Charlie Marr grabbed the door handle to pull it open, and that son of a gun was so strong he pulled the knob off, and Coach Hank had us trapped.
His favorite punishment was to make us run laps at 4 a.m. But this time he took us over to the track, where they were having a meet, and all the students were there, and he made us run 100 laps. Run them, he said, or pack up and get going. We finished up about 10 that night.


But I'll tell you. The clincher with those girls (they were about the only things we had to take our minds off football) was one night when Coach Hank called a meeting of all the athletes up at the A Clubroom, where we had a pool table, and he came in and everyone got scared because we knew somebody's tail had had it. He came in with a sackful of something, and all he did was start pulling things out of that sack—silk underwear and scarves and things—and throwing them around the necks of about five of us. He straightened up finally and said, "Well, dammit, that's all you think about anyway," and turned around and walked out.
Now, when Coach Thomas called you it was something really special, and you didn't ever want that. He stopped Don Hutson and me on the street one day and had us get in the car with him, and we knew something was up. We rode along for a while, and he said, "I understand you boys are pretty big with the ladies. Well, that doesn't mix too good with football. You better make your minds up whether you want to play on this football team or not," and he put us out. Well, he didn't start us that week, but it was a week before the Tennessee game, and he knew what he was doing. We were sure ready for Tennessee .


He knew what to say and when to say it, and that is the secret. I'll never forget, we were going out for the 1935 Rose Bowl game . I went into the men's lounge on the train. Coach Thomas was sitting there with some of the coaches and Red Heard, the athletic director of LSU, and two or three newspapermen. He said, "Red, this is my best football player. This is the best player on my team." Well, shoot, I could have gone right out the top. I mean, he didn't have to say anything else. I know now what he was doing, because I try to do it myself. He was getting me ready. And I was, too. I would have gone out there and killed myself for Alabama that day.

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After everything is said and done, more is said than done. - Noah

#8
shk999

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Thanks Noah, great read.  I've heard almost all those stories before but it's great hearing them in the Bear's own words.
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