Bear Bryant: A Legend at 100


John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

As I awoke this morning, I turned on the television to watch the tributes to the victims of the terrorist attacks that took place twelve years ago today. 2,977 innocent people died in the attacks, and millions of other lives were forever changed. I had the privilege of standing on that hallowed ground in New York City earlier this year and I will never forget the experience.

There are only 365 days in a year. Dates are not mutually exclusive and, thus, many mark both triumph and tragedy. Before I post my article commemorating the 100th birthday of Coach Bryant, I would like to offer a little perspective. Please visit the 911 Memorial website and, if you are so inclined, donate so that future generations will never forget the lives that were lost at the hands of hate.


Good coaches win football game. Great coaches impact lives. Very few coaches ever reach legendary status. Paul “Bear” Bryant is such an exception. Bear Bryant was transformational. He took an Alabama program that had hit low tide and rebuilt it in his image. He has been gone for more years than he coached at The Capstone, yet you cannot go many places on campus without seeing his name on something. Legends are like that – their influence lives on long after their physical presence. Bear Bryant was a celebrity in a sport that did not have celebrities.

Alabama has played football for over 120 years, but Paul Bryant has been the dominant figure on campus for most of the modern history of the program. Alabama had been successful before Coach Bryant, of course. There was Wallace Wade who built the first championship teams before moving on to start over at Duke. Then there was Frank Thomas, a Knute Rockne disciple, who continued to build until his health demanded he step down. Thomas was followed by a decline worse than any fans today could imagine.

When Bear Bryant returned to coach at Alabama, cross-state rival Auburn was experiencing a golden age under Shug Jordan. Auburn was winning games and won its first AP championship in 1957. The Tide program had won only four games in three years. Four years after Bear Bryant arrived, the Crimson Tide were champions again.

In all, Alabama won 6 national titles and 13 conference championships under Bear Bryant’s leadership. The Tide dominated the SEC for the majority of his 25 years as coach. To many, he was the most powerful man in Alabama. He shepherded the school and, perhaps, the state through the unrest of the 1960s. He dominated the 1970s and coached almost until death called him home after the 1982 season.

Coach Bryant strolled the sidelines for the last time on December 29, 1982 — long before many of the current fans who sport houndstooth attire were born. People are drawn to winners and Bear Bryant won more than anyone in his era. Today, would have been his 100th birthday. Traditions are a strange thing. Perhaps, 50 years from now, fans will land their Jetson-style flying cars outside the Saban Dome in Tuscaloosa to see their Crimson Tide team play. They will likely still be covered in houndstooth.

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