(Editor’s note: We published this story in honor of Bear Bryant’s 100th birthday. We’re bringing it back today because…. well, as every Alabama fan knows, you never need a reason to celebrate Bear Bryant.)
Paul “Bear” Bryant was born 100 years ago today, on Sept. 11, 1913. To mark the occasion, here are 100 facts you may or may not know about the legendary Alabama football coach, presented in chronological order.
1. Paul William Bryant was born in Moro Bottom in south central Arkansas. Moro Bottom is not an actual town, but rather a plot named for nearby Moro Creek.
2. Bryant was the 11th of 12 children, three of whom died as infants. Bryant’s father, Monroe, was a farmer, and his mother, Ida Mae, cared for the family, which later moved a few miles south of Fordyce, Ark.
3. Legend has it Bryant got his nickname around the year 1927 by wrestling a muzzled bear from a local traveling carnival. The story goes he did it to impress a girl and for the money — one dollar per minute — but the bear’s owner left town without paying.
4. Bryant was known as “the other end” on Frank Thomas’ 10-0 Crimson Tide team in 1934. The reason: He played with Don Hutson, who is considered by many to be football’s first modern wide receiver.
5. Alabama upset Stanford at the Rose Bowl in the 1934 season. Bryant later admitted that he and some teammates pooled their money together and bet five dollars on the underdog Crimson Tide. “We made a killing, about a buck apiece,” Bryant said.
6. Bryant secretly married college sweetheart Mary Harmon Black in 1935. Frank Thomas didn’t want his players to be married, and Bryant feared the loss of his scholarship.
7. Bryant played Tennessee in 1935 with a broken bone in his leg. Atlanta Constitution sports editor Ralph McGill was skeptical of the story, drove to Tuscaloosa and demanded to see the X-rays. He apologized to Bryant, who told the editor, “It was just one little bone.” Georgia fans cheered Bryant’s toughness before the next game.
8. During Bryant’s senior year, Frank Thomas suggested Bryant visit Union College in Jackson, Tenn., to teach the team Alabama’s offense. The Union coach left Bryant alone to run the practices.
Early coaching years
9. Frank Thomas offered Bryant a job as an Alabama assistant making $1,250 a year, plus housing and transportation. He became a line coach for the varsity team in 1936, the same year his first child was born.
10. While at the Rose Bowl with Alabama’s team in 1937, Bryant got a screen test with Paramount Studios to become an actor. He was offered a contract, but his wife wouldn’t move to California.
11. Bryant took an assistant coaching job at Vanderbilt in 1940 under Red Sanders. He had a falling out with Sanders after one year and, with the help of New York Yankees catcher Bill Dickey, had the inside track for the Arkansas job.
12. Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941. Bryant enlisted for the Navy the next day.
13. Bryant was sent to serve in North Africa. While on the USS Uruguay, his troop ship was rammed by another ship. Bryant disobeyed orders to abandon ship and survived. At least 200 soldiers and sailors died.
14. Bryant went to North Carolina in 1944 as a lieutenant commander to train enlistees. He assembled the North Carolina Navy Pre-Flight football team, which later became the nucleus of his first winning team at Maryland.
15. Technically, Bryant’s first win as a head coach was with the Carolina Cloudbusters — the North Carolina Navy Pre-Flight School football team. Duke counts the Cloudbusters’ 13-6 win on Oct. 7, 1944. Bryant’s victories with the team aren’t counted on his resume.
16. Bryant’s quarterback on the flight school team: Otto Graham, the Northwestern star who would win more championships than any quarterback in pro football history.
Becoming a head coach
17. Bryant became Maryland’s coach in 1945 and turned around the Terrapins with a 6-2-1 record. He left for Kentucky after one year because he felt his authority had been undermined by Maryland President Curley Byrd over the suspension of a player.
18. Kentucky went from 2-8 to 7-3 in its first season under Bryant. By year two, the Wildcats reached their first bowl game.
19. Bryant initially used George Blanda as a blocking back at Kentucky, neglecting his throwing, running and kicking skills that made him a multi-threat pro star. Bryant popularized the maxim that “three things can happen when you go back to pass, and only one of them is good.”
20. The Wildcats won their first SEC title in 1950 under Bryant, who then beat Oklahoma at the Sugar Bowl to end the Sooners’ 31-game winning streak. “If you give us the bid,” Bryant said, “I will guarantee you we will beat Oklahoma’s ass.”
21. After a 7-2-1 record at Kentucky, Bryant asked to be released from his contract to coach at Texas A&M. The reason for Bryant’s decision to leave is often traced to Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp.
22. At Texas A&M, Bryant inherited another woeful team. Fewer than 30 players returned with him from a brutal practice session at Junction, Texas.
23. The Aggies went 1-9 in Bryant’s first season and were put on NCAA probation for recruiting violations under Bryant.
24. Bryant became the first Texas A&M coach to ever defeat rival Texas on the road, in 1956.
25. Bryant once famously said, “At Alabama our players do not win Heisman Trophies, our teams win national championships.” Bryant’s only Heisman winner was John David Crow at Texas A&M in 1957.
Returning to Alabama
26. Alabama brought Bryant back for the 1958 season. “I left Texas A&M because my school called me,” Bryant said. “Mama called, and when Mama calls, then you just have to come running.”
27. As Bryant did at other coaching jobs, he was determined to get rid of Alabama players who had been given scholarships because of political class.
28. Bryant told Alabama alumni upon his hiring not to get involved recruiting players. “If you are giving anybody any money, for anything, I want you to stop right now,” Bryant said. “I’ve done it, and I’ve found out if you pay ’em, they’ll quit on you.”
29. Alabama had four straight losing seasons under Harold “Red” Drew and J.B. “Ears” Whitworth before Bryant was hired. Alabama improved from 2-7-1 to 5-4-1 in his first season.
30. Bryant’s first win in the Iron Bowl came in 1959, ending Alabama’s five-game losing streak to Auburn. Bryant had a 19-6 record against Auburn.
31. Bryant accepted a bid to the Liberty Bowl after the 1959 season to play Penn State, the first integrated team Alabama had ever played. Penn State won 7-0.
32. Alabama-Georgia in 1960 was the first live sports telecast for Roone Arledge, who became a legendary television programming pioneer for ABC and helped make legends out of college coaches.
Championships and controversies
33. Bryant was criticized for coaching dirty play when Alabama’s Darwin Holt smashed into Georgia Tech’s Chick Graning on a punt return in 1961. Bryant insisted he did not encourage such tactics.
34. With national attention focused on the Graning play, Bryant had an Alabama assistant show Alabama reporters all of Georgia Tech’s violations. In hindsight, Bryant said years later, doing that “showed no class. If I had to do it over, I wouldn’t, but our people thought the Atlanta writers were trying to destroy me.”
35. The play contributed to a feud between Bryant and Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd. Alabama and Georgia Tech stopped playing when the Yellow Jackets left the SEC.
36. Years later, Bryant offered to sponsor Georgia Tech to return to the SEC.
37. Bryant’s 1961 team won the first of his six national championships at Alabama.
38. The Saturday Evening Post published a story in 1963 accusing Bryant and Georgia athletics director Wally Butts of having fixed the 1962 Alabama-Georgia game. Butts won a lawsuit against the magazine, and Bryant settled for $360,000. The cases helped put the magazine out of business.
39. During the controversy, Bryant met with U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy in 1963. Bryant said Kennedy told him he thought there was nothing to the game-fixing allegation.
40. Bryant’s meeting in 1963 with Kennedy occurred as the attorney general was waging an intense fight with Alabama Gov. George Wallace and the University of Alabama over integrating the university where Bryant coached.
41. Bryant would wake up in a cold sweat many nights during the game-fixing ordeal and often slept alone. “I didn’t want Mary Harmon to know what I was going through,” Bryant wrote in his autobiography.
42. National attention off the field resurfaced when Bryant suspended quarterback Joe Namath for his behavior. Bryant received criticism from some Alabama fans for the first time.
43. Bryant entered the field for a game at Georgia Tech in 1964 wearing a football helmet. Whiskey bottles were tossed at him two years earlier.
44. Alabama won national titles in 1964 and 1965 under Bryant to become the first repeat champion since Oklahoma in 1955 and 1956.
45. Bryant insisted his 1966 team was “the best I ever had and got done in by the ballot box.” Undefeated Alabama didn’t win the national championship.
46. Pat Trammell, quarterback of Bryant’s first national championship team, died in 1968 of cancer at the age of 28. Bryant later called Trammel’s death “the saddest day of my life.”
47. Bryant received 1.5 votes for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968 at the contentious Democratic Convention.
48. In 1969, Bryant initially decided to leave Alabama to coach the Miami Dolphins for more money before having a change of heart. The Dolphins hired Don Shula.
49. The Afro-American Student Association at Alabama sued Bryant, the university, its president and the Board of Trustees in 1969, alleging that Alabama did not recruit black athletes with as much diligence as white athletes.
50. In 1970, USC became one of the first integrated college football teams to play in Alabama. A myth later emerged that Bryant brought Sam Cunningham, a black USC star, into Alabama’s locker room and told his players that’s what a football player looks like. Many ex-Alabama players said that never happened and Cunningham couldn’t remember it occurring.
51. Bryant, who once said he wanted to be the “Branch Rickey of football,” admitted in his autobiography that he delayed recruiting black players for years because he believed the time wasn’t right in the mid-1960s.
52. Alabama’s first black scholarship football player was Wilbur Jackson, who signed with Bryant on Dec. 13, 1969.
53. Bryant unveiled his new wishbone offense he studied from Texas coach Darrell Royal and stunned Southern Cal in 1971.
54. Bryant on why he liked the wishbone: “You get one-on-one coverage every time. Then it’s just a matter of whether you can hit the receiver.”
55. Alabama and Notre Dame played in 1973 for the first time. Notre Dame won 24-23 in a classic game pairing Bryant against Ara Parseghian.
56. Parseghian wrote Bryant a letter two weeks later. Relations thawed between Alabama and Notre Dame and turned into mutual respect.
57. Bryant won 54 of 60 games in a five-year run from 1971 to 1975. His only SEC loss in that period was the “Punt, Bama, Punt” defeat to Auburn.
58. Bryant collapsed due to congestive heart failure in 1977. He checked into an alcohol rehabilitation clinic in Shelby County several months later, stayed a month and later resumed drinking.
59. In 1978, Bryant endorsed Bill Baxley as governor due to concerns about having an Auburn man, Forrest H. “Fob” James Jr., in the governor’s mansion. James won anyway.
60. Alabama defeated No. 1 Penn State on a famous goal-line stand to win the 1978 national title, a play that would haunt Joe Paterno in his career.
61. Bryant won his sixth and final national championship in 1979.
The final years
62. Bryant told Time magazine in 1980 he didn’t know better about how he treated the Junction Boys at Texas A&M. “They had to put up with my stupidity. I believe if I had been one of those players, I’d have quit, too.”
63. Bill Battle, Alabama’s current athletics director, became Bryant’s agent in 1981 and heavily marketed the coach, such as Bear Bryant Coke bottles.
64. Bryant’s famous remark in a commercial for South Central Bell — “Have you called your mama today?” — was an ad-lib by Bryant.
65. Bryant advised Pat Dye, a former assistant, not to take the Auburn job. “Pat, you know you ain’t gonna beat me,” Bryant told him. Said Dye: “Coach, you know you’re not going to be at Alabama forever.”
66. Alabama defeated Auburn 28-17 in 1981 for Bryant’s 315th career victory, surpassing Amos Alonzo Stagg as the winningest coach in college football history.
67. Bryant told The Huntsville Times in 1982 that he had wasted so much valuable time in his life. “When I look back, there are good things I wouldn’t take anything for. But still, you never know if it has been worth it.”
68. Associated Press writer Herschel Nissenson broke a morning story in 1982 that Bryant would be retiring, beating The Birmingham News, which was preparing the story but was an afternoon paper at the time.
69. Jeremiah Castille intercepted three passes in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29, 1982, for Bryant’s 323rd and final victory.
70. Bryant suffered a heart attack on Jan. 26, 1983, and died at the age of 69.
71. When Bryant died, the only piece of jewelry he was wearing was a ring given to him by the Junction Boys from his first training camp with Texas A&M.
72. An estimated quarter of a million people — one out of 12 Alabama citizens — paid respect on the 55-mile route from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham, where Bryant was buried at Elmwood Cemetery.
73. Super Bowl XVII was dedicated to Bryant. Several planes from Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama performed the missing-man formation over the Rose Bowl in his memory.
74. President Ronald Reagan posthumously awarded Bryant with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February 1983.
75. Actor Gary Busey starred as Bryant in the 1984 movie “The Bear.”
76. Bryant was honored with a U.S. postage stamp in 1997.
77. Alabama’s online shop currently sells 44 items connected to Bryant’s famous houndstooth hat, including thongs, robes, bath wraps and beer Koozies.
Bryant’s coaching numbers
78. Bryant had a losing record against five Hall of Fame coaches: Robert Neyland (0-5-2), Bowden Wyatt (2-4-1), Darrell Royal (0-3-1), Ara Parseghian (0-2) and Dan Devine (0-2). Bryant’s won-lost percentage against Hall of Fame coaches was .661.
79. Bryant was 43-6 against former players and assistants. Among those on his coaching tree: Danny Ford, Howard Schnellenberger, Gene Stallings, Charley McClendon, Paul Dietzel, Jerry Claiborne, Sylvester Croom, Jim Owens, Jackie Sherrill, Charley Pell, Bill Battle, Pat Dye, Steve Sloan, Joey Jones, Mike Riley and David Cutcliffe.
80. If Steve Spurrier averages six SEC wins a year for the next seven seasons, he would surpass Bryant’s record of 159 SEC victories.
81. Bryant won a record 14 SEC championships. The next closest coaches are John Vaught, Vince Dooley and Steve Spurrier with six each.
They said it about Bryant
82. “His nickname was Bear. Now imagine a guy that can carry the nickname Bear.” — Alabama quarterback Joe Namath
83. “Paul Bryant was just tougher than the rest of us. That, plus his ability to make everybody believe in him, made his teams hard to beat.” — Texas coach Darrell Royal
84. “He wasn’t just a coach. He was the coach.” — USC coach John McKay
85. “Paul Bryant is changing the way football will be played in the Southeastern Conference from this day forward with Alabama’s helmet-busting, gang-tackling style of defense.” — Auburn coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan.
86. “George Wallace called Bryant weekly. The reason was he was scared that Bryant would run for governor, because he’d win. Auburn people would vote for him, too, so he’d not coach anymore.” — Alabama offensive lineman John Hannah
87. “I thought this must be what God looks like.” — Pro Football Hall of Famer George Blanda, who played for Bryant at Kentucky.
88. “Bryant can take his’n and beat your’n, and then he can turn around and take your’n and beat his’n.” — NFL coach Bum Phillips
89. “If not for Osama bin Laden, September 11 would only be remembered as Bear Bryant’s birthday.” — Actor and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson on a “Law & Order” episode.
Bryant in his own words
90. “Never quit. It is the easiest cop-out in the world. Set a goal and don’t quit until you attain it. When you do attain it, set another goal, and don’t quit until you reach it. Never quit.”
91. “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.”
92. “It’s not the will to win that matters — everybody has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”
93. “I’ll never give up on a player regardless of his ability as long as he never gives up on himself. In time he will develop.”
94. “The biggest mistake coaches make is taking borderline cases and trying to save them. I’m not talking about grades now, I’m talking about character. I want to know before a boy enrolls about his home life, and what his parents want him to be.”
95. “If wanting to win is a fault, as some of my critics seem to insist, then I plead guilty. I like to win. I know no other way. It’s in my blood.”
96. “I tell young players who want to be coaches, who think they can put up with all the headaches and heartaches: Can you live without it? If you can live without it, don’t get in it.”
97. “Be aware of ‘yes’ men. Generally, they are losers. Surround yourself with winners. Never forget — people win.”
98. “In a crisis, don’t hide behind anything or anybody. They’re going to find you anyway.”
99. “You take those little rascals, talk to them good, pat them on the back, let them think they are good, and they will go out and beat the biguns.”
100. “Mama wanted me to be a preacher. I told her coachin’ and preachin’ were a lot alike.”
* “The Last Coach: A Life of Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant” by Allen Barra, 2002.
* “Bear: The Hard Life and Good Times of Alabama’s Coach Bryant” by Paul Bryant and John Underwood, 1975.
* “Top 50 quotes from Bear Bryant” by Saturday Down South, 2012.
* “Football’s Supercoach” by Time Magazine, 1980.
* Archived articles from The Birmingham News, The Birmingham Post-Herald and The Huntsville Times.
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