Saturday, November 5, 2011

Walking with The Bear

A big day today as #1 LSU plays #2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

I will always have a life-long affinity for the Crimson Tide.

My father taught at the University of Alabama when I was a kid. As a faculty member, he used to get tickets to the games, so I got to see a lot of classic teams play, including the ones that won the National Championship in 78-79.

I attended elementary school at Verner Elementary, which was located about 300 yards from Bryan Denny stadium. Our school rented out its front yard for parking for the games.

The team practiced a few miles away next to the basketball arena. Coach Bear Bryant had a metal observation tower constructed next to the field, and you could often see him there.

One day I was watching the team practice and I snuck through a gate and got onto the field. As the team headed through a tunnel which led to locker rooms in the basketball arena, I snuck in behind them. Near the locker rooms, there were some giant, wheeled laundry baskets with equipment in them. I was looking at some of the team helmets when I heard a voice behind me.

"You best be careful son! You fall in that basket and we'll take you to Athens with us!"

I turned around and there he was. The legend.

Head Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.

"Mr. Bryant!" I said. I stuck out my hand.
He shook it. His hand seemed enormous to me, as I was just a kid.
It was thirty years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
Bryant would die just a few short years later, so I'll never have a repeat opportunity.

I have met a lot of famous people in my life, but this meeting stands out more than others.

Bryant is a legendary figure in Alabama, in a way that movie and rock stars can only dream of.

He won six National Championships for Alabama.

There is an enormous statue of him outside the stadium.

And on game day today, thousands of people will be posing for pictures with it.