Our mighty Crimson Tide faces the desperate and intrepid Wildcats of Kentucky this week. It's more than just an SEC match-up between two undefeated teams; it's more than just a competition between the ascendant Tide and the one of the last teams to beat the reigning national champions. It's a quiet tradition.
It's quiet because, despite great gains in the past few years, Kentucky hasn't quite yet cemented a football culture, and certainly not one to compete with its legendary prowess with the roundball. Why, then, should it be a tradition?
For one simple reason: our greatest Coach-the precursor to the Dark Lord, as the Church would call him-once struggled mightily, and damn successfully, on behalf of the Wildcats. And but for Fate, would have remained there.
In 1946-lo, 82 years ago-Coach Bryant made his way to Lexington, and he transformed a woeful 2-8 Kentucky team to 7-3 in his first year. Sound familiar?
The next year, he'd push the Wildcats to 8-3, and their first-ever postseason appearance, besting Villanova in the Great Lakes Bowl (and you complain about the Music City! Back in my day, we were happy for a Bowl, no matter how terrible the name! Dammit, we were proud to make it past the season, proud to fight in the cold of Winter).
The Bear guided Kentucky until 1953, when he asked to be released from his job after hitting seven wins. This is after a phenomenal 11-1 year, losing only to the bastard Neyland Volunteers, an even more loathsome creature than the Fulmerite Orange of Today.
Should I tell you that the Bear beat Oklahoma in 1950, 13-7, in the Sugar Bowl? Does this posit a victory in 2008? Do the superstitious among you feel the pull of Mme. Laveau on Bourbon Street, how for ten dollars you might ascertain the future? Do you feel the truth of that unknown world echoed in the past? Have you, like me, begged her for a tremendous gris-gris meant to sway the AP rankings?
Listen, my Crimson Brothers and Sisters, this is what you need know, as referenced by our friend Allen Barra: "To Mary Harmon, leaving the lush bluegrass country of Kentucky for what appeared to her as a wasteland was devastating." The Last Coach, at 157. As Bro. Barra notes, "[i]n 1946," when the Coach arrived, "Kentucky was known for its lovely bluegrass country, its stately mansions, some untouched by the Civil War, its world-class thoroughbreds, and college basketball." Id. at 111. Mary Harmon grieved for losing her world of juleps and Derby when decamping to A & M: but the One True Coach knew, he'd never beat Rupp, not in that world of bluegrass.
As. Bro. Dunnavant notes, "Adolph Rupp cast a shadow as large as the state of Kentucky," and there were greater things in store for Our Coach. Coach: The Life of Paul ‘Bear' Bryant, at 67.
So this Saturday, I want you to do these things:
1. It's at 2:30 on CBS, so for God's sake, get out some Golden Flake potato chips, find some Coke in a bottle, and grab a Oatmeal Cream Pie like a Good Bama Fan.
2. Put on some Drive-By Truckers, at the very least some Jason Isbell; it is Fall, now, and it's time to raise your hands in frustration and delight.
3. Put your hands together in respect for Kentucky, because Coach Bryant, and the Great Mary Harmon, once loved them quite dearly.
And then, Brothers and Sisters, let us march to Number One.