Paul W. Bryant was many things to many people.
He was a stoic face of the South, the one many looked to rather than George Wallace. He was a surrogate father to hundreds of teenage boys who he brought to manhood. He was an innovator of the game. He was a World War II US Navy veteran, fighting in the Dardanelles -- the lieutenant commander survived a catastrophic collision with another vessel that killed over 200 of his comrades on the USS Uruguay. He was an iconic pitchman for products that literally shaped the SEC and are still used by, and identify, the conference, even 30 years after his death.
Bryant was a man of droll humor, fierce competitiveness, mean as a viper when crossed. He granite-tough his entire life, be it from wrestling a bear to playing against Tennessee with a broken leg. He was the "other end" to Don Hutson's pass-receiving antics, but, during that time also managed to get himself named to the All-SEC team three times.
He is and will always best be known as the coach of the University of Alabama. During his 25 year tenure at the Capstone, and for decades after his passing, Bryant would be known as "the best that ever was." You know his achievements by rote at this point, but think about these numbers:
- 12 SEC Championships (13 overall)
- 6 National Titles
- 232-46-9 (.824) (323-85-17, .790 overall)
- 67 All-Americans
- 24 consecutive bowl games
- 10-time SEC coach of the year; three-time national coach of the year
- Took Alabama to play against its first integrated team (1959 Penn State,) hosted Alabama's first integrated team (1970 USC,) integrated Alabama football in 1971.
- invented the modern defensive line gap scheme
- The coach of the year trophy bears his name to this day
That is beyond iconic, far surpassing legend. The fact that it has has taken over 30 years for another man to even be mentioned in the same breath as Bryant without complete scorn or ridicule is itself astonishing. We need a new superlative to describe Paul Bryant's accomplishments.
But, most of all, he was a man of Alabama.
In a career as quotable as his was, I leave you with my favorite, one that says so much more than the simple words in these two simple sentences from his resignation:
"This is my school, my alma mater. I love it, and I love my players."
And, that feeling was more than mutual, coach.
12 days 'til kickoff.