UPDATE: It is with great sadness we note that Mr. Gilmer passed away on Saturday, Aug. 20. We are returning this story to the top of the page to commemorate his career at the Capstone. Stories about Gilmer are now up at AL.com, the Tuscaloosa News as well as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In 1962 Alabama opened the season with a new quarterback and a 35-0 thumping of the Georgia Bulldogs. Joe Namath had arrived and the SEC took notice.
Dick Flowers, an assistant at Florida State who had played for Alabama in the 1940's, saw the new Tide signal caller's style and noted it had an uncanny resemblance to a past Alabama passer he had played with.
"He looks a lot like Harry Gilmer," Flowers told the Tuscaloosa News.
Back then, Gilmer was assumed to be the benchmark for an Alabama passer but, today, Namath has eclipsed him in that regard. Ken Stabler certainly has a lot of name recognition and some folks actually recall that Bart Starr played for the Tide back in the day.
Harry Gilmer? He's been lost to the annals of time.
A big reason for that is, unlike Starr, Stabler and Namath, Gilmer's tenure in the pros was relatively uneventful due to injury. The fact that the now 90-year-old Gilmer didn't play in the era of television is certainly another. But when you compare these players in terms of their time in Tuscaloosa, Gilmer simply blows them all away.
- Alabama's Harry Gilmer, Head Coach Frank Thomas and Vaughn Mancha. All three are in the College Football Hall of Fame.
- Harry Gilmer goes for the edge.
- Gilmer, Thomas and Vaughn deciding between the Sugar and Orange bowls in 1944.
- Gilmer launches one of his famed jump passes.
- Harry Gilmer and some fans.
- Harry Gilmer tries to slip from a defenders grasp on the Third Saturday in October.
- Gilmer, Thomas and Mancha arrive in Pasadena for the 1946 Rose Bowl.
- Simply one of the Tide's greatest.
During the four years he was at the Capstone (1944-1947), Gilmer was a legitimate superstar. He was a nationally recognized player mentioned in the same breath as his contemporaries Doak Walker and Bobby Layne. His unique jump pass style was as amazing as it was accurate (and it ruined a generation of backyard passers across the state, according to Bobby Bowden who idolized the older Gilmer).
His accomplishments were remarkable. To list a few:
- He is the only Alabama player to be a finalist for the Heisman trophy twice.
- He is the only Alabama player ever taken with the first selection in the NFL Draft.*
- He was an all-American in 1945, SEC Player of the Year in 1945 and the MVP of the 1946 Rose Bowl.
- He was the first player to leave his cleat and hand impressions in the concrete at the Walk of Fame at Denny Chimes.
- He is a member of The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.
If you want to learn more about this amazing Crimson Tide player, my biography of Gilmer is now available over at the Encyclopedia of Alabama.
As a compliment to that, I've gone through the University of Alabama's football record book and tallied the items that Gilmer is still listed for. It's a remarkable testament to why this phenomenal athlete remains one of the greatest to ever wear the crimson and white.
Gilmer's offensive prowess is well documented but the record book also shows how the man was a threat on defense and special teams.
For example, Gilmer's Alabama record for career punt return yards (1,119) wasn't bested until Javier Arenas topped it with 1,752 career yards more than sixty years later. As for defense, Gilmer's career record for interceptions (16) stood for a half century until Antonio Langham broke it with 19 in the 1990's.
So when you see a poll talking about the all-time greats of Alabama's football and it doesn't have Gilmer's name listed, you can rest assured, they have no idea what they are talking about.
|Yards per Rush (game, min 5-9 attempts)||1||36.0 (6 attempts, 216 yards, 2 touchdowns) vs Kentucky||Nov. 3, 1945|
|Rushing Yards by a QB (game)||1||216 vs Kentucky (6 attempts)||Nov. 3, 1945|
|Punt Returns (game)||1||8 vs Tennessee (63 yards)||Oct. 19, 1946|
|Punt Return Average (season, minimum 20 returns)||1||18.1 (21 returns, 381 yards)||1947|
|Kickoff Return Average (career, minimum 15 returns)||1||28.7 (574 yards, 20 returns)||1944-1947|
|Longest Touchdown Rush (80+ yd)||2||95 yards vs Kentucky||Nov. 3, 1945|
|Highest Completion Pct. (season, minimum 50)||2||64.8% (57 of 88)||1945|
|Punt Return Yards (career)||2||1,119 (83 returns)||1944-1947|
|Punt Return Average (career)||2||13.4 (83 for 1,119)||1944-1947|
|Long Punt Returns||2||92 yards vs LSU||Nov. 22, 1947|
|Interception Return Yards (career)||2||234 (16 interceptions)||1944-1947|
|Interceptions (season)||2||8 (79 yards)||1946|
|Interceptions (career)||2||16 (234 yards)||1944-1947|
|Yards per Play (game, minimum 8 plays)||3||9 plays for 226 yards vs Kentucky||Nov. 3, 1945|
|Total Touchdowns (career)||3||52 (2 punt return, 1 kickoff return, 1 interception return, 19 rush, 29 pass)||1944-1947|
|Touchdown Responsibility (career)||3||52 (2 punt return, 1 kickoff return, 1 interception return, 19 rush, 29 pass)||1944-1947|
|Punt Return Yards (season)||3||436 (37 returns)||1947|
|Punt Return Average (game, minimum 2 returns)||3||40.6 vs Georgia (3 returns, 122 yards)||Oct. 25, 1947|
|Most Point After Touchdowns (game)||4||9 vs Howard (9 attempts)||Oct. 7, 1944|
|Punt Returns (career)||4||83 (1,119 yards)||1944-1947|
|Punt Return Yards (game)||4||122 vs Georgia||Oct. 25, 1947|
|Punt Returns (season)||5||37 (436 yards)||1946|
|Total Touchdowns (season)||6||9 rush, 13 pass||1945|
|Highest Completion Pct. (game, min 10)||6||84.6% vs Georgia Tech (11 of 13)||Nov. 15, 1947|
|Rushing Yards by a QB (game)||7||116 vs USC (16 attempts)||Jan. 1, 1946|
|Touchdown Responsibility (season)||7||22 (9 rush, 13 passing)||1945|
|Punt Return Yards (season)||8||381(21 returns)||1946|
|Punt Return Average (season, min 20 returns)||8||11.8 (37 returns, 436 yards)||1946|
|Rushing Yards (game)||9||216 vs Kentucky (6 attempts)||Nov. 3, 1945|
|All-Purpose Yards (career)||9||1,938 rushing, 574 punt return, 1,119 kickoff return||1944-1947|
|Winningest Quarterbacks||9||.721 (30-9-2)||1944-1947|
|Most Yardage (career)||10||4,657 (2,894 pass, 1,763 rush)||1944-1947|
|Touchdown Passes (career)||10||29||1944-1947|
|Long Punt Returns||11||80 yards vs Georgia||Oct. 25, 1947|
|Career Rushing Yards||17||2,025 yards||1944-1947|
* Joe Namath was selected first overall in the American Football League draft in 1964 but was taken 12th in the NFL draft that same year. The two leagues merged in 1966.