Daily Dose of Crimson Tide: The Beginning and the End For Paul W. "Bear" Bryant

Christopher Walsh

Two items of information that  every Alabama fan needs to know are where was Paul William Bryant born, and where was he buried. 

Bryant was born on Sept. 11, 1913, just outside of Fordyce, Ark., in the south-central part of the state, approximately 68 miles south of Little Rock and halfway between it and the Louisiana state border. 

If you're heading to the Alabama at Arkansas game this year, and driving, set the GPS to Moro Bottom in Cleveland County. Originally a railroad town, it’s now a popular hunting destination with population near 5,000.

You're looking for a house a couple of miles southeast of Fordyce on highway 8. Last time we went through was a sign claiming Bryant's birthplace in the front yard.

Bear Bryant's birthplace

During the 1982 season, Alabama defeated eventual national championship Penn State, 42-21, but those close to the program knew there was something amiss, and not because of uncharacteristic losses to Tennessee, LSU, Southern Miss and Auburn.

With his health on the decline, Paul W. “Bear” Bryant knew he could no longer continue and called a press conference for Dec. 15 to announce his retirement from coaching. College football’s all-time Division I-A (or Bowl Championships Subdivision as it was renamed in 2007) wins leader would have one final sendoff, against Illinois at the Liberty Bowl.

Led by All-American cornerback Jeremiah Castille’s three interceptions and a forced fumble, the Bryant era concluded with a 21-15 victory, and one last time Crimson Tide players carried the coach off the field on their shoulders.

“I am proud they wanted to win this one for me,” Bryant said.

Fullbacks Ricky Moore and Crain Turner, and flanker Jesse Bendross scored the touchdowns, all on runs, and a late interception by linebacker Robbie Jones sealed the victory. Castille was named game MVP.

“Let’s face it. Alabama just likes to hit you,” Illinois quarterback Tony Eason said. “They are the hardest hitting team I’ve ever played against.”

Just 28 days later, Bryant’s heart gave out on Jan. 26, 1983. He was 69.

Statistically, Bryant’s career legacy was a 323-85-17 record, 29 bowl appearances, 15 conference championships, and six national championships. In the 1960s and 1970s, no school won more games than Alabama (193-32-5).

On Jan. 28, 1983, the funeral was held in Tuscaloosa, with the burial at Birmingham’s Elmwood Cemetery near Legion Field. Eight players: Castille, Paul Ott Carruth, Paul Fields, Lewis, Mike McQueen, Jerrill Sprinkle, Darryl White and Tommy Wilcox, served as pallbearers. 

Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, many in black, others wearing crimson, congregated along the 50-mile stretch of Interstate 59 to watch the procession, which along the way passed by both Bryant-Denny Stadium and the university practice fields where Bryant had perched above his players in a tower.

It’s said that Bryant’s funeral could only compare in the South, in size, scope and importance, to those of Jefferson Davis, Elvis Presley and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His grave has frequent visitors, and regular gifts of appreciation (including bottles of Coke, Golden Flake potato chips, and whiskey), but the marker simply has his name, and dates of his birth and death.

“He was more than the finest football coach who ever lived,” former university president Joab Thomas said. “He was a great teacher, a great man and a dear personal friend.”

Off the field, plans were already under way for the Paul W. Bryant Museum, which would open in 1988, and Bryant had set up a scholarship fund for the children of his former players to attend Alabama (and not just to play football). 

Nowadays a person can hardly go anywhere in Tuscaloosa without seeing something named in honor of the icon, and even 25 years later a video tribute to the coach was still being played prior to the start of every home football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

“He literally coached himself to death,” Ohio State coach Woody Hayes said at the funeral. “He was our greatest coach.”

Some of this post originated from "100 Things Crimson tide Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," published by Triumph Books

Comments (1)
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Originally a railroad town, it’s now a popular hunting destination with population near 5,000. https://basketball-legends.io/