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'Take It In': The Story of Alan Gray

Despite an injured throwing shoulder that plagued him for his entire career, Gray started six games in 1981 and led the Crimson Tide to an SEC title

When strolling across the University of Alabama quad, under the shadow of Denny Chimes rests the Walk of Fame where the captains of Alabama football have their handprints and footprints forever pressed into the pavement, securing their legacy as players who impacted the program.

If a casual Crimson Tide fan were to stroll across the cement shrine, he or she would see many recognizable quarterbacks forever enshrined: Kenny Stabler, Joe Namath and Jay Barker among many others.

There is one other offensive captain listed amongst the Alabama greats that might not be so recognizable to the casual young Alabama fan: Alan Gray.

Despite starting the most games at quarterback for the 1981 season under legendary head coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, the name of Alan Gray does not ring a bell with many fans. However, that does not make his story any less meaningful or impactful.


Born in 1959 in Mobile, Ala., Gray saw one year of high school football in eighth grade before his family moved to Tampa. Once the family got settled in, Gray began to attend H.B. Plant High School and soon joined the football team.

Gray began to excel in the sport and soon began to be recruited by schools all over for his skills as the quarterback position.

“In Tampa we had a good program and was blessed and I was an option quarterback and did fairly well so I was recruited by most of the schools across the country,” Gray said. “It came down to Florida, Alabama and Auburn.”

Unbeknownst to Gray, his recruiting process with Alabama would go differently than it did for most other players at the time.

“Coach Bryant came to my house, which after I graduated from Alabama I realized that that was really special,” Gray said. “I told assistant coach [Curley] Hallman that I was ready to come for a visit and so Alabama flew the Alabama plane down one of the next two days. There was nobody on the plane but Curley. Curley and I flew back up to Tuscaloosa on Alabama’s plane and then my parents drove up.

“I watched the practice and I still didn’t commit at the time and the we drove back down. 20 years later I was asking my teammates and many of them didn’t have coach Bryant come to the house but I don’t know how many of them had the plane flown down to them and nobody was on the plane.”

A house visit by Bryant in Florida as well as a private plane flight up to Tuscaloosa? It was clear early on that Bryant was interested in him.

Unfortunately for Gray, his decision remained a tough one since he remained unaware of the five-star treatment he received from the Crimson Tide.

“I just kinda thought everybody did that,” Gray laughed. “I wasn’t really that — I don’t know if I was just not mature enough to know but I thought everybody kinda went through that same process.”

After his senior season at H.B. Plant was over, Gray had a decision to make. Still weighing his options between Alabama and Florida, his final decision came while listening to a basketball game between the two schools.

“I sat there in my chair and I looked at my dad and I said ‘Dad, what am I doing? I’m sitting here listening to two teams who I’m trying to decide where I want to go play football and I’m pulling for Alabama,” Gray said. “It shouldn’t even be a decision.’ He said ‘Well is that where you want to go?’ And I said ‘I think so.’ So I called up coach Hallman and I said ‘Coach Hallman, send me a playbook.’

“That was all I said, and he said ‘Glad to have you.’”

A few minutes later Bryant called Gray congratulating him for joining the team.

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After his arrival in Tuscaloosa in 1977, Gray soon developed a level of appreciation for the Crimson Tide and its head coach. It didn’t take long before Gray realized that he had might the right decision by coming to Alabama.

“I have to be one of the most blessed individuals in the world,” Gray said. “ I consider that because how many young men grew up in the state of Alabama in my era who wanted to play football for coach Bryant?”

A few weeks into practice before the season, Gray was participating in drills on the field when he felt pain in his right shoulder, his throwing shoulder.

With sports medicine still a developing field, Gray was given what would be considered old-fashioned treatments today: ice and heat. His shoulder continued to bother him throughout the rest of his career, despite the fact that he did not understand what had full happened to him.

It wouldn’t be until 20 years later that he realized what had happened.

“I played five years at Alabama,” Gray said. “20 years after I graduated I realized that within just a few weeks of getting on campus I separated my throwing shoulder. I got the same treatment that everybody else did: ice and heat. That’s all we had back then. I played five years with a separated shoulder. I couldn’t throw a ball from here to the wall but when I was recruited I could throw the ball very well.

“But you can’t throw a ball with a separated shoulder.”

Gray would only throw 12 completions for the entirety of his five seasons at Alabama.

However, Gray would not let his injury stop him from playing football for the Crimson Tide. After seeing limited action in his first four years, Gray took up a larger role for his fifth season.

Before the 1981 Tennessee game, Gray learned that he was to be the starting quarterback. While many players would have shied away from the challenge with a hurt throwing shoulder, Gray approached the challenge head-on.

Gray says that Bryant’s influence and desire to inspire boys to become men was what motivated him to take on the challenge.

“What you learn is while you’re at Alabama is that there’s hundreds and hundreds of stories of players who came through there who played injured, had great careers and those injuries and those challenges and those struggles that those players had to overcome — you know, we might not be measured by how we succeed but I think we’re measured by how we respond to adversity,” Gray said. “The players that came under coach Bryant, he always told us that he wanted us to be better citizens than when we got out. I learned and the adversity that I had to overcome, to be able to start at Alabama against other players who were 100-percent healthy — and I was not healthy, I was hurt — but I was still able to contribute and play and do the things that helped us win.”

Gray helped lead Alabama to a 38-19 victory over the Volunteers and earned the starting job. Despite seeing limited action, Gray started the last six games of the season, which led the team in starts at the position.

Gray Auburn 315 game

Starting six games his senior season despite a hurt shoulder is not Gray’s favorite memory from his time at Alabama, though.

An old Alabama football tradition that occurred during spring practice of every season while Bryant was head coach was that during spring practice, Bryant would call out seniors over his megaphone and have them leave practice early.

For Gray, it was unexpected gesture of appreciation from the gritty coach that he will never forget.

“My freshman year it was Ozzie Newsome,” Gray said. “I’m standing there and we’re going at it and all of a sudden I hear coach Bryant say ‘Newsome, take it in.’ The next thing I know the whole practice stops. All of a sudden Ozzie Newsome runs off the field. He goes and everybody else keeps practicing for another two hours. Well, every spring I saw someone do that. I saw Ozzie Newsome do that. I saw Jeff Rutledge do that. I saw Tony Nathan do that. My senior year he called my name out. 'Gray, take it in.'

"I was flabbergasted. The only thing I could think was ‘Don’t trip.”

To Gray, the experience was surreal.

“You make it into the locker room and there’s nobody there and you’re all by yourself,” Gray said. “You shower, you get your clothes, you get in your car, you drive back to the dorm and you look over there and there’s everybody out there practicing and I mean the feeling of doing that for me thinking back on that it was a very special moment that coach Bryant gave me.”

To this day, Gray treasures that memory and all of the symbolism that goes behind it. Despite not seeing much action on the field compared to other college quarterbacks due to his injury, Bryant took the time to recognize his efforts.

“I personally think that it had something to do with him telling the rest of the team that this particular person had earned his respect and that that particular player was seen by him as one of the leaders on the team,” Gray said. “I think that in most cases these individuals were long-time starters. Many of them were legends in Alabama football. I am not a legend in Alabama football.

“I think when I think of the great players who were quarterback if you put the ball in their hands when all the chips are on the line the one thing they trust is their athletic ability. If they need to tuck it and run it, do whatever they need to do they do it and they’re successful. In my case because of my injury my strength came from trying to figure out looking at what was in the huddle what was the best person, the best play to help us score or help us win or put us in a position to win. I took my eyes off myself and put my eyes on my teammates. I really think coach Bryant might have saw that and when I ran off the field at spring practice that might have been a little of what went into it.”

After securing a shared SEC title with Georgia due to there being no SEC Championship game at the time, Gray and the Crimson Tide fell to Texas in the 1982 Cotton Bowl 14-12.

However, Gray exited the program with his head held high. Elected by his teammates as captain, Gray soon had the opportunity to place his handprint and footprint on the Walk of Fame beneath the shade of Denny Chimes, his legacy forever imprinted on the cool concrete of the University of Alabama's quad.

Gray graduated from Alabama with a bachelor’s in marketing and soon after started a job as an outside salesman at Phifer Inc. in Tuscaloosa, a company that manufactures, sells and distributes outdoor fabrics and screening. 38 years later, Gray is still working at the company, although he has moved up quite a bit. Today, Gray is now a senior vice president in the company and manages its North American sales.

All these years later, Gray still calls back to coach Bryant and his time with Alabama football as where he learned the lessons he needed to succeed in the business world.

The most important lesson? Honesty and integrity.

“Your word is your bond,” Gray said. “All of the customers who I manage and my associates who I work with know that I’m truthful and I’m honest and I’m going to do what I say I’m going to do. When we played, when you wore the jersey [coach Bryant] always put you through several drills where he made sure you weren’t going to quit. A lot of people in life when they face adversity sometimes they quit. They give up too early. When you’re a number two guy on Alabama’s team you’re one play away from being the starter. The starter just has to get injured and you’ve got to be ready to step up and play.”


Gray lives in Tuscaloosa today with his wife, Shannon Gray. The couple married just over a week after the Cotton Bowl and have since had five children, including a daughter who swam for Alabama and another daughter who played golf for the Crimson Tide.

Along with nine grandchildren and two more on the way, Alan Gray considers himself to have lived a blessed life.

“I’ve been so blessed,” Gray said. “You talk about bucket-list stuff. I got to caddy for my daughter at the U.S. Women’s Amateur nine rounds. I mean, these are things that — we walked the fairways with girls that are on the LPGA Tour. I got to talk to them and meet them and watch them play.”

Gray had to overcome much adversity in his years at Alabama, but despite all that the game threw his way, he still overcame very slim odds to start at quarterback for an Alabama team that only lost one SEC game during his five seasons.

According to Gray, it all goes back to Bryant and the lessons he taught each and every one of his players.

“In playing at Alabama I fully believe every single player that played under coach Bryant that went through the program and was put through such tough practices and tough offseason workouts to where we were forced to endure things to where we knew there was more there than we thought there was,” Gray said. “And so in life when we face different struggles whether it’s medical or financial or whatever it may be in our business, you just don’t quit.

“Coach Bryant, his coaching staff, all of them helped prepare us for that.”