Daily Dose of Crimson Tide: The Bear Playing on a Broken Leg

Christopher Walsh

If there was one aspect of Coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant that was never in doubt, it was his toughness. 

He was towering and intimidating, and when he told his players to do something, they had better darn well do it if they wanted to keep playing football.

Although Bryant may be best remembered in that regard for his rigorous offseason conditioning programs — especially his famous “Junction Boys” training, when he took his first team at Texas A&M to a barren army base and ran a brutal boot camp in 100-degree heat, and less than a third of the 100 players made the return trip — it was a trait that permeated his entire life.

“His nickname was Bear. Now imagine a guy that can carry the nickname Bear,” Joe Namath said on ESPN’s SportsCentury series.

Of course, the nickname came after he wrestled a real bear at age 13.

Bryant’s football career began as an eighth grader, and he eventually helped lead the Fordyce High School Redbugs to a state championship. From there it was on to Alabama. While practicing with the Crimson Tide in the fall of 1931, he took high school classes to finish his degree. 

In June 1935, while still a player, Bryant secretly married Mary Harmon. Their first of two children, Mae Martin, was born nine months later. Paul Jr., who would become a prominent businessman, was born in 1944.

After graduating, Bryant was an assistant coach with Alabama for four years under Frank Thomas, and was at Vanderbilt for two. He then served in the Navy before becoming the head coach at Maryland. 

Bryant resigned after one season, took over Kentucky, guided the Wildcats to a 60–23–5 record and their lone Southeastern Conference championship in 1950, but resigned from there too when it became obvious that school officials would always consider basketball to be a higher priority. From there it was on to Texas A&M.

As a player, one game Bryant is particularly known for was at Tennessee in 1935, even though standout Riley Smith, who would be the second-overall selection in the first NFL draft (three rounds before Bryant) scored two touchdowns.

In addition to catching a touchdown pass, Bryant lateraled to Smith for another score, all while playing on a broken leg. 

Atlanta Constitution reporter Ralph McGill doubted the diagnosis and showed up early for the following week’s game against Georgia and asked to see the X-ray. Indeed, it showed a broken fibula sustained against Mississippi State, from which Bryant was quoted as saying, “It was just one little bone.”

For more on why Bryant played in the game, check out the Daily Dose entry on assistant coach Hank Crisp. 

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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Anthony Sisco
Anthony Sisco


Bear Bryant stories never disappoint! He was one tough dude.