Less than five minutes remained in the ball game, and Alabama was leading 34-0 when Bobby Hunt sent Auburn whirling 65 yards against the Alabama reserves to a first down in the shadow of the Alabama goal. Bear Bryant, a man who would rather surrender his left lung than a touchdown, sent in the Alabama first string. Four plays later Auburn was still in the shadow of the Alabama goal. When the final gun went off a few moments later, its report lost in the frenzy of 54,000 Alabamans whooping onto Legion Field, Bryant permitted himself one of his rare smiles. His Crimson Tide, unbeaten and untied in 10 games, unscored on in the last five, heading for a Sugar Bowl date with Arkansas, had won the national championship just as surely as there is a piece of pig iron in Birmingham.
Alabama won the game on Saturday because it performed on offense as it has seldom performed all year. With Pat Trammell controlling his team and the ball game with a poise and confidence that few college quarterbacks ever attain, Alabama scored a touchdown in the first quarter, two touchdowns and a field goal in the second quarter, a touchdown in the third quarter and a field goal in the fourth quarter. The Tide rolled up 315 yards and 20 first downs. But Alabama also intercepted four Auburn passes, recovered the game's only fumble and, in the final analysis, won the same way it has been winning all year, by sending still another opponent home with knots on its head.
In 10 ball games Alabama has allowed just three touchdowns and a total of 22 points. It leads the nation in two of the three major defensive categories: fewest points allowed and fewest total yards. Yet this is not a team of superstars; the line is almost small by big-time college football standards, and the professional scouts will tell you that there isn't a real standout prospect in the lot. The reason Alabama plays defense so well is because that is the way Bryant asks his team to play, hitting again and again and again with the viciousness of a pack of sharks until someone goes down. The Alabama defense has intimidated a lot of people this year. "It'll be easy to pick out the Auburn ballcarrier," boasted an Alabama rooter before the game. "He'll be the one who turns white as soon as they hand him the ball."
The Auburn ballcarriers didn't turn white, but they didn't have much fun either. They gained just 25 yards rushing the entire first half, while Alabama was ringing up 24 points, and their miseries began on the third play of the game. John McGeever was knocked loose from the ball and Darwin Holt recovered for Alabama on the Auburn 36. In six plays Alabama scored, Halfback Billy Richardson slanting outside right tackle from the 11. Tim Davis kicked the first of his four extra points.
December 11, 1961
Early in the second quarter 'Bama drove 80 yards in 12 plays. Mike Fracchia, the slashing junior fullback, gained 40 yards in three carries and Trammell threw two passes when it seemed that things might slow down. Trammell carried across from the one. A few minutes later Davis kicked a field goal from the 35. And, finally, Trammell put the game out of reach. Starting on the Auburn 43 with less than two minutes to play, he completed three passes, and the third, with nine seconds left in the half, went 19 yards into the hands of End Richard Williamson in the end zone.
The second half was much more even, except that Alabama scored 10 points. With Fracchia out because of a broken nose, sophomore Fullback Dink Wall carried eight times in a 67-yard drive and Trammell pitched out to Richardson for the last six. Davis' second field goal, in the fourth quarter, was a 34-yarder.
"I don't know whether that's a great team," said Coach Shug Jordan of Auburn after it was all over, "but they were great today. I don't guess anybody has ever hit us quite as hard." When Bear Bryant heard that, he nodded his head.
To Paul William Bryant a fact is a fact, and he is not given to shows of false modesty in public. He was born Sept. 11, 1913 in Moro Bottom, Arkansas, which is neither a municipal entity nor a swamp but something in between, and at the age of 13 he emerged to wrestle a bear. He lost that match but gained a name; he has lost few matches since. In scoring 121 victories in 17 years at Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama, Bryant has grown into a legend in his own time.
His public image outside of Alabama—where they insist that the floppy gray hat he wears on his head is actually a halo—is that of a tyrant, a slave driver on the practice field, a recruiter without scruples, a ruthless opponent. It is true that when the mood is upon him he can be mean as any lower-case bear. Few men are close to him; he is a loner living within himself. Yet down through the years Bryant has won far more friends than enemies. Other coaches may curse him because he beats them, but they respect his brutal honesty as well as his skill, and his own assistants have a suspicion they will go to Bryant when they die. As for his players, they revere him—and they will fight a person who says things against him in their presence.
Bryant is a big man, weighing the same today as when he played for Alabama in the '30s, although the 225 pounds has been subject to considerable readjustment. The mop of dark, wavy hair that once made him look like Gregory Peck on the way to Navarone has thinned and is streaked with gray, but he remains a ruggedly handsome man with a strong chin and a pair of ice green eyes. His voice is soft and low, full of corn pone, and when he speaks folks listen. He is a leader, producing strong emotions in those whose lives touch his. He can charm a possum out of a tree.
If there is a touch of genius about the man, it resides in two areas: organizational talent and the ability to instill a bursting sense of pride in his athletes, enabling boys to play a bruising game as if they were already men. When Bryant gets through with them, they are. More likely, however, his success is due to sweat. He loves football, he lives football and he gets up every morning at 5 o'clock to work on football. "It sounds damn silly after all these years," he says, "but I can hardly wait to get out there on the field." Because of his fierce energy and intelligence and dedication, he has become the best football coach in the land.
If this sounds like heresy in Mississippi or Ohio or Texas, it should be remembered that Bryant has proved himself not just once or twice but four times. At Maryland and Kentucky and A&M he built winners where only losers lived be fore and he built them in a hurry. With the possible exception of Oklahoma' Bud Wilkinson, he makes more money winning than anyone in the business, any for a school that wants a victory he is worth every cent. Alabama wanted a winner when it brought Bryant back home in 1958. It has had a winner every year since.
'Bama was a breeze
Actually, Bryant's rebuilding job a Alabama was easier than at the other three. This is a school that can smother you with football tradition, and some of the names—Don Hutson, Dixie Howell, Pooley Hubert, John (Hurry) Cain, Johnny Mack Brown, Riley Smith, Harry Gilmer—send out sparks even today. In the years before 1955, 'Bama sent six teams to the Rose Bowl, two to the Sugar Bowl, two to the Cotton Bowl, two to the Orange Bowl. Yet when Bryant arrived, Alabama had won just two games in two years. He soon remedied that. With virtually the same material that had performed so listlessly the year before, Bryant built a team. He kicked everyone off the squad who refused to work the way Bryant wanted him to work ("He never kids you that it's going to be easy to play football for him," one of his ex-players says. "He tells you the price you have to pay to win and then it's up to you if you want to stay"). He won five games in '58, and only one defeat was by as much as 10 points. In 1959 he won seven games and took Alabama to the Liberty Bowl. Last year the Tide won eight, tied one, lost one, tied Texas in the Bluebonnet Bowl, and at season's end was ranked ninth in the nation. Today they are No. 1.
Bryant lives in a sprawling pink $50,000 home on Lakewood Drive in Tuscaloosa, and he rides around in an air-conditioned Cadillac, complete with chauffeur. If he is almost a millionaire, as some of his confidants say, he denies it vigorously himself. "Good Lord, no," he says. "For a man who is supposed to have made as much money as I have, I owe more people than anyone I know." His salary is only $17,500, although Alabamans were thinking in terms of a $30,000 or $40,000 contract when they hired him away from A&M. "What does the president make?" asked Bryant. He was told $17,500. "Then I'll take that," he said. "I don't want to make more than the president. I'll have enough trouble with the faculty as it is."
Bryant gambles on the stock market, with tips from the wealthy Wolfson brothers, Alabama enthusiasts who are his friends. He is said to have made $80,000 on stocks in less than six months earlier this year. He is a member of the boards of directors of two companies, The First National Bank of Tuscaloosa and Cotton States Life Insurance. He has an interest in several building projects. He also has a personal service contract that may earn him as much as $30,000 a year for doing an hour-long television show on Sundays during football season and making occasional public appearances for his sponsors, Coca-Cola and Golden Flake Potato Chips. His face appears on a number of huge outdoor advertising signs around Birmingham and you can't drink a Coke in Alabama without looking at Bear Bryant.
Apparently Alabamans don't mind a bit. Just so long as they remain at the top. They're getting to like high living down there.