This post is part of my dedication to write about Coach Paul Bear Bryant every Jan. 26 in remembrance of him. I have a WordPress site that compiles my experience growing up in the Bryant era of Alabama football, which included m time as a walk-on QB during his last season- the fall of 1982. You can read all of the posts here: https://bearbryantmemories.wordpress.com/
“I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man”(1 Kings 2:2 ESV)
I have a calendar reminder every January to begin thinking about what to write on.
These days, it is almost impossible to not link Coach Bryant to the remarkable run by current Alabama coach, Nick Saban. But looking back, I have done that times ten (as have countless others).
For some reason this year, it has been about ‘fighting the fade’.…. and I have resisted this topic because it doesn’t sound as complimentary or as reverent as I intend to be. But it is a reality, nonetheless. Some of it is also about my personal competition with a body that is now 53 and requires energy and work to maintain.
The ‘fade’ is evident
In the Fall of 1982, I could smell and feel that the Crimson glory was in decay. Things had been running on rewind. The buildings, the equipment, the weight room, the colors were fading. The support staff looked more like retirees than hungry and ambitious culture changers.
There were exceptions of course. Strength coach Al Miller had a hunger and newness to him. And even though the weight room was cramped, old, and outdated… he forged ahead ….
It was in that weight room one day, broken in pieces by a ‘light’ workout that I heard him wonder out loud “Was there any player left who knew or remembered what past champions had sacrificed to earn a ring?”.
And it scared me when he said that…because I was worried about that myself…and I knew that I had no clue (and was somewhat terrified if I wanted to know).
Now- before I am mis-understood…this is not a hit piece blaming Coach Bryant… I have experienced this over and over in life:
I went to Banks High School AFTER the glory of the 60’s/70’s
My time at Alabama – the ending of Coach Bryant’s era
But the feelings have been felt in other times as well….
I was at Tennessee a lot at the end of Coach Fulmer’s run (that decay happened really fast – it was new and vibrant ’93 to ’99… but I told a good friend of mine that ‘the orange is old’ in 2004- and it was more about the campus feel and how tired everybody seemed.
Is there a point to this ‘downer’ of a post?
Yes…. all glory as it relates to man has a shelf life- and it is no ones fault.
Moses wore a veil to hide the fading glory.
Poems and songs have been crafted to relate to the reality of the decay that precedes death.
The Bible states it this way:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV)
And I believe, Coach Bryant shines in this area…..
Since all empires fade in the gravitational pull of entropy…. what do we do?
We fight and we constantly seek RENEWAL.
I don’t treat the end of Coach Bryant’s run as negative- I honor him for how long he sustained it- through all the changes that were demanded to stay fresh and relevant.
In his final speech to the team- he knew what was needed…. He told us “Because of current trends in football and rule changes….we have to start passing the ball more”
So here is what we have to do personally and even organizationally to promote longevity:
We have to expend the energy and drive to be refreshed and renewed.
We cannot rest long on any past success.
We have to be willing to battle to the very end.
In the end, we all end up in the same state…. but HOW we get there makes all the difference in the world.
Alfred. Lord Tennyson captures the zeal needed to fight decay in his classic poem, Ulysses.
The entire poem is worth the read- he is resting and enjoying the prosperity of past battles, but he knows he needs to be back in the battle.
Years ago, I took the last part of that poem and adapted it to a TEAM challenge:
It may be that foes will wear us down:
It may be we wear championship crowns,
And match past champions, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
And I guess that is my final remark- inspired by my heroes of the past… chief among them Paul “Bear” Bryant
My battle is with my team- we strive together- and it is a glorious fight!
And the team?
The team of my family
The team of my co-workers
The team of my faith
As we continue to fight the decay of life…. we become one equal temper of heroic hearts.
And in the end, we realize that that investment in others has great reward.
That attitude can even turn the trend of a nation…..