Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Memories of Coach Bryant- Early Interactions

January 26 will match the 30 year anniversary of the passing of Coach Bryant. I  am going to take some time this month writing memories of his impact on my life.

As a child growing up, our life seemed centered around Alabama football. I cannot describe the comfort of a childhood that consisted of fall Saturdays in my grandfather, Pop-Pop's back yard. We listened to Leonard's Losers, sat glued to every John Forney radio relay, and ate the greatest ribs and pork chops I have ever tasted!

I couldn't help but laugh out loud on the ESPN 30 for 30 about Bo Jackson when he talked about his friends and family in Bessemer's reaction to Coach Bryant calling him. Bo said that people would come to stare at the phone because Coach Bryant had called!

I had close to that experience on the two occasions I met Coach Bryant before walking on at Alabama in the fall of 1982.

I first got to meet Coach Bryant in Tuscaloosa on a trip with Jack Rutledge, father of Jeff.  Mr Rutledge was my Sunday School teacher and he took a group of us to see spring practice. Two things I will never forget: it was the day that Steadman Shealy tore his ACL and the first time I met Coach Bryant in person.

We were walking up the stairs of the Coliseum and he was walking down. Mr. Rutledge said hello and we all took turns shaking his hand.

The best part of that memory was that my dad was thrilled that I had met the Bear! He asked me about it and I gave the usual lame answers a pre-teen would give. I remember saying, "he didn't seem that big to me".  My dad said it must have been because we were on steps, because Coach Bryant is a big man.

I later met Coach Bryant when he introduced an evangelist at Ruhama Baptist church in East Lake, AL. I think I must have been around 15 years old at the time. It was the largest crowd that the church had in a long time and it made a few of the deacons mad.

My grandmother pushed us through the crowd and told Coach Bryant, "My grandson wants to play for you one day." He smiled and said "Smart boy". The funniest part of that story is that she had a game program that belonged to my uncle Jerry. He had sent it with her to get an autograph. Later that afternoon, she gave the program to Uncle Jerry with Coach Bryant's signature: "Hi Jay, See you at Bama, Bear Bryant".

This was the program signed by Coach Bryant. It says on the right, "Hi Jay, see you at Bama Bear Bryant"
When we got home from church. Uncle Jerry was so excited that Coach Bryant had signed his game program. That was, until he saw the signature.

"This says JAY!" He said with surprise and disbelief all rolled up into the disappointment.

And I guess that is why I have it to this day.

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