Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Memories of Coach Bryant- A World-Class Fan

In 1957, a young 13 year old boy from Huffman, Alabama was invited by his childhood friend to see the Alabama- Tennessee football game at Legion Field. At that time, this boy knew little about the history of the football program.

Even though, Alabama lost that day- this young boy was hooked! He kept his ticket stub and kept his friend's ticket stub. On January 7th, 2013 this super-fan watched Alabama play for the 462nd time!

Not only that, during all those years he has collected whole tickets, ticket-stubs, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, and video that has culminated in a library vast enough to be likened to a personal Bryant Museum.

This man is Birmingham native, Tom Brakefield. This 'world-class' fan is also a 'world-class' man who recently allowed me some time to reflect on Coach Bryant and share his love and insight as someone who lived through that amazing era.

Tom Brakefield- Behind him are ticket stubs from his 462
football games he has attended from 1957-2013!

When Tom was a student/football player at Banks High School, he discovered that his uncle, Bill Cox, had been asked to join Frank Taylor to upgrade the "Bear Bryant Show" as a technician and camera man.

Tom took every spare minute he could find to move cameras and film- and generally help in all the work and time it took to put that iconic event together.

"Not many people know", Tom said from his Alabama-themed home office, "we used between nine and eleven cameras to film the Coach Bryant show. We shot film from a variety of angles- developed the canisters in a numbered system- and spliced the final product together (including the slow-mo), and had it all ready for Coach Bryant by 7AM on Sunday!"

"Coach Bryant would arrive between 7 and 8 AM, watch the film a couple of times, take notes and then start getting ready for the show which was going on live at 4:00 on Sunday afternoon."

As I sat there listening to Tom, I couldn't help but be drawn to his passion and tender heart for Coach Bryant. He had been reading my blog and every time we talked a little bit about the memories, he got a little choked up.

Tom has been converting his VHS library to DVD and has hundreds of games, specials, and Bear Bryant shows in his personal collection. One film he has though, that he still has not watched, is Coach Bryant's funeral.

"I just haven't gotten to the point that I can see it", he says through genuine tears and a trembling voice that seem too fresh to be 30 years old.


Looking back at those old shows, you can't help but consider the power and influence of Coach Bryant's Sunday pulpit for all of those years. Tom's best story demonstrates that we are fortunate that Coach Bryant used that platform for good.

Alabama opened against Georgia on a blistering hot day in Athens for the 1965 season. Tom was with the Bear Bryant show crew, wiping away sweat, and enjoying every snap of a fierce contest pitting Coach Bryant against Vince Dooley.

Even though Alabama struggled all day, even going in at halftime down 10-0, Alabama rallied in the 2nd half and took a late 17-10 lead.

What took place next in the game was recently ranked by The Bleacher Report as #3 of the 12 greatest plays in college football history.

Coach Dooley called it 'flea flicker' but today is more known as a 'hook and lateral'. Kirby Moore threw the ball to Pat Hodgson who then flicked it to Bob Taylor who ran for a 73 yard touchdown to bring the score to 17-16. Georgia converted the 2 point extra points to win 18-17!

The problem was.... it looked very clear to the Alabama faithful that Pat Hodgson's knee was down, thus making the play 'dead' on the catch and the touchdown should have been disallowed!

You have to think that Alabama fans felt snake-bit. It was the first game since Joe Namath had seemingly been robbed of a game winning TD in the Orange Bowl and now they lost the opening game to a missed call in Athens!

Tom Brakefield saw a clean angle and knew he had a camera all over it. He carefully noticed which canister was going to have the field level proof!

Sure, enough, the Bear Bryant Show crew had indisputable video evidence that 'Bama had been robbed by the Bulldogs!

When Coach Bryant came in that Sunday morning he shocked everyone! As soon as he saw the clip he stopped and said as clear and forceful as he could:

"Men, I never have won a game on Sunday because of film. Please take this clip out and give it to me."

When the show went live from Channel 13 that Sunday, Coach Bryant taught the entire state on how to lose with class.

And Tom Brakefield used it to give me an even bigger lesson!

"Jay, you want to know the biggest part of that story?  We lost to Georgia, we TIED Tennessee- but still upset Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to win the National Championship. At Alabama, Coach Bryant started a lesson that, even today, we understand.... if you do it right... you always have a chance!"

Tom knows how to do things right as well. He co-oped as a student at Alabama with U.S. Pipe after his graduation from Banks in 1962. He gave all of his spare time to developing film, delivering tickets, and helping any way he could.


Another great story shared by Tom was in Coach Bryant's latter days- right after the historic 315th victory.

Tom was always collecting. He stayed outside during the 1st and most of the 2nd quarter of that game with Auburn- collecting as many whole tickets as he could locate. "Maybe a hundred" he said. And he is never one to try and profit from those things- Tom is a man who gives- and sees it as a 'ministry'.

Tom took a number of pictures, posters, and memorabilia for Coach Bryant to sign at practice. Coach Bryant came out in his golf cart and greeted Tom.

"Coach, you mind signing a few things?"

"Why sure, Tom" Coach Bryant responded.

And Tom laid it all out.

As Coach Bryant was signing one particular poster, he noticed there was three of everything... and Coach Bryant STOPPED!

He turned and glared. The small crowd of managers and guests froze.


Tom was pierced in panic, almost a loss for words.

"No sir, no sir, See, Coach Bryant ... I have two sons..."

"Good" Coach Bryant resumed marking the pieces.

Tom breathed a sigh of relief.... and so did everyone else.

As Coach Bryant rode off in his cart, everyone laughed a nervous laugh. The Bear still had a growl!


But eventually, the demands of the real world tugged on him. He had a wife and family to serve and his relationship with the Lord governed his priorities. After the 1968 Cotton Bowl game in which Coach Stallings beat his mentor, Tom began climbing as an executive with U.S. Pipe and had to give up his regular assistance of the Bear Bryant Show.

Today, Tom is beloved as a husband, dad, and grandpa- working for his company and sharing Crimson colored good will.

The readers of this blog are going to enjoy the fruit of his labor, though, as I will be posting some vintage video from Tom's private collection, including a rare look at portions of a 1967 special.

And Tom's story can be replicated across the entire state! Such devotion that was inspired by the greatest coach of all-time!


Please enjoy about a 5 minute clip I put together that gives a general flow to how the show went. Everything in the state stopped from 4-5 PM on Sundays for Alabamians to get their weekly coaching session. Thanks to Tom Brakefield for generously sharing this from his private collection!

No comments: