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 And even though the weight room was cramped, old, and outdated… he forged ahead ….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…..
 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life
 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11–13)
Do you remember having your eyes opened to the gospel- the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ?
My parents were good to get me in church a lot growing up. Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Bible sword drills all began the process.
I remember, Jack Rutledge, father of Alabama QB Jeff, putting his arm around me and quietly asking me to give my heart to Jesus. I tensed up and was unwilling… little did I know that those faithful seeds were going to root in time…. ( I was excited to tell him years later of my conversion).
My first ‘experience’ with God was at the age of 8 when I was baptized at Ruhama Baptist Church in Birmingham. It was during a revival and I felt like I was ‘supposed’ to go down the aisle. I remember a Pastor meeting with my mother and me. During this meeting, he showed me a Good News Bible and pointed to a picture of a shepherd and sheep. I just shook my head “yes”. I really did not know what I was doing.. no understanding at all!
The baptismal ceremony was performed in freezing cold water because the water heater was broken. It took my breath away as I went under. In later years I laughed that this was a little humor from the Lord about my “cold” baptism.
I tried to be a good boy for about 2 weeks but eventually regressed to being the same ole me.
All of these were important experiences with God… but it wasn’t the ‘eye opening’ experience that precedes conversion. I do, however, vividly remember that initial time of understanding….
It was in 8th grade, I remember a Sunday School teacher explaining the gospel in a way that I actually understood it. My sin was real and Jesus’ sacrifice made complete sense in bridging the separation I had with God.
Even though the good news had been presented maybe hundreds of times before that.. I did not understand.. it did not ‘click’. But that day.. it made so much sense..I was in sin… Jesus was the substitute for sin… but it created a PROBLEM!
I vividly remember thinking“I’ve already been baptized, so I can’t tell anyone that I’m not a real Christian”And I lived in conflict off and on for a long time. I knew I wasn’t living for God and I believed that I was going to hell. It disturbed me whenever I thought about it.
I was playing a video game in the mall and a little girl came up with a gospel tract. I treated her very rudely, but inside I still felt condemned.
Another time a girl I knew well told me that I couldn’t be a Christian because of my behavior. I told her that I had been baptized. She said that baptized or not, I lived like I was going to hell. Deep in my heart, I knew she was right.
Getting to high school actually provided escape from these thoughts and found that I was hardening to the idea that I was not a believer. Sports were a great diversion and offered some reward as an idol. I received recognition and relationships and I experienced a lot of success.
Spring of 1980
My realization about eternity abruptly came back up in the summer before my junior year. An acquaintance of mine was tragically killed while robbing a convenience store. He was with a group who was doing it just for the thrill. I was heartbroken and our school was in despair!
I remember receiving this news from my mom as I was coming home from Sunday School. I don’t know why I went to church that day and remember nothing from the visit.
All of the students were grief stricken and I was confronted once again with the idea of death.
We had a student gathering at a home and I was very impressed by the message. It was my first experience with Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham. A minister, Tom Caradine, gave a clear gospel presentation along with Biblical answers for grief and loss. I was stirred immensely.
After the meeting, a college student who had been an athletic role model for me, Benny Parks, found me and shared a gospel tract with me. The tract had a drawing of two lives (see below) and I knew that my life was not being directed by Christ.
The above image was me… and I wasn’t happy with my life at al!
This is what I desired… and it led me to a desire to get it right with God!
I went home and re-read the tract and knew it was time to make a choice. I got on my knees and prayed that God would forgive me and take me back. At the time, I thought I was re-dedicating my life to Christ. I now know from thinking through Scripture that this was my actual conversion.
Right after that prayer, I got up and went to sleep..no smoke or fireworks. But when I woke up the next morning..I remembered and I knew something was different.
Some immediate changes took place. I told my mom and a few friends that I had re-dedicated my life with Christ. This was a big step for me. I also began to read the Bible with great interest. I read the whole New Testament in about 2 days and the words seemed to burn in my soul. I have not had that sensation since, but it was a really cool moment.
I had a friend of mine make a poster for me to put in my football locker. I wanted coaches and teammates to know that I had made a change.
I also had a real sensation of peace with God. My anxiety about eternal destruction was completely gone. I have had this peace for so long now, that I have almost forgotten what the stress of condemnation was like.
Looking back in the light of Scripture like Romans and others, I now see that prayer night of my Junior year as being my conversion. And though there were times I did not live like a believer after that, I know that that was the moment of repentance and faith. And I now have been with Jesus for over 38 years! I have failed Him many times since then.....He has never failed me!
My prayer is that right now... anyone reading this will think back and consider your journey and whether you believe you have the Son or not....
He is only a prayer away... a simple request.... Lord, I don't want to be in control, I want to humble myself, admit my sin, and ask that You forgive me and help me....
And then walk in faith and peace... as you read His word and grow.... you will never regret it!
update 2/28/22 - God's gift is still my only hope and chance to enter into His eternal rest. I am closer today than when I wrote this 4 years ago. Life is harder...but in many ways, it is sweeter.
I have a grand-daughter now and my wife and I are 'empty-nesters'- but where would I be without the mercy of God? I would be in trouble!