The Origins of the Southeastern Conference

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Utter the words “Southeastern Conference” during football season and your listeners will envision national championships, top ten rankings, and lucrative television contracts. Today the term is synonymous with the madness that is college football in the South. But in truth, the phrase was not always so meaningful.  The Southeastern Conference (SEC) was not always known by this name.

As college football took hold at schools across the country, southern school officials began to realize that an affiliation with similar institutions would make sense from an economic and geographic perspective. Southern football’s first game took place in 1881 as Kentucky State (now known as the University of Kentucky) beat Kentucky University (now known as Transylvania University) 7.5 to 1.  By 1892, the birth of southern football began in earnest.  Teams from Alabama, A & M College of Alabama (Auburn), Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt were playing.  LSU began its proud football history in 1893, Arkansas and Texas A & M in 1894, Mississippi A & M (Mississippi State) in 1895, and Florida in 1906.

Dr. William Dudley, a chemistry professor at Vanderbilt, answered the call for an affiliation of southern schools.  Representatives from seven schools—Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Sewanee, and Vanderbilt—met Dudley on December 22, 1894 at the Kimball House in Atlanta to form the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA), the grandfather of the SEC.  The SIAA was formed, according to Dr. Dudley, to provide faculty regulation and control of all college athletics.  A year later, 12 more schools were added, including Clemson, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Texas, and Tulane.

The SIAA held together through the 1920 season.  At the annual conference on December 10, 1920, a disagreement among the schools took place.  The smaller SIAA schools, through their collective vote, passed a rule allowing freshmen players to compete immediately with the varsity and voted down a proposition to abolish a rule that allowed athletes to play summer baseball for money.  Additionally, the SIAA had reached 30 members making it very difficult for the schools to play one another and crown a true champion.  Led by University of Georgia English professor Dr. S.V. Sanford, 18 schools left to form the Southern Intercollegiate Conference (Southern Conference) on February 25, 1921 in Atlanta.  At that point, the SIAA became a conference for small colleges and eventually disbanded in 1942.

The Southern Conference grew to 23 schools by 1932.  Again, the league was too big.  Dr. Sanford convinced the 13 schools west and south of the Appalachian Mountains—Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, LSU,  Mississippi, Mississippi State, Sewanee, Tennessee, Tulane, Vanderbilt–to reorganize as the Southeastern Conference.  Play began in 1933.  By December 1953, eight other schools—Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Virginia, Wake Forest—had left the Southern Conference to form the Atlantic Coast Conference.  The Southern Conference survives to this day.

Sewanee resigned from the SEC in 1940, Georgia Tech in 1964, and Tulane in 1965.  Arkansas and South Carolina joined the SEC in 1990, and Missouri and Texas A & M joined in 2012.

From its SIAA infancy in 1894 to its full maturation in 2012, the SEC has been a force in college football.  The league boasts eight out of the last ten national champions, landed the largest television contracts (CBS and ESPN) in the history of college football in 2008, and launched its own network in 2014.  The South has indeed risen again.

 

Sources:  Newman, Zipp, The Impact of Southern Football, (MB Publishing: Montgomery, 1969).

“The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association,” www.wikipedia.org.

“The Southern Conference,” www.wikipedia.org.

“The Southeastern Conference,” www.wikipedia.org.

Florida State Traditions

Chief_Osceola_on_Renegade_FSU Courtesy of CHolder68

You are surrounded by thousands of people singing some kind of war chant while their arms are moving back and forth in unison.  Suddenly, a Native American man on horseback appears out of nowhere and throws a flaming spear into the middle of a large, green field.  Are you witnessing a late 1800s pre-battle Native American ritual?  Well–yes and no.  You’re actually witnessing a pre-game ritual before the Florida State University Seminoles football team battles an opponent in Doak Campbell stadium.  Let’s take a look at some of the FSU traditions–Osceola, the war chant, and  the Unconquered Statue.

The Native American on horseback is a student dressed in authentic regalia portraying famous Seminole leader Osceola.  The horse is an Appaloosa named Renegade.  The original idea of Osceola and Renegade came from student Bill Durham in 1962.  Durham did not get support for his idea until Bobby Bowden became head coach in the 1970s.  Bowden encouraged Durham to begin the Osceola/ Renegade pre-game ritual but only after the Seminole Tribe of Florida approved of it.  Not only did the tribe approve of the ritual but agreed  to design the regalia for Osceola.  Osceola and Renegade first appeared before games in 1978.

The war chant has existed in some form since the 1960s but began its current popularity at the 1984 FSU-Auburn football game.  The band performed the cheer that had existed since the 1960s.  But this time, after the band stopped, some students behind the band continued the war chant portion of the cheer.  Other fans in the stadium started the popular chopping motion symbolizing a tomahawk swinging down.  The chant and chop continued in the student section during the 1985 season and became a stadium-wide tradition in 1986.

The newest FSU symbol and tradition is the Unconquered Statue arising 31 feet outside the south entrance to Doak Campbell stadium.  Unveiled in 2004, the statue depicts a spear-brandishing Seminole astride a rearing horse.  The statue celebrates the indomitable human spirit.  At sunset before each home game, the spear is ignited and allowed to burn until sunrise the morning after the game.

Florida State traditions help make college football the great game that it is.  Go ‘Noles!

Miami Traditions

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Courtesy of User B

You look out over the field and see players adorned in orange and green with a U on the side of their helmets. On the sideline dances some odd looking bird-like figure. We must be at a Disney Show, right? Not exactly, we’re at a Miami football game.   Let’s take a look at some of the traditions of the University of Miami– the origins of the school colors, the nickname, the U, and the mascot.

Orange, green, and white represent the official school colors. The colors were selected in 1926 to symbolize the Florida orange tree. The orange represents the color of the fruit, the green symbolizes the leaves, and the white represents the blossoms.

As for the origin of the Hurricane nickname, a couple of stories exist. The first story involves the 1927 football team. The players voted for the nickname because they were hoping to sweep away the opposition like the hurricane of 1926 did to the city of Miami. The second story details a conversation between Miami News columnist Jack Bell and Porter Norris of the 1926 team. Bell asked Norris what he thought of University officials and local dignitaries wanting to name the team after some local plant or animal. Norris replied that the team would not stand for such a thing and countered with the name Hurricanes because one had postponed the opening game for the season.

Miami designer Bill Bodenheimer designed the original U logo in 1973. It served as the basis for such slogans as “U gotta believe” and “U is great.” The current U, as seen on the helmets, is actually the meteorological sign for a hurricane.

The bird-like costumed figure on the sidelines is an ibis named Sebastian. The ibis is the last sign of wildlife to take shelter before a hurricane and the first to reappear after the storm.

That’s a little history behind the Miami traditions.  Go ‘Canes!

 

Notre Dame Nickname

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Knute Rockne, the leprechaun, and Touchdown Jesus can only be associated with one school–the University of Notre Dame.  The school has won over 850 football games and has 13 national championships.  They are known as the Fighting Irish.  Before that name took hold, the school was known as the Catholics then the Ramblers.  No one knows for sure how the Fighting Irish nickname came to be, but several stories do exist.

The first story involves the Northwestern game in Evanston, Illinois in 1899.  At the end of halftime, Northwestern fans began to chant–“Kill the Fighting Irish, kill the Fighting Irish,” and purportedly, Notre Dame officials deemed the moniker appropriate.

The next story involves halftime of the Michigan game in 1909.  Many of the Notre Dame players had Irish surnames such as Kelly, Duffy, and Ryan.  With Notre Dame trailing, one of the players reportedly yelled to his teammates, “What’s the matter with you guys?  You’re all Irish and you’re not fighting worth a lick.”  Notre Dame came back to win the game and reporters who overhead the remarks wrote that the Fighting Irish were victorious.

And finally, the Notre Dame Scholastic in a 1929 edition wrote:

The term Fighting Irish has been applied to Notre Dame teams for years… at the time the title the Fighting Irish held no glory or prestige…the years passed swiftly and the school began to take a place in the sports world…Fighting Irish took on a new meaning…the team has become our heritage…so truly does it represent us that we are unwilling to part with it.

No one knows the true story, so take your pick.  What is certain is that the Fighting Irish is one of the most recognizable names in college sports.  So cheer, cheer for Ole Notre Dame!

War Eagle

 

Courtesy J. Glover-Atlanta, GA

Over 80,000 people gather at Jordan-Hare Stadium every Auburn University home football game to experience Southeastern Conference (SEC) football in one of the nation’s great on-campus venues. About 15-20 minutes before kickoff, the marching band plays the fight song on the field and the electricity and energy in the stands rises. Then seemingly out of nowhere, a live eagle begins to glide around the inside of the stadium, slowly descending until landing near midfield. As the Auburn football team readies to enter the field, the Auburn faithful by the thousands regale the area with one of the more famous chants in college football, “War Eagle.” Besides yelling the chant at athletic events, fans may employ the chant as a form of endearment, a greeting, or salutation among other Auburn fans. The chant and the eagle mascot have been Auburn traditions for years and the following hopes to enlighten those unfamiliar with the stories behind the traditions.

Outside the Auburn fan base, very few people know the origin of the chant.  The true Auburn fan will offer you four possible stories.

One involves a veteran of the Civil War watching Auburn’s first football game in 1892 with his pet eagle found on a battlefield during the war.  According to witnesses, the eagle broke free of the veteran and began circling the playing field at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park as Auburn drove for the winning score against Georgia.  As the Auburn fans watched their team drive down the field with the eagle circling above, they began to yell “War Eagle.”  At the end of the Auburn victory, the eagle crashed to the ground and died.

A second story comes from Auburn’s 1914 game against the Carlisle Indians.  The Indians’ best player was named Bald Eagle.  Auburn ran play after play right at him in hopes of wearing him down.  Without huddling, the Auburn quarterback yelled Bald Eagle to start each play.  Auburn fans thought the quarterback was yelling War Eagle and began shouting the name before every play.  When an Auburn player scored the winning touchdown, he supposedly yelled War Eagle and the cry became a tradition.

Story number three comes from a pep rally before a game in 1913.  A cheerleader yelled out that for Auburn to win the game “they would have to go out there and fight, because this means war.” At that very moment an eagle emblem fell off of a student’s hat.  Asked what it was, the student replied “It’s a War Eagle.”

The final story has its links to the Saxon Warriors.  When buzzards circled the battlefield after a Saxon victory, the warriors yelled “War Eagles” as their victory cry.

The live eagle mascot is called War Eagle. The eagle, real or contrived, from the 1892 Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama (now Auburn)-Georgia game receives credit as War Eagle I. According to legend, during the Battle of The Wilderness in Virginia, a former AMCA student from Alabama was the sole Confederate survivor. As he struggled to cross the battlefield, he happened upon a young, wounded eagle. The soldier gathered the young bird and nursed him back to health. The young man eventually joined the Auburn faculty and brought the eagle with him. The eagle became a well-known figure on the Auburn campus. In1892, the eagle and the old soldier attended Auburn’s first football game against Georgia. The eagle broke away from the man, flew around the field, and crashed to his death upon the Auburn victory. Whether the legend is true is open to debate, but it does make for a great story.

War Eagle II came to Auburn in 1930. A golden eagle became entangled in some vines while hunting its prey on a farm southwest of Auburn. As the story goes, the farmer sold the eagle to some people for $10 and it ended up in the care of two Auburn cheerleaders. The cheerleaders put the bird in a wire cage and took it to Columbus, GA for the South Carolina game. Auburn had not won a Southern Conference game in four years but vanquished the Gamecocks that day, 25-7. The student body concluded the eagle brought victory that day and should remain a part of Auburn tradition. The eagle remained in a cage on campus attended to by the cheerleaders. No one knows for certain the rest of War Eagle II’s story.

The next eagle in the War Eagle line, War Eagle III, arrived on campus in 1960. A Talladega County farmer found the bird caught between two rows of cotton, gave it to authorities, who then gave it to the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. The Alpha Phi Omega fraternity built a cage for the eagle and began a run of about 40 years as caretaker of the eagle mascots. Unfortunately, War Eagle III escaped his leash during the Tennessee game in Birmingham in 1964 and was found shot to death in a wooded area near Birmingham.

The Birmingham Downtown Action Committee located another golden eagle at the zoo in Jackson, MS and presented it to Auburn in October 1964. War Eagle IV lived on campus in a large aviary. The aviary, the second largest single-bird cage in the country, stood until razed in 2003. A new tradition began when War Eagle IV received the nickname of “Tiger.” The 22-year old golden eagle served Auburn for 16 years before dying of natural causes.

War Eagle V came from Wyoming in 1981 under the stewardship of the United States government under the stipulations of the Endangered Species Act and was on loan to the Auburn University Veterinary School. The bird also took the nickname of “Tiger.” Tiger served for five years before dying from a ruptured spleen at the age of eight.

War Eagle VI came to Auburn on loan under the same government arrangement as War Eagle V. During the 2000 season, War Eagle VI became the first of the line to perform the pre-game ritual around the inside of Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Auburn took over care of War Eagle VI and all other eagles beginning in 2000. War Eagle VI gained international fame when the golden eagle flew around Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT as part of the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The school retired the eagle on November 11, 2006, and she lived to be 34 years old before dying in 2014.

The current eagle mascot, War Eagle VII, came to Auburn six months after birth at the Montgomery Zoo in 1999. The golden eagle immediately took over for War Eagle VI and currently shares the traditional pre-game flight with two more eagles, another golden eagle and a bald eagle.

War Eagle embodies two of the great Auburn traditions. The chant and the eagle have not only captured the hearts and souls of the Auburn faithful but have earned the honor of two of the most famous and recognizable traditions in college athletics.

 

Tennessee Traditions

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Courtesy of TN66/CC-BY-SA-3.0

When you hear the words “University of Tennessee football,” what comes to mind?  Maybe an image of an orange-clad team with a “T” on the side of the helmet that plays in a big stadium with the song “Rocky Top” seemingly played every five minutes.  But how many of you know how the school decided on orange as their main color, or the nickname “Volunteers” or the Rocky Top song?

Charles Moore, a member of the 1891 football team, thought the colors of orange and white would be suitable.  These were the colors of the American daisy that grew in abundance on the Tennessee campus.  The student body voted to approve the  nomination of the colors at a later date.  Interestingly, the first orange jerseys were not worn until the 1922 season.

The school gets its nickname from the state motto. Tennessee acquired the name “Volunteer State” during the War of 1812 after General Andrew Jackson led a group of about 1500 volunteers to fight against the British at the Battle of New Orleans.  Several decades later Tennessee sent 30 thousand volunteers to Texas to aid in its fight against Mexico.  So the Volunteers seemed an appropriate nickname for the school.  At all athletic events, UT’s color guard wears 1840s dragoon uniforms similar to those worn during the fight against Mexico.

The song “Rocky Top” was first played at halftime of the 1972 Tennessee-Alabama football game as part of a country music show.  The Tennessee faithful immediately embraced the song and the UT band made it part of its game music repertoire soon after.

The University of Tennessee has a proud athletic tradition.   The school’s “Volunteer” nickname, orange uniforms, and classic song give the school instant recognition among college sports enthusiasts.

The Florida Gator

Gators1907Gator bait. Gator bait. Gator bait. Make no doubt about it, when you’re talking Gators and college football, you’re talking about the University of Florida. Here’s a quick look at how the gator moniker became associated with the school.

Florida opened in 1905 and began playing football in 1906. It was around that time that the alligator became the symbol and nickname of the school.  Gainesville native Austin Miller enrolled at the University of Virginia law school in 1908.  Austin’s father, Phillip, visited him in Charlottesville and decided to order some pennants and banners for sale in his Gainesville store.  The two visited a company that manufactured pennants.  When the company representative asked the Millers what the symbol for the University of Florida was, they realized the school had none.  Austin told the company rep that he believed the symbol was the alligator.  Austin quickly thought of the alligator because it was native to the state and as far as he knew, no other school had an alligator as its symbol.  The company rep designed an alligator for the pennants and banners based on a picture Austin provided from the University of Virginia library.

Phillip brought the pennants and banners back to his Gainesville store. The pennants and banners portrayed an alligator in different poses.  Some only portrayed an alligator head.

One banner was blue with an orange alligator in the middle.  This banner became the first official symbol of the school and the gator name took its home in Gainesville.

Albert, the first live alligator, appeared on campus in 1957.  Several Alberts have served since.  A costumed gator, also called Albert, began roaming the Gator sidelines in 1970.  Albert’s friend, Alberta, joined him in 1986.

You may be thinking that a better story surely exists for the origin of the Gator nickname–like maybe a gator eating a horse  or something on the very site of Florida Field years before the first football game–but you would be mistaken.  At any rate…Go Gators!

 

LSU Traditions

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Louisiana State University (LSU) has a proud football tradition.  LSU fans routinely sell out Tiger stadium and wear something purple and gold while cheering on their beloved Tigers.  The following stories explain how the school adopted its nickname and colors.

The university began using the Tiger nickname during the 1896 football season. However, the origin of the name came from the Civil War. During the battle of Shenandoah, soldiers from New Orleans and Donaldsonville distinguished themselves through their tenacious fighting. Contemporaries referred to these men as the fighting Louisiana Tigers. The players on the 1896 team believed the Tiger name an appropriate moniker and the proud tradition lives on today.

Royal purple and Old Gold mark LSU’s official colors. One story goes that in the spring of 1893 the baseball team wore these colors for the first time during the game with Tulane and the colors stuck. Another story comes from November of the same year. The football team wanted something to adorn their gray uniforms for their first ever football game. Coach and chemistry professor Dr. Charles Coates and a few players went to Reymond’s Store in Baton Rouge. The store was stocking ribbon for Mardi Gras–purple, gold, and green. None of the green had arrived yet, so Coates and quarterback Ruffin Pleasant bought all of the purple and gold ribbons for the team to wear on their uniforms and the color tradition took root.

The LSU Tigers play before nearly 500,000 home fans a year. Most if not all wear something in Royal purple and Old Gold. The tradition lives on in Baton Rouge. Geaux Tigers!

The Holy Trinity of Georgia Tech Football

 

Courtesy of UserB

Courtesy of UserB

In the 120+-year history of Georgia Tech (Tech) football, three coaches have accounted for nearly 60 percent of the school’s overall wins. From 1904 through 1966, John Heisman, William Alexander, and Bobby Dodd led the program to more than 400 wins and three national championships. For over 60 years, Tech was a football power. Since this era, Tech has produced some very good teams– the most notable being the 1990 national champions–but has not enjoyed the sustained success that these three men engineered. Each man had his own coaching style and personality, but they share a common thread: the ability to win football games. Meet the Holy Trinity of Georgia Tech football.

John Heisman coached Tech from 1904 -1919, compiling a 102-29-7 record. Heisman honed his skills while playing at Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) in the 1890s. He earned a law degree at Penn but decided coaching football was more satisfying. Heisman started his coaching career at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1892, moved to Buchtel College (now the University of Akron) and then back to Oberlin before heading south to coach the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) in 1895 and Clemson University in 1900. Heisman left Tech after the 1919 season to coach Penn. He and his wife divorced and as part of the settlement, Heisman agreed not to reside in the same city as his wife, who chose to remain in Atlanta. After Penn, Heisman coached at Washington & Jefferson University and Rice University before becoming the director of athletics at the Downtown Athletic Club (DAC) in New York. The DAC began awarding a trophy to the nation’s best college football player in 1935. Upon Heisman’s death in 1936, the trophy became known as the Heisman Memorial Trophy.

Heisman was a demanding perfectionist and keen strategist. He loathed fumbling and would tell his players at the beginning of pre-season practice while holding up a football, “Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football.” His teams employed the jump shift,the forerunner to the T and I formations; lateral passes; backward passes; reverses; onside kicks and sweeps with pulling guards. His players did not huddle and the quarterback would shout a play or series of plays at the line of scrimmage. Heisman is also credited with developing the center/quarterback exchange to begin a play and leading the battle to legalize the forward pass.

From 1915-1918, Heisman’s Tech teams were 30-1-2 –the University of Pittsburgh beat Tech in 1918. The 1917 team went 9-0 and won the national championship.

Probably the most memorable contest of Heisman’s Tech coaching career was a game against Cumberland College in 1916. Heisman also coached baseball at Tech and he agreed to take his 1916 baseball team to Nashville to play Cumberland College. Cumberland embarrassed Heisman’s team 22-0, allegedly using pro players against Tech’s college kids. Even though Cumberland had dropped its football program before the 1916 season for economic reasons, Heisman was determined to avenge the baseball loss and demonstrate to sportswriters the folly of awarding the national championship to the highest-scoring team. Heisman offered Cumberland a $500 guarantee and an all-expenses-paid trip to Atlanta if they would honor their agreement to play Tech in football. Cumberland accepted and produced 16 players, mostly members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity with little knowledge of football. The game lasted 45 minutes and Tech scored 32 touchdowns in the 222-0 rout.

Unlike Heisman, William Alexander, also known as Alex, began and ended his coaching career at Tech. Alexander came to Tech to study engineering in 1906 as a 16-year-old boy. He walked on to the Tech football team in 1908 and played sparingly under Heisman. However, Heisman must have seen something in Alexander because he added Alex to the coaching staff after Alex’s senior season. Upon Heisman’s departure to Penn, Alexander became Tech’s head coach, serving from 1920-1944. He compiled a 134-95-15 record, won the 1928 national championship, and was the first coach to place a team in all four of the major bowls of the time: the Rose in 1929, the Orange in 1940, the Cotton in 1943, and the Sugar in 1944.

Alex was regarded as a tough taskmaster and a man of high character who rarely lost his poise. He was a fierce defender of his players. After Tech lost a game to Alabama on a last-minute interception return for a touchdown, an assistant coach began verbally abusing some of the players in the locker room after the game. Upon hearing the assistant’s tirade, Alex told him to leave and declared, “This is your team only when it wins. Now it’s my team. Get out before I throw you out.”

After disappointing seasons in 1929 and 1930, Alexander sought a bright young assistant. In the middle of the 1930 season, Alex sent assistant Mac Tharpe to Knoxville to scout the North Carolina -Tennessee game. Tharpe’s car broke down en route and he did not arrive in Knoxville until after the game. Tharpe hoped to receive an analysis of Carolina from Tennessee head coach Bob Neyland, but Neyland directed Tharpe to quarterback Bobby Dodd. Tharpe reported back to Alexander that, “Dodd’s analysis of Carolina is better than any scouting report that I could have made.”

Alex hired Dodd as an assistant coach in December of 1930. Dodd said of Alexander, “Coach Alex was wonderful to me. He could growl and snap, but when it came to an emergency, he was our guy. He enabled me to purchase the home my family and I lived in so many years. And he did the same thing for our black trainer, Porto Rico.”

Bobby Dodd worked for Alexander as an assistant for 14 years before succeeding him as head coach in 1945. Dodd coached Tech from 1945-1966 and had a record of 165-64-8. He guided Tech to a 31-game winning streak from 1951-53, including a 12-0 season and a national championship in 1952. Also in the 1950s, Dodd engineered an eight-game winning streak against arch rival Georgia, the longest Tech streak in the series. After coaching, he remained at Tech as athletics director until 1976, then as an alumni association consultant until his death in 1988.

Generally, Dodd believed in taking it easy on his players during practices (although, numerous exceptions can be documented). He rarely left his team bruised and battered after practice–some coaches believed this method would toughen the players for the upcoming game. Instead, Dodd left his players physically and mentally piqued to give it their all on Saturday. Instead of being among the players during practice, Dodd stood in a tower overlooking the field while his assistants ran the practices.

Bobby Dodd never graduated from Tennessee, something he deeply regretted. So he constantly preached and demanded education. He provided tutors for players struggling in the classroom and badgered them until they earned their diploma. He also approved of marriage for his players while most coaches frowned on the players being married so young.   Dodd believed that the wives would police their husbands and felt confident that he knew where his married players were every night.

Bobby Dodd was arguably one of the greatest football coaches of all time. Furman Bisher wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Robert Lee Dodd brought a different style to coaching, an emphasis on craftsmanship, finesse, well-rehearsed execution and sideline genius. Many a time have I heard it said, ‘Bobby Dodd was the best sideline coach I ever saw.’”

The Holy Trinity brought football fame and recognition to the Flats for over half a century. Heisman, Alexander, and Dodd are names that will forever be linked to the halcyon days of Georgia Tech football.

The Bear

Courtesy of Drakelawfirm1

Courtesy of Drakelawfirm1

Think about the greatest college football coaches of all time. Many names come to mind—Amos Alonzo Stagg, Pop Warner, John Heisman, Fielding Yost, Eddie Robinson, Robert Neyland, Knute Rockne, Wallace Wade, Bud Wilkinson, Tom Osborne, and Bobby Bowden. Arguably, the best of all coached at Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A & M, and Alabama. They called him the Bear and he roamed the sidelines from 1945-1982. Paul W. Bryant compiled a record of 323-85-17, won 14 Southeastern Conference Championships, one Southwest Conference Championship and six national titles.

At the age of 14, Bryant wrestled a muzzled bear at the Fordyce Theater in his hometown of Fordyce, Arkansas. He did so purportedly to impress a girl and to make some money. While he may or may not have impressed the girl or made any money, Bryant received a nickname that stuck with him the rest of his life.

Bryant played football at Alabama from 1932-1935. The 1934 team finished the regular season 10-0, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and was voted national champion by several polls. His coaching career began as an assistant to Alabama coach Frank Thomas from 1936-1939. Before Alabama played California in the 1938 Rose Bowl, Bryant auditioned for some movie moguls in Hollywood. Bryant received a contract offer but turned it down when his wife, Mary Harmon, refused to move to Hollywood. This marked the only time Bryant considered a profession other than football.

Bryant left Tuscaloosa to coach one year under Vanderbilt coach Red Sanders in 1940. Vanderbilt upset Alabama 7-0 that year and Bryant received credit for the victory. Sanders, for reasons unknown, did not renew Bryant’s contract in 1941, but with the help of New York Yankees catcher Bill Dickey, a University of Arkansas athlete, Bryant became a leading candidate for the Arkansas head coaching position. However, after the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, Bryant enlisted in the United States Navy for the duration of World War II. While aboard the troop ship USS Uruguay in 1943, Bryant escaped death when his ship was rammed while sailing to North Africa. Over 200 soldiers and sailors died in the tragic episode.

Bryant had earned the title of Lieutenant Commander by the end of the war in 1945 and accepted the head coaching position at Maryland in the same year. He led the Terrapins to a 6-2-1 record with a team composed mainly from the Navy Pre-Flight group he coached in 1944. After a dispute with Maryland president Curly Byrd over the suspension of a player. Bryant took the helm of the Kentucky program. In Bryant’s first season, the Wildcats went from 2-8 to 7-3. His 1950 team went 11-1 (Tennessee, led by coach Robert Neyland, handed Kentucky its only loss. Bryant never beat Neyland in seven tries.); won the school’s only Southeastern Conference (SEC) championship; and defeated Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, ending the Sooners’ 31 game winning streak.

Bryant left Kentucky for Texas A & M in 1953 after he asked for a release from his contract following the Kentucky president’s failure to fire or force the retirement of basketball coach Adolph Rupp, whose program became involved in a scandal that jolted Kentucky athletics (The NCAA and SEC suspended the Kentucky basketball program for the 1952-1953 season after evidence surfaced that some alumni had offered monetary inducements to recruits to play for Kentucky). The Kentucky president implemented new rules for the school’s athletic teams, including restricting the football team to five non-Kentucky recruits per year. Bryant knew he could not consistently win under these restrictions because the state produced a limited number of quality football players every year. He blamed Rupp for the president’s actions. The Bear coached the Aggies from 1954 to 1957. His 1956 team compiled a 9-0-1 record, beat arch rival Texas in Austin for the first time ever, and won the Southwest Conference Championship.

However, Bryant left College Station for Tuscaloosa in 1958 with seven years left on his contract. Alabama had won only four games in the previous three years. When asked why he would leave a good situation at A & M for a poor one at Alabama, the Bear responded, “Mama called.” In 25 years as head coach of the Crimson Tide, Alabama won 232 games against only 46 losses, 13 SEC championships, and six national championships.

The Bear’s coaching philosophy was rather simple: one must pay the price to win—whether it was he, the players, the coaches, the managers, or the university presidents. Bryant pushed those around him hard but no harder than he pushed himself. Bryant’s fellow coaches respected his coaching ability. Jake Gaither, head coach at Florida A & M said, “He could take his’n and beat your’n, and take your’n and beat his’n.”

As Bryant approached the end of his coaching career, people frequently asked him when he would retire. The Bear’s usual response was, “Retire? Hell, I’d probably croak in a week!” Bryant coached his last game on December 29, 1982, a 21-15 Liberty Bowl win over Illinois. Forty-two days later, the Bear passed away from a heart attack at the age of 69.

The Bear left his mark on college football by building winners at Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A & M, and Alabama. While many outstanding coaches have graced the sidelines over the years, only one could be called the Bear.