Some Of The Legends of Alabama Football

Kenneth LevitorCorrespondent IApril 2, 2009

DETROIT - FEBRUARY 05:  Former Green Bay Packers quarterback and MVP of Super Bowl I & II Bart Starr is seen on the field as he is introduced prior to Super Bowl XL between the Seattle Seahawks and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Ford Field on February 5, 2006 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

When people talk about Alabama football legends they can start with the 20 College Football Hall of Fame inductees. Those players and coaches are listed below, in alphabetical order.

Cornelius Bennett, Johnny Mack Brown, Paul "Bear" Bryant, Johnny Cain, Harry Gilmer, John Hannah, Frank Howard, Dixie Howell, Pooley Hubert, Don Hutson, Lee Roy Jordan, Vaughn Mancha, Johnny Musso, Billy Neighbors, Ozzie Newsome, Fred Sington, Riley Smith, Frank Thomas, Wallace Wade and Don Whitmore.

(It should be noted that Frank Howard was named to the Hall of Fame based on his work at Clemson as a coach and Athletic Director. He is listed because he did play for Alabama and therefore earned the inclusion.)

Then the talk turns to those not included, i.e., not inducted. Like Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler and Dwight Stephenson. Since I don't know the requirements for CFHOF I can't argue about who is left out and why others are included.

Another question that arises when people talk about Bama players is why none has ever won a Hiesman Trophy. The best reason I can come up with is that Alabama has always emphasized team championships and defense over personal accolades.

As far as I know Alabama has only "sponsored" one candidate, Shuan Alexander. An ankle injury ruined his chances at college footballs highest honor, but he did win big honors in the NFL. I can go over those later (spoiler alert!) when his name comes up on my list.

The best thing about creating my on list is I get to establish the criteria. For my list players had to accomplish one or more of the items I list.

That includes All-American status, set at least a school record during their tenure, become NFL All Pro or Pro Bowler. And most importantly, be a great ambassador for the University of Alabama, and a super role model.

All that aside I'll try to compile a list of my Top Ten All-Time Great Alabama Football players. To avoid the anguish of making myself decide where a player belongs on the list I'll organize them chronologically.

Beginning in the 1920's and moving forward through the years here are my Ten Best. To avoid the anguish of making myself decide where a player belongs on the list I'll organize them chronologically.

They are divided 50/50 by those who played before Coach Bryant and players during and after his tenure. This is the first half. The final 5 will come as soon as my health allows.

Johnny Mack Brown (HB)

All SC 1923, '24, '25, was an All American at Alabama but his greatest accomplishment might have been winning the Golden Boot Award for his roles in Western films. As outstanding as he was when playing football he was even better as an actor. He somehow parlayed a trip to the Rose Bowl into fame and fortune on the silver screen.

Nicknamed the "Dothan Antelope" he scored two of the Crimson Tides three touchdowns against Washington in the 1927 Rose Bowl. The favored Huskies fell to Alabama, 20-19, and Johnny Mack Brown was named MVP. That could be why he appeared on Wheaties boxes in 1927.

He is not the only football player to turn to acting, but I'd guess he is by far the most 
successful of them. Altogether, Brown appeared in over 160 movies and was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Don Hutson (HB)

All-SEC He played for the Crimson Tide 1932-34. He lined up for the Tide opposite another Arkansas native Paul "Bear" Bryant. Unfortunately most college football fans today probably don't recognize the name. Hardcore fans of professional football either know him or should quit calling themselves "hardcore pro football fans".

Most people who appreciate football history recognize him first as a 1934 All-American 
player from Alabama. He culminated his Bama career with 6 receptions for 165 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-13 Rose Bowl win over Stanford. That contribution would help cement the first of two National Championships Alabama won under Coach Frank Thomas.

Fans should know how he "wrote the book" on how to be a great receiver in the NFL. He seemed to be writing that book as the NFL rewrote their record book. When he retired from the NFL he was the leader in career catches with 488. That was 298 more than the next highest number at the time.

The "Alabama Antelope" scored a touchdown with his first catch in his career with the Green Bay Packers in 1935.

Somehow he managed to score 98 more touchdowns during that inaugural season, a record that stood for forty years. His No. 14 was the first jersey Green Bay retired, on December 2, 1951.

Incredibly, as of 2007 Hutson still holds 8 NFL records according to the NFL Record and Fact Book. In 1999 The Sporting News ranked him sixth on their list of 100 Greatest Football Players.

All those accomplishments earned him a spot on the All-Time College Football team and the same Rose Bowl honor. Perhaps that's why every Hall of Fame who could find a connection has inducted him. Those include Alabama, Arkansas, Green Bay Packers, NFL, College Football, Wisconsin and Helms Foundation.

Harry Gilmer (HB)

Was All-SEC and he played at Alabama 1944-45-46-47. Although listed as a Halfback he was also quite a passing threat in his career. Today's fans sometimes marvel at Tim Tebows use of the "jump pass" but Gilmer might be the first to throw that way on a consistent basis.

He was part of the team that people referred to as "war babies", because many players were lucky not to be drafted into the army. Things were tough all over because of WWII, unless you were a military school.

The year before, in 1943, Bama and most other Universities didn't even field a team. It was a time when the nations services academies would become major powers in college football.

Those with access to the Tuscaloosa TV station can sometimes enjoy interesting games on a program called Crimson Classics. I was fortunate enough to see Gilmer play against Duke in the 1945 Sugar Bowl.

Despite the loss it was most enjoyable to witness the different style of play in that era. And Gilmer had shown bright, effortlessly eluding defenders and completing 8 of 8 passes as a true freshman.

The young team had earned the bid with a 5-1-2 record entering the Sugar Bowl. After a tie with LSU at 27 points the defense rose up strong, shutting out 4 of the remaining 7 teams.

But the Sugar Bowl was a different situation. Duke had a strong body of Naval trainees against the all civilian Crimson Tide. Nevertheless Alabama played inspired football and lost in a nail-biter, 29-26.

In his sophomore year he led to Crimson Tide to a 10-0 record, and ranked behind only Army in the polls. The season included two endings that year, a 34-14 win over USC, and a final trip to the Rose Bowl. After that only Big 10 schools would be invited to play the PAC 10.

That sophomore year Gilmer threw for a nations leading 13 touchdowns and ran for 9 more. He averaged 7 yards in 79 rushing attempts, and completed 88 passes. He ended the season ranked second nationally in total offense with 1,457 yards.

Gilmer was also recognized as a first team All American, the SEC Most Valuable Player, Rose Bowl MVP and finished fifth in the Heisman balloting.

Some people speculate that Gilmer, and the Bama team as a whole, suffered along with Coach Frank Thomas in 1946 and 1947. Thomas would resign due to illness at the end of 1947.

Gilmers name is still prominent in the Alabama record book. Most notably perhaps is his
single game record against Kentucky. He rushed 6 times for 216 yards and completed two passes 50 yards against the Wildcats. His 33 yards-per-play average remains a Bama record.

Bryan Bartlett "Bart" Starr (QB)

Was a Letterman from 1952-55. Although he lettered every year his play was less than notable. During his tenure the most memorable play didn't involve him at all. It happened during the 1954 Cotton Bowl versus Rice.

Rices Denny Neagle had a great run which began close to his own goal line took him down the Alabama sideline. At midfield Tommy Lewis hit Neagle, who landed on the Bama 45. Unfortunately Lewis was on the Alabama bench and blindsided Neagle illegally. The officials awarded Neagle a touchdown that made the final score 28-6, Rice.

Under Coach "Ears" Whitworth Bama went 0 for 10 in Barts senior year. But the Packers took a chance on Starr, picking him in round 17, 200th overall.

After Lombardi was named coach of the Packers in 1959 he soon recognized Starr was the best player to lead the team. With the roster changes Lombardi soon had the dominant team in the league, leading them to titles in '61, '62, '65, '66 and '67.

Starr earned MVP of the Packers in '66 and won MVP in the first two Super Bowls ever played. Other accomplishments include being one of only five jerseys retired by the Packers, along with Hutson. Another honor was being ranked 41 on The Sporting News list of 100 Greatest Football Players.

The NFL may have payed him homage the most by naming a trophy after him. The Bart Starr Award is given to an NFL player of outstanding character.

Health problems require me to rest for a while. Look for the 5 I picked who played during or after Bear Bryants era soon. RTR!


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