Alabama Football: 30 Most Legendary Players in Tide History
Paul “Bear” Bryant looms as the Alabama football program’s biggest icon, but several players—before, during and after Bryant’s tenure—have gone on to achieve excellence during their stay at the Capstone.
From the era of the 1930s with Hall of Fame split end Don Hutson to Nick Saban’s present-day dynasty led by quarterback A.J. McCarron, Alabama supporters have witnessed the birth of several star-studded careers on the gridiron.
With so many players dominating at a school synonymous with excellence and winning, there are a number of gifted and charismatic athletes who would be left off no matter how long this list could possibly be.
So with that said, which players stood out the most in their time wearing Crimson and White?
Find out as I attempt to nail down the 30 most legendary players in Alabama football history.
30. David Palmer, WR/RB/KR (1991-93)
The “Deuce” lined up at quarterback, receiver and tailback in addition to being the Tide’s primary return threat during a standout career from 1991-93.
His 1,000 receiving yards in 1993 helped him earn All-American honors and put him in a club of just three receivers in Crimson Tide history to pile up 1,000 yards or more in a single season.
David Palmer finished third in the Heisman Trophy ballot in 1993 and is considered one of the finest athletes to ever suit up for the Tide.
29. Shaun Alexander, RB (1996-99)
At a school famous for churning out stud running backs, Shaun Alexander is the leading rusher in school history after compiling 3,565 yards on his 727 carries (another school record) in college.
The Kentucky native made good on the promise he displayed after his record-breaking 291-yard effort as a freshman against LSU in 1996.
Alexander has remained an active Tide supporter following a solid pro career, for reasons he explained to Doug Segrest of The Birmingham News.
"From Day One, Alabama was my family," Alexander said. "That's something that will never change."
28. Rolando McClain, LB (2007-09)
The 2009 Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker, Rolando McClain was the most dominant defender on the only undefeated team Saban has ever coached.
McClain racked up 275 tackles, eight sacks and five interceptions in his three-year career and was selected as an All-American during his final college season.
27. Leroy Cook DE (1972-75)
A member of Sports Illustrated’s Alabama all-time team, Leroy Cook was a two-time All-American and the defensive MVP of the 1975 Orange Bowl.
Cook recorded 200 tackles, 15 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and blocked three kicks during his career.
26. Bobby Humphrey, RB (1985-88)
A two-time All-American (1986-87), Bobby Humphrey topped 200 yards on the ground in three games during his college career.
His 4,958 all-purpose yards still stand as a school record—with 2,016 of those piled up in a 1986 season that was statistically his best during a standout four-year career.
Already one of the best running backs in Alabama history, Humphrey’s son—class of 2014 5-star defensive back Marlon Humphrey—is the nation’s top corner (per 247 Sports) and one of Saban’s most coveted targets for the class of 2014.
25. Johnny Musso, RB (1969-71)
The “Italian Stallion” galloped his way to All-American honors twice in 1970-71—finishing fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting and collecting SEC Player of the Year honors in his senior season.
Johnny Musso was a member of the Tide’s all-decade team in the 1970s, in addition to being an Academic All-American.
Musso—who once went through 11 jerseys in the 1970 game against Auburn—was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
24. Barry Krauss, LB (1976-78)
One of the most memorable plays in Alabama history was when Barry Krauss stuffed Penn State’s Mike Guman at the goal line to slam the door shut on the Nittany Lions in the Tide’s 14-7 win in the 1979 Sugar Bowl.
The win capped Alabama’s 1978 national championship and served as an exclamation point on an All-American senior season for Krauss.
Krauss spent time as a sideline reporter for Alabama football radio broadcasts and still continues to bask in the glory of the play that defines his legacy (h/t, Jim Weber, Rivals.com).
23. Mark Barron, S (2008-11)
Mark Barron was a two-time All-American who manned the safety position for two national title-winning teams from 2008-11.
Barron was voted a permanent team captain by his teammates during the final two years of his career and was a Thorpe Award finalist during his senior season.
With Saban’s system placing a heavier emphasis on smart and athletic defensive backs, Barron was often viewed as the quarterback of Saban’s legendary 2011 defense.
22. Antonio Langham, DB (1990-93)
Antonio Langham’s 19 career interceptions are the most in Tide history and cement him as the finest lockdown corner to ever play at the Capstone.
The two-time All-American is the only Tide player to ever win the Thorpe Award.
His game-changing pick-six off Florida quarterback Shane Matthews in the inaugural SEC championship game helped clinch a berth in the national title game, where the Tide would go on to roll Miami.
Check the video link above to relive a play infamously dubbed “the play that changed college football.”
21. John Copeland (1991-92) and Eric Curry (1990-92), DE
Consider this cheating if you want but no two players are linked together more than two of the Tide’s all-time great defensive ends.
Eric Curry and John Copeland formed a menacing pass-rushing duo that powered the Tide to the 1992 national championship.
Curry racked up 22.5 sacks in his career and finished 10th in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1992.
Each player recorded 10.5 sacks that season (tied for the team lead) which helped each player earn All-American honors that season.
20. Pat Trammell, QB (1959-61)
Pat Trammell was the Tide’s leader under center on Bryant’s first national championship team in 1961—which ushered in the start of the Bear’s dynasty.
Trammell won SEC Player of the Year honors that season and guided Alabama to a 26-2-4 record during his time as the team’s starter.
It was Trammell’s leadership that served as a blueprint for quarterbacks like Steve Sloan, Joe Namath and Ken Stabler to carry on Alabama’s tradition of excellence at the quarterback position under Bryant.
19. Jay Barker, QB (1991-94)
Jay Barker led the Tide to a 35-2-1 mark as the starter from 1992-94, including capturing the 1992 national championship in his first season under center for Gene Stallings.
Those 35 wins are the most victories accumulated by a Tide quarterback in school history.
Barker is one of only six Tide quarterbacks to pass for more than 5,000 yards in his career. Plus, it was under his guidance that Alabama enjoyed a mini-renaissance in the time period that came after Bryant’s retirement and preceded Saban’s arrival.
18. Ken Stabler, QB (1965-67)
The “Snake” compiled a 28-3-2 record at Alabama—which included an unbeaten season in 1966 and being named SEC Player of the Year in 1967.
After a decorated career in the NFL, Stabler remains a beloved figure in Tuscaloosa, having worked as the radio color analyst for Alabama football broadcasts until leaving that post four years ago.
Stabler and Joe Namath were both chosen as the quarterbacks for Alabama’s All-Century team.
17. Chris Samuels, OT (1996-99)
Chris Samuels was the school’s first Outland Trophy winner after a standout senior season that saw him earn All-American honors in 1999.
Samuels powered the way for Shaun Alexander to re-write the Tide’s rushing records during their years at the Capstone.
Samuels returned to Alabama before last season to serve as an offensive line assistant and to complete his degree.
16. Julio Jones, WR (2008-10)
Just how popular was Julio Jones at Alabama?
Well, he was awarded the title of Student Government Association senator, thanks to write-in votes cast without his knowledge.
One of the most freakish talents in Tide history, Jones entered his college career with significant hype as a consensus 5-star receiver prospect.
Jones final season in Tuscaloosa in 2010 saw him re-write the record books by snaring 78 passes for 1,133 yards—marks which currently remain the best in school history.
15. Trent Richardson, RB (2009-11)
Trent Richardson picked up where Ingram left off and managed to be the driving force on offense for the Tide’s 2011 title run.
Richardson averaged 160.2 all-purpose yards per game in 2011 (fifth-best mark in school history) and became the Tide’s first rusher to capture the Doak Walker Award given to the nation’s best running back.
Aside from being one of Alabama's most dominant running backs during his career, it was displays like his heart-warming gesture of becoming the prom date of cancer survivor Courtney Alvis that continue to have Tide supporters beam with pride when his name is mentioned.
14. Woodrow Lowe, LB (1972-75)
One of only two players to earn All-American honors in three seasons, Woodrow Lowe was the leader of a defensive unit that won four consecutive SEC titles and a national title in 1973.
Lowe’s 134 tackles in that championship season remains a school record, and his 315 career stops ranks third all time in that category.
Lowe was enshrined as the 21st Alabama player inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
13. Marty Lyons, DT (1976-78)
Marty Lyons was the defensive captain for the 1978 national championship team, serving as the team’s anchor as an All-American defensive tackle.
Lyons racked up an astounding 119 tackles (15 tackles for loss) that season, which is tied for the sixth-most stops in a season in Tide history.
His accomplishments as one of the most dominant interior defensive linemen in Alabama history were rewarded when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
12. Harry Gilmer, QB/RB (1944-47)
Harry Gilmer embodied the old-school athletes who were able to dominate at more than one position.
Case in point, Gilmer holds the record for most career touchdowns scored at Alabama (52) and is tied for the second-most interceptions in school history (16).
After a 1945 season that saw him earn All-America and SEC Player of the Year honors, Gilmer led the Tide in passing, rushing, interceptions, punt returns and kickoff returns the following season.
Gilmer was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
11. Dwight Stephenson, C (1977-79)
Dwight Stephenson was the engine on the offensive line for Alabama’s title teams in 1978-79.
The Virginia-native collected All-American honors in 1979 and took home the Jacobs Trophy as the best blocker in the SEC that same season.
Stephenson went on to a decorated pro career and was enshrined as a Pro Football Hall of Fame member in 1998.
Considering Stephenson drew the ultimate praise from Bryant, his legacy at Alabama is set in stone as one of the best offensive linemen to ever play at the Capstone (h/t, Mark McCarter, The Huntsville Times).
10. Cornelius Bennett, LB (1983-86)
Cornelius Bennett joined Lowe as the only players in Alabama history to earn All-American honors in three separate seasons.
Bennett took home SEC Player of the Year honors during his senior season in 1986 and was honored as the Tide’s Defensive Player of the Decade for the 1980s.
Of course, Alabama fans will always remember Bennett for this vicious hit on Notre Dame quarterback Steve Beuerlein.
9. Barrett Jones, OL (2009-12)
Barrett Jones was a starter on three national championship teams at three different positions along the offensive line.
In addition to the team and individual hardware Jones was able to acquire in his celebrated career, he was also a three-time Academic All-American who will go down as one of the greatest linemen in college football history.
As if his legacy needed any additional luster, Jones played the final seven quarters of his career—the last three periods of the SEC title win over Georgia and the BCS title win over Notre Dame—with torn ligaments in his left foot.
8. Mark Ingram, RB (2008-10)
After a banner sophomore season in 2009 that saw the Crimson Tide cruise to a national championship, Ingram cemented his college legacy by becoming the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner.
Ingram’s 3,261 career rushing yards (fourth in school history) and 46 total touchdowns (third all time at Alabama) still stand as benchmarks of excellence amongst the great rushers to play in Tuscaloosa.
Ingram continues to be a proud supporter of the Tide football program, having been on the sidelines in last season’s BCS title victory over LSU and the latest win in November over the Tigers in Baton Rouge.
7. A.J. McCarron, QB (2010-13)
With two national championships serving as the end result from his two seasons as the starting quarterback, A.J. McCarron is already in rare air before he begins his final collegiate season this fall.
McCarron—who already ranks fourth all-time in career passing yards (5,956 yards)—owns the single-season record for touchdown passes (30 last season) and the career mark (49 touchdowns passing).
Even at a school littered with excellent quarterback play, McCarron has a chance to leave the Capstone as the most decorated quarterback to line up under center at Alabama if he can lead the Tide to a three-peat in 2013.
Regardless of what unfolds this fall, McCarron will depart Tuscaloosa next season as one of the most gifted passers in school history.
6. Lee Roy Jordan, LB (1960-62)
After taking home MVP honors of the 1963 Orange Bowl by racking up an incredible 31 tackles in a win over Oklahoma, Lee Roy Jordan’s legacy was rubber-stamped as one the Tide’s best linebackers in school history.
Jordan was an All-American in 1962 and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting that season.
Jordan is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and went on to a stellar 14-year pro career with the Dallas Cowboys.
Although he has planted roots in Texas, Jordan remains an active Alabama football enthusiast.
5. Joe Namath, QB (1962-64)
Before he became “Broadway Joe” in New York, Joe Namath guided the Tide to a 29-4 record from 1962-64, including capturing the second of Bryant’s six national titles.
Namath was the perfect combination of toughness, skill and a hint of flair that captures the history of Alabama’s quarterback play at its highest level.
Namath went on to star in the AFL and NFL and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
4. Don Hutson, WR (1932-34)
Don Hutson teamed with quarterback Dixie Howell to form a dynamic duo for Alabama from 1932-34 and helped coach Frank Thomas capture the first of his two national titles in their final college season.
Hutson was a unanimous All-American in 1934 and went on to be selected into the Halls of Fame in both the NFL and college football.
The “Alabama Antelope” was truly a pass-catcher who was ahead of his time (h/t, David Whitley, ESPN).
3. Ozzie Newsome, TE (1974-77)
Perhaps the greatest endorsement of Ozzie Newsome’s amazing career came from Bryant, per Bob Gain of TideSports.com.
Bryant called him ‘the greatest end in Alabama history and that includes Don Hutson. A total team player, fine blocker, outstanding leader, great receiver with concentration, speed, hands.’
The current general manager of the Baltimore Ravens is one of only three receivers in Tide history to pile up more than 2,000 career receiving yards—with his totals coming in an era where the primary means of moving the football came on the ground.
Newsome is a Hall of Fame member in the NFL as well as college football.
2. Derrick Thomas, LB (1985-88)
The SEC has seen its fair share of fearsome pass-rushers, but Derrick Thomas will forever be on a level of his own given what he was able to accomplish in a stellar college career from 1985-88.
Thomas racked up an incredible 45 of his 52 career sacks over his final two years—with 27 of them coming in his senior season.
To put those numbers in perspective, Alabama’s second-highest career sack total is Kindal Moorehead’s 25, and the next-highest individual season total is Emanuel King’s 11 in 1983.
The fact that he has yet to be inducted into College Football’s Hall of Fame is beyond asinine.
Simply put, Thomas is one of college football’s most dominant defensive players of all time.
1. John Hannah, OT (1970-72)
In an excerpt from the book New England Patriots: The Complete Illustrated History by Christopher Price, Bryant was quoted as saying that John Hannah was “the greatest lineman I ever coached.”
Hannah was a two-time All-American at Alabama (1971-72) before going on to a decorated pro career that saw him reach nine Pro Bowls and be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991.
Considered one of the greatest linemen to ever play the game, Hannah’s resume of excellence is worthy of placing him at the head of a list featuring the Tide’s most legendary players.