Paul "Bear" Bryant still remains as an iconic figure to members and fans of the Alabama football program
Paul “Bear” Bryant, the most iconic coach in college football history, would have celebrated his 100th birthday on Wednesday.
Bryant’s career at the Capstone defined excellence, as he led Alabama to six national and 13 SEC titles. Even though Bryant passed away 30 years ago, his aura remains an integral part of the fabric that makes the Crimson Tide program one of the country’s most storied football powerhouses.
Through his tenure as a player and coach in Tuscaloosa, Bryant’s career was filled with moments that will forever be cherished by the Tide faithful.
*Moments listed in chronological order
Bryant played receiver at Alabama from 1933-35, mostly lining up as the complement to All-American receiver Don Hutson.
Bryant was a member of the Tide’s 1934 national championship team, and he was a second-team All-SEC performer that season.
But his notable moment as a player came in his senior season in 1935. As Jon Solomon of AL.com notes, Bryant played in a game against Tennessee despite having a broken bone in his leg.
That same mental and physical toughness would later define the identity of the Alabama teams he would coach.
Asked why he left Texas A&M for an opportunity to coach at his alma mater, Bryant used two simple words to explain why he had no choice but to accept the offer.
Ironically, that same phrase would come to life in Bryant’s famous ad for a telephone company.
After coaching at three schools in the previous 12 seasons, Bryant would go on to build a dynasty in Tuscaloosa over the next 25 years.
Alabama went 5-4-1 in 1958, which was Bryant’s first season at the Capstone. A 14-8 loss to in-state rival Auburn was the Tide’s fifth consecutive defeat in the Iron Bowl.
One year later, Bryant and the Tide upset No. 11 Auburn 10-0, ending their skid in the series.
That victory sparked a run of dominance for Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Bryant compiled an impressive 19-6 record against Auburn.
Bryant’s first national title came in 1961, and the Tide capped off a perfect 11-0 season by beating No. 9 Arkansas 10-3 in the Sugar Bowl.
The victory was especially sweet for Bryant, considering he was born and raised in Fordyce, Ark.
According to the Sugar Bowl’s official website, Alabama’s defense limited Razorbacks star halfback Lance Alworth to just 15 yards rushing. The site also quoted Bryant as saying he “had nine heart attacks out there” in a nip-and-tuck defensive struggle.
One season after claiming his first national title, Bryant would lead his team to a 10-1 mark in 1962. That season concluded with a 17-0 victory over Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma Sooners in the 1963 Orange Bowl.
That game featured a monster performance by Tide All-American linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, who notched an incredible 31 tackles, according to the Orange Bowl’s official website.
The Tide’s victory signaled the end of Wilkinson’s dynasty and the emergence of the powerhouse that Bryant had built just five years after arriving in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama had won back-to-back national championships in 1964-65, but the Tide’s 11-0 squad in 1966 was snubbed in favor of split champions Notre Dame and Michigan State.
As Jon Solomon notes, Bryant felt the ’66 team was “the best I ever had and got done in by the ballot box."
While the Spartans and the Irish didn’t play in bowl games, Alabama met No. 6 Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl.
According to the Sugar Bowl’s website, led by the combo of quarterback Ken Stabler and receiver Ray Perkins, the Tide pummeled the Cornhuskers 34-7 to complete their perfect season.
Bryant coached at Alabama at a time when the Civil Rights movement dominated the social landscape in a state that was a battleground for both sides of the debate.
However, as Solomon writes, Bryant wanted to do for college football what Branch Rickey did for Major League Baseball in terms of integrating black players into the game.
In 1971, Wilbur Jackson became the first African-American player to sign a scholarship to play for the Tide. As ESPN’s Mike Puma noted, by 1973 nearly one-third of the Tide’s starters were African-American.
Entering the 1971 season, Bryant was trying to resurrect his program after going 12-10-1 in the previous two seasons.
One major change Bryant made prior to the ’71 season was implementing Darrell Royal’s wishbone offense.
As his bio on the Paul W. Bryant Museum’s website notes, he would use the new offense to shock John McKay and the USC Trojans 17-10 in the season opener.
That victory sparked a decade of dominance for the Tide. Over the next 10 years, Bryant piled up a record of 107-13, winning eight conference titles and three national titles.
By the late 1970s, Bryant had re-established the Tide as the nation’s most dominant program.
In the 1979 Sugar Bowl, No. 2 Alabama squared off against Joe Paterno’s top-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions.
The Tide’s 14-7 triumph would be defined by the defense’s famous fourth-quarter goal-line stand, in which All-American linebacker Barry Krauss stonewalled Lions tailback Matt Guman in what Jordan Burchette of BCSfootball.com called one of the biggest tackles in college football history.
The win sealed the fifth of Bryant’s six national titles.
Bryant’s dominance in the Iron Bowl was highlighted by a string of nine straight wins from 1973-81.
Bryant’s 19th and final win over the Tigers was his 315th career victory, as he surpassed Amos Alonzo Stagg as the winningest coach in college football history.
The 28-17 victory also gave Bryant his final SEC title.