Paul Tyson never met his great-grandfather, but on Saturdays in the fall, he could hear his voice. When Paul was four years old, he began going to games at Bryant-Denny Stadium with his father, Marc Tyson.
Even though the Crimson Tide won most of those games, some of the most special moments came before kickoff. That's when the voice of Bear Bryant rings through the stadium, and that's when Marc Tyson would look down at his son and say, "That's Papa."
Almost every college football fan knows Paul William Bryant, better known as Bear, as the most accomplished coach in college football history. When he retired from coaching in 1982, he held the record for wins (323), and he still holds the record for national championships (six).
At the University of Alabama, allegiance to Bear goes beyond the field that's named in part after him. On campus, you can find Paul W. Bryant Museum, Paul W. Bryant Hall and Paul W. Bryant Drive. On your way into the stadium on those fall Saturdays, you can see hordes of fans still wearing his signature houndstooth.
In a few years, you might even see Bear's own flesh and blood take the field. Paul Tyson, now 16, is a 3-star junior quarterback at Hewitt-Trussville (Alabama) High. It should be no surprise that among the schools he's interested in is Alabama.
For the Tysons, as for many people in the South, college football is about family. Marc was Bear's only grandson, and that afforded him some special privileges. He would sit on the sidelines for home games, and when those games finished, he'd find his grandfather, grab his hand and walk off the field with him.
With his own children—he has three daughters and Paul, the baby of the family—he cherished Saturdays cheering for the team his grandfather built and for so long defined.
"It was just kind of a way of life for us going to football games," Marc says. "It's something our family has always done together. And it's comforting for me to go to the games. They have pictures of my grandfather, and you can hear his voice. It keeps his memory alive. It's almost like he's not gone."
Paul was born to be an athlete, and he was raised that way, too. He says his dad started playing catch with him in his crib. In his childhood home, Paul had a batting cage and a hoop outside with a painted three-point line.
Until about the sixth grade, Marc coached him in basketball, baseball and football. By middle school, he'd settled in as a starting shortstop and quarterback. Although he grew up with plenty of Alabama memorabilia around the house, Paul always preferred pro gear. His favorites were his Tom Brady and Philip Rivers jerseys, and he wears Rivers' No. 17 for his high school now.
At Bryant-Denny Stadium, he became a mini-celebrity—not only because of his heritage, but because of his proclivity for ending up on the jumbotron. The family's season tickets are in Row 1 on the south end zone, right in front of where one of the cameramen stands. One Saturday, Marc says, Paul got on the big screen a dozen times.
Most people let the Tysons enjoy the games in peace, but occasionally a fan will stop Marc for a handshake or a picture. When he was nine, Paul came to appreciate fully the passion of Alabama fans.
It was November 2009, and undefeated No. 3 Alabama was trailing one-loss No. 9 LSU, 15-13, at the beginning of the fourth quarter. An older man who was seated near the Tysons and who knew the family history bent over and kissed Paul on the top of the head for good luck. "I was a little creeped out," Paul jokes.
But moments later, Julio Jones caught a screen pass and streaked to the end zone to give Alabama a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
He also remembers harder moments, like the following season when he and his father watched Alabama lose to LSU in Death Valley. "We were sitting in the LSU section," Marc says, "and Paul was a little teary-eyed from the loss. And some of the fans heckled him a little bit. But you know what? He may end up going back there and having a good game against them."
At 6'4" and 210 pounds, Paul is a prototypical pro-style quarterback. He spent his freshman and sophomore years at Mountain Brook High School playing baseball and football, but he stopped playing baseball this year to focus on football. He transferred to Hewitt-Trussville after his family moved closer to his father's work.
Josh Floyd, the head coach at Hewitt-Trussville, knew he had scored a potential starting quarterback right away.
"I could tell he was a big kid just by looking at him," Floyd says. "But then he started throwing the ball around, and you could see what type of talent he is. He has a big-time arm. He can make every type of throw you need to make. It's gonna be fun to call plays for him."
At first, Floyd wasn't aware of Paul's family history. When he found out, through Marc, he was elated because he loves football history and because both he and Bear Bryant are from Arkansas originally.
"It's been so fun to hear some stories about Bear," Floyd says. "But you would never know anything unless you directly asked Paul about it. He's a pretty humble kid."
On Friday, in his first career varsity start in an official game, he went 19-of-24 for 285 yards with four touchdowns in a 65-28 win over Callaway (Miss.).
With a roster loaded with Division I talent, Hewitt-Trussville could be in contention for a state championship at the end of the year. Paul, for his part, is already an excellent spokesman for the team.
Asked about his individual goals for the season, he responded: "Really, I'm just trying to do what's best for our team. We're trying to win a state championship. I don't worry about any of that other stuff."
Although they've been staples in the stands at Bryant-Denny for almost two decades, the Tyson boys will be hitting the road this fall and may only end up seeing one or two Alabama games.
This weekend they visited Duke and North Carolina State, and they have trips to Kentucky, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee planned. Even though many outside the family believe Paul will eventually commit to Alabama, he and Marc insist it isn’t so.
"It would definitely be awesome to play there," Paul says. "I've watched so many games there, and playing on the same field would be really cool. But no one has put any pressure on me to play there. I want to go to the best place for me. I want to go somewhere I can win a national championship and where I'm the school's No. 1 guy."