At Alabama, Winning Is a Team Sport, Not an Individual One

Larry BurtonSenior Writer IAugust 20, 2009

I'm often asked why I'm a Crimson Tide fan. After all, my father was a huge Auburn fan, and a lot of my family leans that way.

Once I got a little older and wiser, I began to see things at Alabama I didn't see elsewhere. Coach Bear Bryant stressed team above all else. 

I began to watch him on television, and the words he used the most were team, family, and class. 

I remember the controversy over names on the back of the jerseys. Coach Bryant didn't like the idea.

"Who you play for is more important than who you are," he would say. "Football is about a team, not a bunch of individuals."

Then I went with a friend to hear Coach Bryant speak in person. What he said that night changed me forever. I knew from that moment on that I was destined not only to go to Alabama, but to also be a part of that 'Bama Nation you hear about.

Coach Bryant's words that affected me were spoken when someone asked him if it bothered him that he didn't have any Heisman Trophy winners at Alabama.

His country common sense and gentlemanly grace made me a fan forever.

He said, "I've been asked that a lot, and the answer is no. I wouldn't trade one national championship for a hundred Heisman Trophy winners. Football is played best when the focus is on the team and not an individual."

Later he was asked what made him such a successful coach. Again, thinking only of team, he said, "You take a bunch of individuals, with different thoughts, different abilities, and different strengths and weaknesses, and you make them a team. You work them until they play with one heartbeat. Some you have to speed up, some you have to slow down. But when you get them molded into a team with one heartbeat, you've got a winner."

Alabama has 12 national championships. It has no Heisman winners.

This is not to say that teams with Heisman winners are not good teams. Notre Dame has 11 national championships and seven Heisman winners. Ohio State and Southern Cal are tied with Notre Dame for most Heisman winners at seven, and each has seven national championships as well.

But since 1950, of the four schools mentioned, only USC has won a national championship the same year they had a player win the Heisman, and they did it twice with Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. 

Therefore, having a superstar, headline-grabbing player does not necessarily mean a winning team, but it doesn't hurt.

In the past 30 years, 10 teams have won the championship with a player who won a Heisman that year also. That's one-third of all championships. There have also been teams that won a national championship with either an existing or future Heisman winner on that team.

Florida would be a good example. Tim Tebow won his Heisman two years ago but won the championship this past season.

Yet there is Alabama, with more national championships than any of them, without a certified superstar—just a group of guys who put team first and individual accomplishments second.

To me, that's why college football is pure football.

Team, family, class—I think Coach Bryant had that right.

And that's why I'm a member of the 'Bama Nation.


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