The phone rang and I picked up. A lady with a voice like honey said, “Hold for Coach Bryant.”
It was October 1979 and I was working as a cub sports writer at the Evening Independent, the afternoon rag in my hometown of St. Pete, Florida. I had been assigned to write an advance on the football game between the winless Florida Gators and the Alabama Crimson Tide.
It was a fool’s errand, but I wasn’t about to play the chump. I put in a call to the Alabama athletic department and told a student assistant I needed to talk to Bear Bryant. I figured I’d wait around an hour or so, tell the boss he wouldn’t talk, and skip out to the Tarpon Bar in time for happy hour.
My plan was foiled when Bear Bryant called me back.
Bear Bryant – the man who walked on water, cured sick babies, hot-boxed Chesterfields on the sideline and refused to take a higher salary than the president of the university. He promptly returned the call of a shavetail scribe, said nice things about his former player Charley Pell, growled politely at my stupid questions. He made my day, and even now, 30 years later, I admire Bear Bryant almost as much as any redneck Alabama football nut.
Unfortunately for them, Coach Bryant hasn’t been on the Alabama sideline for decades. These days the mojo shoe is on the other foot. And it’s a fancy alligator shoe.
People badmouth Florida Coach Urban Meyer — but next to Slick Nick Saban, Meyer looks almost Bryantesque.
Everyone is sick of Tim Tebow — except the Gators and their fans who have already enjoyed two national championships during his career, and 22 straight victories.
Nobody knows which team will win when Florida and Alabama meet on Saturday in Atlanta. But if coaching and quarterbacking are going to make the difference, it should tilt Florida’s way.
Not that Saban is a bad coach. Calling plays and recruiting talent are part of coaching, but nothing trumps the fundamentals — blocking, tackling, catching the ball. Alabama does all of those things extremely well.
And Florida will be without their stalwart defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who was arrested for drunk driving in Gainesville this week. A ‘Bama friend of mine cackled that Saban had probably dispatched a winsome coed to lure Dunlap into intemperance. My guess is he didn’t need any encouragement, but it’s a nice thought.
And yes, Alabama does have the one of the best running backs in the nation, Mark Ingram, and the best receiver in the game, Julio Jones.
But I’ve been watching the Gators since I was a kid. I remember my dad and uncle driving all day so we could go to Gainesville and see a guy named Spurrier playing quarterback. What I do not remember is ever seeing a Florida team that made as few mistakes as these Gators. They block pretty well, hit as hard as anybody, tackle like maniacs, and if a ball is up for grabs their defense usually gets it.
Florida’s skill players aren’t shabby either. And then there’s Tebow. If I weren’t a Florida fan I would probably hate him. That’s because he’s a winner, especially when it counts. He isn’t the best passer in the SEC, and he might not play quarterback in the NFL. But as long as he’s in the game the Gators will never give up – and they’ll somehow find a way to win.