Billy Neighbors Dies In Huntsville

Billy Neighbors was a big, tough guy, a fellow who played both offensive and defensive tackle for Alabama in the old time days of college football and who went on to a nice career in professional football.

Many years ago Billy Neighbors said that he had noticed that men who had played in the offensive line in pro football for a lot of years seemed to die at a relatively early age. "That worries me," he said. Neighbors didn't die at an early age, but he died Monday afternoon after having had a massive heart attack last Friday in Huntsville.

Neighbors was in Coach Paul Bryant's first recruiting class at Alabama in 1958 and was an All-America for the 1961 Crimson Tide national championship team. He won the Jacobs Award as the best blocker in the Southeastern Conference. He was selected as a member of the Alabama Team of the Century in 1992 and was voted to the Crimson Tide team of the 1960s on both offense and defense. The defensive captain of the 1961 Bama team was inducted into the National Football Hall of Fame in 2003.

He is survived by his wife, Susan, and their daughter Claire, and sons, Wes and Keith. Wes and Keith both played for Alabama.

"I was on his first team and Keith was on his last," Neighbors said of the Bryant connection.

He played eight years of professional football, four in Boston and four in Miami and was an All-Pro performer.

After his playing career he worked in securities in Huntsville.

Billy was a native of Tuscaloosa County and had played for Tuscaloosa County High School. He joined his brother, Sidney, on the Crimson Tide team.

Neighbors said that he made it a point to "stay out of Coach Bryant's way" when he was a player. Moreover, he avoided talking to his college head coach until he was nearly finished with his professional career. "It's hard to believe how imposing he was," Neighbors said.

One conversation he had with Bryant was after he had completed his college eligibility and gone off to play for Boston. The coach insisted that Neighbors return to Alabama in the spring and serve as a student coach while he got the final six hours he needed for graduation.

In the book, "What It Means To Be Crimson Tide," Neighbors said:

"Coach Bryant and I both got to The University prior to the 1958 season. I'm sure he had never heard of me until maybe when I signed. I had never heard of him until he got here. I didn't know anything about him. But it didn't take me long to figure out he was different."

Neighbors said later in life he had "become much closer to Coach Bryant, and I'm glad I did."

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