Where has the time gone?
I think of him every day. In recent weeks, I have talked to dozens of players who think about him every day.
Today some Alabama student is getting ready to go to The Strip and order his or her first legal drink. That young man or woman was one year old when Coach Bryant died. And he still has a hold on so many of us.
As I often do, I remember the exact moment I heard the terrible news.
Like many of us today, I was on the telephone talking to someone about recruiting. Al Browning, who was my assistant at ‘BAMA Magazine and who also handled special assignments for Coach Bryant, came to my office door. I could tell he needed to speak to me and quickly ended my conversation.
"Coach died," Al said.
I suspect that is as close as I have come to shock. It couldn't be. He was in the hospital. We had just heard he was getting better. Al had just picked up the phone to call Linda Knowles, Coach Bryant's secretary, to see how things were going. Linda said they had just gotten the news.
I made about a dozen calls to people I knew needed to know. A few of them quickly called back. They had checked with the Associated Press and the AP said Coach Bryant was resting comfortably at what was then known as Druid City Hospital. As much as I wished that had been true, I assured them that the horrible truth was that Coach was gone.
And then we could make no more phone calls. Or take any. As word got out, everyone was trying to call someone and the phone system in Tuscaloosa failed, the facility stretched far beyond capacity.
It was, of course, national news.
And over the next few days our office and our home would be part of Ground Zero for events. Al, who was very close to Mrs. Bryant and to Paul, Jr., took over most of the details of the funeral. All of us were keeping phone conversations to a minimum so we wouldn't tie up lines that Al needed.
Sports figures, particularly college and bowl administrators, and sportswriters from across the nation began pouring into Tuscaloosa. And they didn't know where to go or what to do. I had met many of them in my days as sports information director, and our home turned into something of a central ground for men to come and talk and remember together. Fortunately, my wife Lynne is unflappable and smoothly accomodated a couple of dozen extra men at an impromptu wake.
I spent a little time at Coach Bryant's house, mainly standing outside to let visitors know that Mrs. Bryant was not receiving. One person who went to the door and given that information said, "Please tell her that Frank Rose dropped by." Dr. Rose had been president of The University and had hired Coach Bryant. As he began to stride from the door, Paul Jr. realized who it was and called him back, then took him into the house to see Mrs. Bryant.
We helped arrange a gathering of former players and others who had been associated with Coach Bryant. That affair at the old Stafford Hotel the night before the funeral had hundreds of men each telling his own favorite "Coach Bryant story."
Finally came the funeral. Charley Thornton, who had been my immediate boss at Alabama, and his wife Doris, who were then at Texas A&M, and Lynne and I went to First Baptist Church to hear the service, which was held at First Methodist with the service "piped in" to First Baptist and First Presbyterian.
The one thing I did not do was join in the caravan to Elmwood in Birmingham. I was exhausted, emotionally at least.