Alabama was at low ebb September 12, 1970, when Southern Cal came to Birmingham's Legion Field in 1970. Led by tailback Sam Cunningham's outstanding performance, the Trojans dismantled Bama, 42-21. That was one of five losses suffered by an Alabama team that would finish 6-5-1.
Ed Hines was a sophomore in 1970. His junior and senior teams would lose only one regular season game as Bama's wishbone offense stepped up to the level of typcial Crimson Tide defense and returned Coach Paul Bryant's Alabama to the top of the college football heap.
Recently Hines, who is now a plaintiff lawyer in Brewton, has heard a lot about that 1970 Southern Cal game that doesn't wash with his memory.
There is a myth that has been developed in the Los Angeles area, perhaps in hopes of big book sales or a motion picture deal.This piece of fiction being passed off as fact is the ridiculous story that Coach Bryant went to the Southern Cal dressing room following the game and took Cunningham over to the Alabama lockerroom. "This is what a football player looks like," Coach Bryant is alleged to have told the likes of John Hannah and Johnny Musso.
No one questions that Cunningham had a very fine game that night. And it is likely that Coach Bryant went to the Southern Cal dressing room. He was wont to do that when a team had an exceptional game against Bama, and particularly if the opposing head coach was a Bryant friend, as was John McKay. It would not be a surprise if Coach Bryant gave personal congratulations to Cunningham.
A point of the alleged story is that Cunningham's performance was the catalyst for desegregation of Alabama's football team. Actually, Bama had already begun signing black football players. Wilbur Jackson was on scholarship, though as a freshman not eligible to participate. (The story as presented to me also failed to note that the next year in Los Angeles, Alabama–then with two black players, Jackson and John Mitchell–defeated number one-ranked Southern Cal, 17-10).
But it is beyond ridiculous to believe that Coach Bryant took Cunningham to the Alabama lockerroom. Although the author indicates he has confirmation from a couple of former Crimson Tide players and one former coach, there are dozens and dozens of players and coaches who say it did not happen.
There is no dismissal of Cunningham's great performance. That he had an excellent night is not the issue.
But Cunningham was never in the Alabama dressing room.
When the myth was first raised a few years ago, Cunningham was quoted as saying it didn't happen. Later he said he couldn't remember for sure. Then he said it might have happened. And now, according to reports from Los Angeles, Cunningham has come fully over to the side of the lie.
There are questions. Did Dunningham speak to the Tide? If so, what did he say? Did any Alabama players or coaches to Cunningham? Which ones? What did they say?
Did Cunningham go back to the Southern Cal lockerroom by himself, or did Coach Bryant walk him back?
There were two or three dozen reporters standing at the Alabama lockerroom door waiting to interview Coach Bryant and Alabama coaches. Is it unusual that none of them mentioned this extraordinary scene?
No one who has ever been around big time college football would be able to recount a similar event. And it didn't happen on September 12, 1970, in Birmingham, either.
Ed Hines first heard the story from some football fans at lunch in East Brewton. Not true, he told them. But that wasn't the end of it. These people who were not there persist despite denials from those who were there.
Last hunting season, Hines invited a couple of former teammates, Johnny Musso and Robin Parkhouse (who also had been a defensive end), to Brewton. Hines told Musso and Parkhouse about the Cunningham story.
"Of course they knew it wasn't true," Hines said. "I decided I could convince the lunch crowd. I prepared an affadavit saying it was not true and Johnny, Robin and I all signed it."
Hines is a fine lawyer and he has proof on his side. But, he said, "Those people who want to believe it happened can't be convinced otherwise."
Just as a sidenote, Hines (who is at San Destin, Florida, for a meeting of the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association) said, "Cunningham was good. But he wasn't as good as Johnny Musso." And Hines is one of the very few who is qualified to speak, since he played against Cunningham and practiced against Musso.