Who Will Be Bama's Next Statue?

It was great to see Gene Stallings at the low-key unveiling ceremony at the new Bryant-Denny Stadium on Thursday. I agree with Stallings' assessment: it's a little weird to see a statue of yourself while you're still alive.

Of course, Alabama officials couldn't have created this plaza leading into the fantastic new north end zone complex at Bryant-Denny without including a statue of Stallings, whose 1992 season, as Alabama celebrated its football centennial, was one of the most magical in Crimson Tide history.

Stallings referenced the multiple championships won by the other coaches -- Paul W. ``Bear'' Bryant, Frank Thomas and Wallace Wade -- in bronze beside this walk of champions, and spoke as if his single title wasn't exactly worthy of inclusion into this company of legends.

Stallings also talked about being near "the end of the line," a phrase that evoked all kinds of nostalgia, but in this case a clever double reference that also meant he was the last statue in this chronological walk through Alabama football.

"We've got more (room) at the end of the line, if you'll notice," Stallings told the small crowd of family members of the honored coaches, university officials and onlookers as a parting message prior to the unveiling.

Those words bring up an interesting rhetorical question.

Is Mike Shula capable of immortalizing himself with a statue in that fifth area in Alabama's walk of champions?

Two men who coached at the Capstone between Bryant and Stallings were unable to do it. Three men who guided the Tide since Stallings were not only unable to do it, but they also left their posts in some degree of ignominy, putting tarnish on the trademark beloved by Alabama fans.

Can you imagine Dennis Franchione or Mike Price ever welcomed back at any Alabama event ever? Whereas it's unlikely either of those two men will ever walk on the Alabama campus again, Mike DuBose could show his face around town.

Almost a decade went by in which Alabama football was the subject of national scorn after two NCAA investigations and its involvement in the stench that was Memphis recruiting. In hindsight, those were indeed rugged years, as Alabama fell behind some of its top rivals in the facilities race.

Paul Bryant Jr. addressed just that topic at the unveiling.

"The big thing is that Coach (Mal) Moore had the foresight to start on all the athletic facilities, including the stadium, at a time when things were a little bleak.

"The fans, alumni and supporters of the University bought in and agreed to help at a time when we needed it."

And so it seems Alabama has emerged from those dark days, with the wonderously renovated Bryant-Denny Stadium standing as a symbol of the rebirth.

The Crimson Tide roster is on the verge of being neck-and-neck with the best in the SEC, which means it is a hair's breadth away from saying it can compete on the national level on an annual basis.

To get all the way to the top takes not only blue-chip talent, but also a great coaching staff. Is Shula and his fourth-year staff the bunch to get there?

Their game against Hawaii should be a nice appetizer on an intriguing season. Nobody's predicting a national championship, or even an SEC West title, out of Alabama football this season.

But the general populace, and all the dignitaries on hand for the grand re-opening at Bryant-Denny, certainly expect a strong showing against a Hawaii team with an explosive offense but a vulnerable defense.


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