Reach Back

Suppose one could reach back into Alabama football history and select one player to be a part of the 2007 Crimson Tide. Also, assume a man who was very, very good in the era in which he played would be outstanding among today's athletes, even knowing that today's athletes are bigger, faster and stronger than those of decades past. Who would be selected?

Alabama's All-Century Team, selected for the Centennial of Alabama Football in 1992, has some men who are considered among the best in football history at their positions. They include wide receiver Don Hutson, right guard John Hannah, and center Dwight Stephenson.

Over the years there have been Alabama Teams of the Decade selected. The first was the team of the 1960s, and the Player of the Decade was Lee Roy Jordan. Readers of ‘BAMA Magazine have been selecting the teams since the 1960s. The Players of the Decade in that span have been Ozzie Newsome for the 1970s, Cornelius Bennett for the 1980s, and Jay Barker for the 1990s.

For many years, a pretty good judge of football talent, Paul Bryant, said that Joe Namath was the finest athlete he had coached. A few years after the Namath years Ozzie Newsome was on the Alabama scene and replaced Namath in the eyes of Bryant as his best athlete.

Years after his playing days, Bryant identified three of his teammates of men who would have been able to play in any era. They were Don Hutson, offensive lineman Bill Lee, and left halfback (in the Notre Dame box, which made him the passer and rusher) Dixie Howell.

Another left halfback in the box formation, Harry Gilmer, was an extraordinary player, still listed among all-time Bama leaders in a variety of offensive categories and as a kick return man and as a defensive back.

Up until the mid-1960s players went both ways, and there is a temptation to select one of those men to help out the mythical 2007 team being assembled. Billy Neighbors' value as a defensive lineman would be exceeded only by his ability as an offensive lineman.

The most important position in football is quarterback. If Alabama did not have a proven man at that position, there would be good reason to go back to Gilmer or Howell or to Namath or Stabler. Indeed, a strong case can be made for taking a top quarterback even with John Parker Wilson coming off an excellent sophomore season.

It's hard to forget Bryant saying that if Stabler had been quarterback when Alabama went to the wishbone "they'd have had to put another number on the scoreboard," meaning double digits wouldn't have been enough.

Many believe that Alabama is just one offensive lineman away from being very, very good on offense. In that case, Hannah would get the call. He was a guard, and most believe tackle is the need. But Hannah along with Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell would be murder on opposing defensive fronts.

How about a tailback to replace the departed Kenneth Darby? There might be more of a perceived need for the likes of Johnny Musso or Bobby Marlowe or Bobby Humphrey if Darby had not dipped in his senior season.

Most believe that Alabama's offense will be just fine in 2007, but that two years of big losses on defense have left the Crimson Tide in need of help on the defensive side.

Alabama's top defensive tackle (in a three-man defensive front) at the end of spring practice was converted offensive lineman Brian Motley. Does that mean opt for the likes of Bob Baumhower, Marty Lyons, or Jon Hand?

Alabama has had some great defensive backs over the years–Don McNeal, Jeremiah Castille, Tommy Wilcox, Antonio Langham, George Teague, Mike Washington. But I don't think with just one choice it would be a DB.

Great teams have great linebackers, and there would be some to choose from. Lee Roy Jordan, Derrick Thomas, Cornelius Bennett, Barry Krauss, Woodrow Lowe, Mike Hall, Dwayne Rudd, and DeMeco Ryans come to mind.

My choice to bolster 2007 Alabama would be a linebacker. The man I would select would be Lee Roy Jordan.

Jordan was an inside linebacker in his days as an All-America for the Crimson Tide. He was the defensive leader of the 1961 national championship team, and following the 1962 season made an incredible 31 tackles in a 17-0 win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

Alabama ostensibly will have four linebackers in the Nick Saban defensive system. I don't know who the next three best would be, and that might determine where Jordan would be placed. I suspect he could play anywhere.

Just for good measure, Jordan was an excellent center on offense. He could fill in there as needed, particularly if one wanted to move Caldwell to tackle and elevate Evan Cardwell to number one center.

And, yes, I thought about reaching back to the early 1930s and selecting end Paul Bryant. Although Bryant the player was much better than his reputation (based partly on him being "the other end" to the incomparable Don Hutson, partly on his self-denigration), the reason for selecting him would be to make him player-coach. But, like quarterback, there's no reason to believe the one we have won't be adequate.


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