Remembering Famed Broken Leg Play

"Break a leg" is the unlikely expression of encouragement and good luck emanating from a Broadway superstition. In truth, a broken leg is serious business.

I have been thinking about broken legs recently because a very good friend of mine suffered that injury. It is more than an inconvenience for him (and for his wife, I suspect).

A broken leg was in the news recently when it was revealed that Tiger Woods, the world's number one golfer (and perhaps best of all time), would miss the remainder of the season. A day after winning the United States Open championship, Woods revealed that he would have surgery to repair an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Additionally, it was learned that Woods had won the open with a "double stress fracture" of his leg.

Paul Bryant's lofty status is premised primarily on him being the greatest college football coach of all time, most of that time at Alabama. He also played football for the Crimson Tide and was a very good player. Prior to his final season in 1935, Bryant was known as "the other end" to the fabulous Don Hutson. It didn't hurt Bryant fame that he had earned his colorful nickname by wrestling a bear as a teenager in Fordyce, Ark.

When Alabama went to Knoxville to play Tennessee in 1935, Bryant wasn't expected to play. He had suffered a broken leg earlier in the season.

Head Coach Frank Thomas had a valuable assistant in Hank Crisp. Prior to the game, Thomas gave Crisp the opportunity to charge the team. "I don't know about the rest of you," Crisp said, "but I know one thing. Old number 26 will be after them."

Bryant said later that he actually looked down at his jersey to make sure that he was wearing number 26. In later years it was obvious that Bryant had been very proud of that moment.

Old number 26 not only played in that game, he caught two critical passes as Bama defeated the Vols, 25-0.
Bryant's position coach, Harold "Red" Drew, was commenting on Bryant's feat and Bryant said, "It was only a little break."

It will come as no surprise that the story of Bryant playing against Tennessee on a broken leg was not believed in the Atlanta press. A skeptical sports writer made the trip to Tuscaloosa and examined the X-ray of Bryant's leg, then wrote that Bryant should be lauded as the most courageous player in college football.

It was not a great Alabama season. The Tide opened the year with a 7-7 tie with Howard College (now Samford University in Birmingham). Bryant once said that he was offsides on an Alabama touchdown play that would have won the game. Bama went 6-2-1 with losses to Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.

But that 1935 season provided another chapter in the rich history of Alabama football.

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