The legendary Paul Bryant was the head football coach at the University of Alabama for 25 seasons. “Mama called” and he returned to the Capstone for the 1958 season and retired following the 1982 campaign. Less than a month after coaching his last game for the Tide, Bryant died of a heart attack.
All of this may sound a little silly now, but Bryant’s death shook our state like an earthquake. It’s ridiculous to compare his passing to that of JFK or Martin Luther King, Jr., but it was similar in that it shook us. Someone on whom we hung our identity had stung us by retiring and then stunned us by dying. As a friend noted this past week, he gave us (our state) our “manhood.” That’s another way of saying our identity was built up by him and into him.
Not very long after his death, Bear of Alabama was released as a single by Roger Hallmark. If I’m not very mistaken, I had my own copy of this record and this record was played a lot on local radio stations. In fact — and this will probably creep out Sweet Wife — I’ve sung parts of this song to myself for years and years and years. (That’s sad, I know.) And, when I found this song on YouTube this past week, a tear almost formed in my eye when I heard it while taking one of the kids to school. (That’s also very sad, I know.)
But no matter how corny this song was or is, it helped us cope with our grief. And even though it’s pretty doggone inelegant, it somehow helped express the feelings we had for our coach. As the song says,
We love you and we miss you, Bear.
If you can imagine grown men singing along with this, then it’s not too hard to imagine those grown men breaking down a little as they sing the words. (Not that I would know anything about that. Sniff.)
Of course it was and is wrong for anyone to hinge their worth or their esteem or their standing on anyone or anything else other than God. I get that now, but I didn’t get it for a long time. Alabama was last and deservedly so in so many categories, but we were numero uno in football. And that was because of Paul “Bear” Bryant. And that was all that mattered for a while. We love you and we miss you, Bear. (Sniff.)
“Saturday Music” is a weekly blog series about the music of our lives. Click here to read all of the posts in this series.