If you are a football fan, especially college football, no trip to Alabama should be complete without a stop at the Paul W. Bryant Museum on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Known simply as Bear to his legions of fans and former players, Bryant was almost a mythical figure to those who knew and loved him.
Born in southern Arkansas on September 11, 1913, Paul William Bryant was the 11th of 12 children borne by Ida Kilgore and Wilson Monroe Bryant. Three of his siblings had died in infancy. Times were hard for the Bryant family, scraping by an existence on a small worn-out piece of land, and in 1924 they moved to Fordyce, Arkansas, which had a population of 3600 people at that time. But it was here that the legend began.
Young Paul Bryant joined the local football team, even though he had never seen a game in his life. Not able to afford a proper uniform, he screwed cleats into the only pair of shoes he owned. He quickly showed a talent for the game and was recognized for his aggressiveness.
He got his nickname while still a teenager, when he agreed to wrestle a bear that was making its rounds with the owner, promising to pay one dollar a minute for every minute a person could stay in the ring with the animal. While he did his part and wrestled with the bear, its owner skipped out without paying him. But even better than money, he got the nickname he would carry for the rest of his life.
In the 1930 season, Bear Bryant led his high school football team, the Fordyce Red Bugs, to a perfect season and the state championship in their division. His talents were noticed outside of his small town, and in 1931 he was recruited for the University of Alabama football team. Two years later, in the first year the Southeastern conference, Bear Bryant and the Crimson Tide took the championship.
Victory followed victory, and by 1936 the recently married Bryant was hired to help coach the Union College team in Tennessee, earning $170 a month. He didn’t stay long, taking a pay cut to return to Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama later that year.
Bryant left football to enlist in the United States Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 7, 1941. He served in North Africa and was discharged as a Lieutenant Commander at the end of the war.
With peacetime came new opportunities, and Bear Bryant held coaching jobs at the University of Kentucky and Texas A&M University, leading his teams to numerous victories. In 1957, Bear Bryant returned to his alma mater, The University of Alabama, and it was here that history was made. For the next 25 years Bear Bryant and the Crimson Tide dominated college football.
Bear Bryant coached his final game on December 29, 1982, when the Crimson Tide beat Illinois at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee. He retired at the end of the season, holding the record for the most wins (323) as the head coach in college football. Along the way his team had won six national championships and thirteen conference championships. He was voted National Coach of the Year three times.
But retirement would not last long for the beloved college football coach. Bear Bryant succumbed to a heart attack on June 26, 1983. Two days later he was laid to rest at Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham, Alabama. It was a dark day for football fans nationwide.
Today the Paul W. Bryant Museum honors the popular coach with exhibits about his long career and the players he coached to victory.
Visitors to the Museum can see a re-creation of the coach’s office, watch videos of some of his most famous games, and see dozens of displays and uniforms, trophies, and other football memorabilia.
One popular display is the Waterford crystal replica of the houndstooth hat that was Coach Bryant’s trademark. It was created by acclaimed sculptor Miraslav Havel and presented to the college by the Waterford Crystal Company of Ireland.
The Paul W. Bryant Museum is located on the University of Alabama campus at 300 Bryant Drive in Tuscaloosa. The Museum is directly across the street from Coleman Coliseum and is open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., except for major holidays. Admission is $2 for adults, $1 for senior citizens age 60 and up, $1 for children ages 6 to 17, and children under age 6 are admitted free. The campus and parking areas are not really suitable for RVs, but there are several nice campgrounds in Tuscaloosa where you can leave your RV and visit the Museum in your car or tow vehicle. For more information, call 866-772-2327 or (205) 348-4668, or visit the museum’s website at http://bryantmuseum.com/
Congratulations Joanne Harnit, winner of our drawing for an RV camping journal donated by Barbara House. Barbara makes several variations of these, and they all have pages where you can list the date, weather, where you traveled to and from that day, beginning and ending mileage, campground information including amenities at RV sites, a place for a campground rating, room to record activities, people met along the way, reminders of places to see and things to do the next time you’re in the area, and a page for notes for each day. We had 57 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.
Thought For The Day – Don’t give up what you want most for what you want now.