“On Bear Bryant” by Larry Burton
At a Touchdown
Club meeting many years ago, Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant told the following story:
I had just been
named the new head coach at Alabama and was off in my old car down in South
Alabama recruiting a prospect who was supposed to have been a pretty good
player, and I was having trouble finding the place.
Getting hungry, I
spied an old cinderblock building with a small sign out front that simply said “Restaurant.
I pull up, go in, and every head in the place turns to stare at me. Seems I’m
the only white fella in the place. But the food smelled good, so I skip a
table and go up to a cement bar and sit.
A big ole man in
a tee shirt and cap comes over and says, “What do you need?”
I told him I
needed lunch and what did they have today?
He says, “You
probably won’t like it here. Today we’re having chitlins, collard greens and black-eyed
peas with cornbread. I’ll bet you don’t even know what chitlins are, do you?”
(small intestines of hogs prepared as food in the deep South) I looked
him square in the eye and said, “I’m from Arkansas, and I’ve probably
eaten a mile of them. Sounds like I’m in the right place.”
They all smiled
as he left to serve me up a big plate. When he comes back he says, “You ain’t
from around here then?”
I explain I’m the
new football coach up in Tuscaloosa at the University and I’m here to find
whatever that boy’s name was, and he says, “Yeah I’ve heard of him, he’s
supposed to be pretty good.” And he gives me directions to the school so I can
meet him and his coach.
As I’m paying up
to leave, I remember my manners and leave a tip, not too big to be flashy, but
a good one, and he told me lunch was on him, but I told him for a lunch that
good, I felt I should pay. The big man asked me if I had a photograph or
something he could hang up to show I’d been there. I was so new that I didn’t
have any yet. It really wasn’t that big a thing back then to be asked for, but
I took a napkin and wrote his name and address on it and told him I’d get him
I met the kid I
was looking for later that afternoon and I don’t remember his name, but do
remember I didn’t think much of him when I met him.
I had wasted a
day, or so I thought. When I got back to Tuscaloosa late that night, I took
that napkin from my shirt pocket and put it under my keys so I wouldn’t forget
it. Back then I was excited that anybody would want a picture of me. The next
day we found a picture and I wrote on it, “Thanks for the best lunch I’ve ever
Now let’s go a
whole buncha years down the road. Now we have black players at Alabama and I’m
back down in that part of the country scouting an offensive lineman we sure
needed. Y’all remember, (and I forget the name, but it’s not important to the
story), well anyway, he’s got two friends going to Auburn and he tells me he’s
got his heart set on Auburn too, so I leave empty handed and go on to see some
others while I’m down there.
Two days later,
I’m in my office in Tuscaloosa and the phone rings and it’s this kid who just
turned me down, and he says, “Coach, do you still want me at Alabama ?” And I
said, “Yes, I sure do.” And he says OK, he’ll come.
And I say, “Well
son, what changed your mind?”
And he said, “When
my grandpa found out that I had a chance to play for you and said no, he
pitched a fit and told me I wasn’t going nowhere but Alabama, and wasn’t
playing for nobody but you. He thinks a lot of you and has ever since y’all
Well, I didn’t
know his granddad from Adam’s housecat so I asked him who his granddaddy was
and he said, “You probably don’t remember him, but you ate in his restaurant
your first year at Alabama and you sent him a picture that he’s had hung in
that place ever since. That picture’s his pride and joy and he still
tells everybody about the day that Bear Bryant came in and had chitlins
with him. My grandpa said that when you left there, he never expected you
to remember him or to send him that picture, but you kept your word to him and
to Grandpa, that’s everything. He said you could teach me more than football
and I had to play for a man like you, so I guess I’m going to.”
I was floored.
But I learned that the lessons my mama taught me were always right. It don’t
cost nuthin’ to be nice. It don’t cost nuthin’ to do the right thing most of
the time, and it costs a lot to lose your good name by breaking your word to
When I went back
to sign that boy, I looked up his Grandpa and he’s still running that place,
but it looks a lot better now. And he didn’t have chitlins that day, but he had
some ribs that would make Dreamland proud. I made sure I posed for a lot of
pictures; and don’t think I didn’t leave some new ones for him, too,
along with a signed football.
I made it clear
to all my assistants to keep this story and these lessons in mind when they’re
out on the road. If you remember anything else from me, remember this. It
really doesn’t cost anything to be nice, and the rewards can be unimaginable.
Coach Paul “Bear”