Bryant was tough, but not like Jordan and Bank
Jim Grammer, When it was a game
Fred Marshall, a teammate and friend, and I always sat together on the team bus as we rode from the hotel to the stadium for each game.
Although we didn't admit it, we were a little superstitious. Now, we didn't carry around lucky rabbit foots nor have a clover on us at all time, but we made sure we did things the same way every week.
We always sat in the same seat on the bus – right behind Coach Bryant.
On one particular Saturday, a gentleman was sitting beside Coach Bryant, and Fred and I could hear their conversation in front of us. This person must have been a writer, because he was asking Coach a lot of questions.
The writer asked about Coach Bryant's service in the Navy during World War II, and Coach mumbled something. I then could understand the rest clearly.
"If you want to know about football, I'm the man you need to talk to, but if you want to know about toughness, I'll tell you the two who have me beat," he said. "That's Shug Jordan and Bert Bank. They were as tough as it gets during the War."
He, of course, was referring to Coach Jordan, the legendary leader of the Auburn Tigers and Bert Bank, the producer of the Alabama Football Radio Show.
I was always curious about what Coach Bryant was talking about. Coach seemed like a pretty tough guy to me.
But, I wanted to know about Coach Jordan and Bert Bank.
Several years later, I did a little research. I found some interesting bits of information the average football fan probably doesn't know.
Coach Jordan served heroically in the Army during WWII, landing with the 25th Infantry Division at Normandy on D-Day. Those who have seen the movie "Saving Private Ryan" have a good idea of what Coach Bryant meant when he used the word toughness to describe Coach Jordan.
Of all the other tough situations, Bank had been through the toughest.
He was serving the Army in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Many Americans don't know the stories of the soldiers there who fought for months and finally had to surrender.
They had endured plenty during those months, without any help from Uncle Sam, but little did they know that the horrors were only beginning.
Bank was involved in the famous "Bataan Death March," in which the soldiers were marched for miles in the heat without water or food … hundreds died.
He lingered in Cabanatuan POW Camp for two years and nine months, watching his buddies starve and being worked to death. He somehow survived to be rescued by an American Army Special Forces team in 1945.
As I researched the little-known parts of these two men's lives, I came to know what Coach Bryant meant when he used the word "toughness" to describe them.
We old football players think we have been through some tough times, but we don't hold a candle to Coach Jordan and Bert Bank.