There is no word to describe how naive I was
Jim Grammer, When it was a game
In 1967, when I first arrived at The University of Alabama, I was the ripe old age of 17, and a freshman couldn't have a car on campus. I didn't have a car, so it was nothing new to me.
I'm not sure there is a proper adjective to describe how nave I was.
After we had been through three weeks of preseason practice, the Athletic Academic Advisor came around one night to help us get prepared to register. He let us know, in very uncertain terms, we would have little input into the courses we would take, nor would we have the option to determine the date or time of the classes.
After going through the nightmare of registration process that we held in Foster Auditorium, I realized I was signed up for a freshman English composition class from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. This was a problem. Lunch was served at Bryant Hall during the same time as this class, and in those days, I liked to eat.
Football practice began at 1:40 each afternoon, giving me just enough time to walk several blocks to the field house and dress for practice.
I went a couple of days to this class and missed lunch, quickly finding out Alabama football practice was hard enough on its own, much less on an empty stomach.
So, I took what I considered somewhat of a problem to the Academic Advisor, who I naively thought took his job seriously and would try to help. I quickly found out just how small my problem was and left his office to him shouting, "Just do the best you can, boy."
Another week of this no lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I had had enough.
So, I went to Coach Bryant's office one morning, and asked the secretary if I could see him. If I had been a little more experienced at Alabama, I would not have had the courage to approach him with such a small problem.
The secretary never looked up from her typing and said, "Just knock on the door."
I knocked on the door, and nothing happened.
Without looking up, again, she said, "Just knock louder."
I knocked louder.
"Will you wait just a damn minute, I'm on the phone," came this loud, deep reply from inside the door.
Panic set in, and I wanted to run. I looked around to see the secretary still concentrating on her typing, but with a little sly smile now. She had her fun for the day, I guess.
I turned and started to walk away when the office door flew open. There was Coach Bryant, giving me a look to kill.
"What do you want?" he said. "Come in and sit down."
I began to think I shouldn't have come here, and thought about saying I had made a mistake and running away. But, I stumbled through my problem, all the while he was staring at me with his steel blue eyes.
When I finished, he just sat there and smoked his Chesterfield.
I though I better be prepared to get out of there in a hurry, because he's going to
start yelling at me for bothering him with such a silly little problem.
It seemed like an eternity, but finally he asked, "Where is this class?"
I told him, and he sat there staring again for a terribly long while.
"I'll have someone pick you up and bring you lunch," was his final comment.
The next day after class, I ran down the front steps of Morgan Hall and found Coach Bryant and Coach Carney Laslie parked in the "no parking" zone. They were talking as I approached and Coach Laslie motioned for me to get in the back seat. There was a Coke, a sandwich and chips sitting in the back seat.
"You better eat in one big hurry, boy," Coach Laslie said.
These were the only words spoken to me on those days. I enjoyed being chauffeured from class to practice each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. I did enjoy them complaining about the other's driving ability. Here was a normal conversation those days:
"Damn Bear, are you gonna stop at that stop sign?"
"Hell yes Carney I'm gonna stop."
"Well, hell Bear, act like it then."
Sometimes, Coach Bryant would send an assistant coach or a manager to pick me up, but they seemed not to appreciate having to do this duty for a lowly freshman.
Often I wondered why Coach Bryant did this. Thinking back, it was his commitment to doing all he could to see that his players placed the value that they should … one of the qualities that set Coach Bryant far above most coaches who seemed only concerned about athletics.