Christmas 1971 was the most unusual
Jim Grammer, When it was a game
In 1971, I was on the Alabama football team that went 11-0.
That year, we were slated to play the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day of 1972. We were to fly out of Tuscaloosa Christmas Day and arrive in Miami in time for a practice session that afternoon.
We were rated No. 2 in the nation, as the Cornhuskers held the top spot. It would be a battle of the unbeatens and a fight for the National Championship. The mood around the football program was one of both celebration for a great, but also one of serious determination to win the big prize – the National Championship.
We had been free for a few days before Christmas to visit the folks at home and arrived back at Bryant Hall on Christmas Eve. Coach Bryant got a message to everyone there would be a team meeting to be held in the lobby of Bryant Hall that evening. Everyone thought this was strange because team meetings were always held in the meeting room of Coleman Coliseum where the coach's offices and dressing rooms were located at the time.
These meetings were commonplace before a road trip, as Coach would go over last details with all the players before flying out of Tuscaloosa.
We were gathered in the lobby sitting on couches, chairs and some sitting on the floor, awaiting this meeting and expecting it to be the same as always. The assistant coaches were standing around and everyone was waiting on Coach Bryant.
Then, through one of the back doors to the lobby, walks in Coach Bryant in a crimson sweater and a Santa Claus hat. He had a sly smile on his face, and the whole team broke out into laughter, causing the smile on Coach's face to become more prominent.
A couple of team managers brought in huge boxes crammed full of well-wrapped Christmas gifts. When the laughter settled down, Coach reached into one of those boxes and reads the name of a team member. He continues this until everyone in the room has a gift, and everyone made sure to say "Thanks Coach" when he called their name.
We all opened the gifts as soon as we sat back down, and it was mostly shaving cream or such.
When coach had given all the gifts to everyone, he stopped and got that serious look on his face. He looked at the floor, started winding his watch – like always – and told us Merry Christmas.
Later, we learned Coach had bought all those gifts with money out of his own pocket, and the secretaries in the coach's office had spent all day wrapping them.
Even though we went on to get beat badly in the Orange Bowl, I must admit this was one of my most unusual and memorable Christmases I ever had.