The week had begun with two rumors for a Tuscaloosan to rub together, neither of them having to do directly with the business at hand: 1) that Alabama already has accepted an invitation to play in the Orange Bowl, 2) that Paul Bryant will retire when the season ends. The latter is a rumor recurrent. It persists in hurdling the facts that Bryant is only 51 years old and loves his work almost as much as Alabamans love him. Mary Harmon Bryant, the coach's wife, a pretty, perceptive woman who shows a lovely set of white teeth for rumor mongers and other people who speak unkindly of her "Papa," believes inalterably that a rumor of that ilk "just naturally gets started at recruitin' time by those old Aubuhn people."
Paul Bryant is a hummer. That is, he hums a lot, and usually his humming material runs to Sunday school inspirationals like Jesus Loves Me and, at more serious moments, Love Lifted Me. His players and assistants say that when his humming is loudest Bear Bryant seems to love them least. But Bryant is not humming today. Quarterback Joe Namath can run, all right, but only straight on. His injured knee has not regained the mobility needed "to turn and twist and carry on like he usually does." There is healing, too, to be done on End Tommy Tolleson, Tackle Jim. Simmons, Guard Wayne Freeman, Halfback Ray Ogden. So Bryant is lenient. He has, in fact, been more lenient than ever this year, with regular water breaks and ice breaks to reduce practice attrition and prove "I am getting old and mellow." The Monday night workout is mild: no contact, no pads, only the characteristic Alabama precision and intensity of purpose. It is to be that way the rest of the week.
Strong feeling against Tech courses hotly through Alabama veins for any of a number of reasons having to do with (choose one): the termination of the series (Tech dropped Alabama from its schedule after one of its players was mauled), Tech Coach Bobby Dodd, the Atlanta newspapers, the Saturday Evening Post, the fans in Grant Field. Bryant's veins are no exception.
Privately, over a platter of raw oysters at Art's Char House on University Avenue, he will say that the Auburn game is the one he would rather win, "because we got to live with those people." But as an aperitif, he will tell of his resentment of Tech, so you cannot be entirely sure. For all the obvious pressure, however, he will not revert to his sleeping pills until Thursday. It used to be Mary Harmon Bryant could cure his insomnia with a bottle of sugar pills from a phony prescription, but he now solves his sleeping problems with the real stuff. "I don't have to take pills," drawls the Bear, "except when I want to sleep."
The older, fatter, slightly mellower Papa Bear Bryant says this Alabama team is closer to his heart than any other, because it is young (possibly younger than any other in terms of usable players) and unafraid and wins games—with heroic rallies. He says this is the finest offensive team he has had at Alabama. "Defensively we don't play too well," he says. Alabama is No. 6 in the nation in total defense; it is accustomed to being No. 1. There is, too, a certain whimsy in the team's makeup that perhaps makes it dearer to Bryant. (The 1961 national championship team was notably grim.) Namath is partly responsible. When a tackier in the Vanderbilt game jeered at him, "Hey No. 12, what's your name?" Namath replied, "You'll see it in the headlines tomorrow." On the next play Namath threw a touchdown pass. Today he twice hopped into the same backfield with Steve Sloan, the junior who has been starting ahead of him during his convalescence. Someone detected it and charged Bryant with deploying two quarterbacks to surprise Tech. "Shoot, no. Not us," said Bryant. "We tried that at Tech in 1962 with Namath and Jack Hurlbut and got beat. Never again. Old Joe was just horsing around."
A meeting of an Alabama football team always begins on time, is crisp and swift and, since it starts with a talk by Bear Bryant, is completely absorbing. Bryant has a low, resonant voice; it is true that he tends to mumble, but this serves to intensify his effect. He began the regular Wednesday-night meeting by getting right to the point and staying there. The talk was short, less than 10 minutes. He never raised his voice. He said he had been playing and coaching against Tech for 25 years, "before you were born." He said he knew this: "Tech hits hard, but they don't hit hard all the time. They play tough, but they don't play tough all the time, because they don't live tough like we do." He said that "stuff about Dodd-luck and Tech-luck at Grant Field" was corn for the gullible to feed on, and that beating Tech five out of six ought to be proof enough. "You make your own luck, even at Grant Field," he said, "but lei me tell you this. That will be the most hostile crowd you've ever seen. Two years ago they threw everything at us from ice to bourbon bottles. I don't mean to insinuate they're not good folks, they probably have good mamas and papas, too. But I think some of them have forgot their training." He said that helmets would therefore be worn on the bench and that he might wear one himself (laughter).
At dinner with friends at the Indian Hills Country Club, he was told that Tech did not really look too good this year. "That's true. They haven't been very good, but they could be, and they should be with the talent they've got." He said that, as a man who took winning seriously, he did indeed resent the "volleyball," laugh-a-day approach to the game. "In a way, maybe it's good for us the series is ending," Bryant said, "because, with the two-platoon back, Tech would beat us four out of five times. Tech does a helluva recruiting job. When you've got better material you don't have to live tough to play two-platoon. When it's 11 men and sic 'em, it's a different matter."