Paul (Bear) Bryant said he had not tried to sleep yet, but when he got serious about it he would take his pill and that would take care of that. He had on his red-on-red pajamas and his bedroom slippers and every now and then, when a visitor came to room 914 at the Pick-Bankhead Hotel, Bryant would jump up and grab his plastic raincoat and bundle it around him. Eventually he would get it off again, because Birmingham was uncommonly warm for late November and Bryant was getting moist anyhow. On the next day his Alabama football team would have to play Auburn.
As it turned out, Alabama did not play Auburn so much as it plowed the War Eagles under, but Bear Bryant had no way of knowing that would happen, and for the present he was treating himself to some night-before torture, wondering if he had covered all the contingencies, and paying perfunctory attention to Mary Harmon Bryant as she tried to get reality religion across to one guest who had failed to grasp the significance of this Auburn thing. "Auburn-Alabama is...well...it's just everything" said the coach's wife. "We don't have riots, or folks don't burn each other's cars or anything like that, but an awful lot of people get their feelings hurt."
A couple from Tuscaloosa had come in, and Bryant had gone through the raincoat ritual and then shut off the television set so conversation could flow. "I was about to cry anyway," he said. "It's that Lou Gehrig movie. I've seen it before. It always makes me cry."
He got up for a cigarette and let it hang unlighted in his mouth. "Lordy, I wish this game was right now. I feel like I've been waiting for it all my life. I know the team must be tired of waiting. They were ready to play Wednesday."
The friend from Tuscaloosa said the whole state was in its usual twit over the game and that reason had vanished and dementia had again settled over the city of Birmingham. Everybody was running around yelling, "Ro-o-oll Tide!" and "Waaah Eeegull!" and three million other people in the state would give anything to be the 70,000 who had tickets to get in Legion Field on Saturday. Grown men and women were carrying signs into hotel lobbies that said I NEED TWO and I'LL SETTLE FOR ONE, $ NO OBJECT, and even scalpers were having trouble getting tickets.
"That sure is true," said Mary Harmon Bryant. "I've been running around for days trying to get a couple."
"Why didn't you tell me?" said Bryant.
Mary Harmon grinned. "There are some important things a wife doesn't tell her husband."
The game is played at Legion Field in Birmingham, which calls itself the football capital of the South, because it is a neutral site. The first time the two teams played was in 1892. Auburn won 32-22, and a breathless newspaper account reported that the crowd was too large to be handled by one man. But in 1907 something happened—an "incident"—and for the next 41 years Auburn and Alabama did not play. No one seems to remember what precipitated the break—exaggerations range from "just a little old-fashioned hell-raising" to "some killing and maiming"—but the schools got together again in 1948.
Perhaps because they do not want to risk any more of those unrefreshing 41-year pauses, Auburn and Alabama have been careful to mind their manners since, with no plots executed, no crimes committed. By the standards of most traditional rivalries, this one is mild. War Eagle IV, the Auburn mascot, was shot down last year, but no one even considered blaming Alabama. On the Friday night before last week's game the two teams wound up at the same movie house and stood outside afterward peacefully renewing acquaintances, and in some cases blood relationships.