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BLACK DAYS AFTER A BLACK CHARGE
Paul Bryant
September 05, 1966
The stories of a 'fix' were incredible. Still bitter, Bear Bryant relives the nightmarish times of rumors, innuendos and lie-detector tests, of a famed broadcast and even a ransacked house
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September 05, 1966

Black Days After A Black Charge

The stories of a 'fix' were incredible. Still bitter, Bear Bryant relives the nightmarish times of rumors, innuendos and lie-detector tests, of a famed broadcast and even a ransacked house

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The clincher, though, was Tom Siler of The Knoxville News-Sentinel . Tom called me asking for a statement. I said, "Hell, Tom, I can't say anything. I haven't even seen it." He said, "Well, I've seen it." Another newspaperman told me it had to be authentic if Siler said so, because Siler had been with Bisher in Florida. Then I got a letter from Wally Butts. He'd heard it, too. So I went in to see our president, Dr. Frank Rose, and the athletic committee to tell them what I was hearing. Dr. Rose immediately began an investigation of his own, and I can't blame him for that. He had to know.

In the meantime I had to go to Washington for a clinic. Bud Wilkinson and I had been talking politics, and he was telling me what an impressive man Bobby Kennedy, the Attorney General, was, and he wanted me to meet him. Bud was trying to get me interested in running for something, and he thought Bobby Kennedy could give me an idea whether I could win. Bud got us a date with Kennedy, but I couldn't keep it. I needed to be home for something and asked Bud to express my regrets. I left town, but early the next morning he called me. "Bobby's sorry he didn't get to meet you," he said. "If I were you I'd try to see him first chance I got."

One thing led to another, and it wasn't long after that I was back in Washington and got an appointment with Bobby Kennedy. That very morning a Washington paper had a report that two southern coaches were involved in what could be the biggest scandal in college-football history. So I went in to see Mr. Kennedy, and I think he is one of the most impressive men I have ever met. We started to talk, and I said, " Mr. Kennedy, before we go further, if you've seen the morning paper, they're talking about me. What they're hinting at is that Wally Butts and I fixed a game."

He said, "Well, what the heck could Wally Butts do for you?" I said that's a good question. He said he thought there was nothing to it, because he hadn't heard anything. Something that big would have come by his desk. So we had about a half-hour visit, and later, when the story broke, people found out I'd been there, and I read where a writer asked Mr. Kennedy what we talked about. He said, "Well, I think you should ask Coach Bryant." I appreciated that.

I will never tell how I got it, but shortly after that I came into possession of page proofs of The Saturday Evening Post story, a sort of advance copy of the magazine, a makeready, I believe they call it. This was still days before it hit the newsstands, and the Post was just then alerting its dealers to be ready for something big. But there I had a copy of it in my hands at 4 o'clock in the morning, and I couldn't believe it. THE STORY OF A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FIX, Under the byline of Frank Graham Jr. The story said that an eavesdropper named George Burnett had somehow got cut into a telephone conversation and heard Wally Butts pass on confidential information to me to help Alabama beat Georgia 35-0 on Sept. 22, 1962. It was so crammed full with lies and half-truths I couldn't believe it.

Well, Mary Harmon was down at Lake Martin, where we have a little summer cottage. Dr. Rose has a place down there, too. I was so riled up I got into my car and drove right down to his place. I got there about 6:30, and Dr. Rose's wife, Tommie, was already up having coffee. While we waited for Dr. Rose to get up, I showed the story to her, and she got a genuine mad on, said I ought to sue them or shoot them or something. When Dr. Rose came out he was as flabbergasted as she was.

I went on over to my house on the lake there, and I was nauseated. I knew there could be vicious people, but not like this. I got over there, and my folks started crying, and for a long time we were just shocked. But I knew we had to do something, because you just can't stand there and take it. Dr. Rose was on my side, I knew that, and we decided we'd announce it before the Post did, beat them to the punch, go on television and lay it right on the line. I called my agent, Frank Taylor, and my television sponsors, Sloan Bashinsky of Golden Flake potato chips and Preacher Franklin of the Coca-Cola Bottlers and told them. I'll never forget it. It was an awkward time for me financially. The market had been bad for me, and those things always happen at the wrong time. I told them I wanted to go on statewide television for 30 minutes and I'd just have to pay them later. Both of them said, listen, you go on and there won't be any commercials and it won't cost you a dime. Boy, that meant something.

Dr. Rose, meanwhile, consulted with the university's Board of Trustees and Harry Pritchett, a neighbor of Dr. Rose's and a good friend of the university. We called in Bernie Moore, the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, and we got Benny Marshall and Alf Van Hoose and Bill Lumpkin, and then Butts, who hadn't seen the story yet, and his folks. These were the people we felt should know what was going on. It was decided Butts would go on television on Saturday in Atlanta, and I'd go on television Sunday afternoon in Birmingham. In the meantime different members on the Alabama Board of Trustees were calling around, trying to find out what they could. One guy over in Georgia told one of our trustees that he heard somebody had seen a check of mine for $50,000. Harry Pritchett called my business partner in Tuscaloosa, Jimmy Hinton, and asked him if I bet on football games. Jimmy said, "Hell, no. Of course not. What's this all about?" Then Bernie Moore's son, who is an attorney in Nashville, told Bernie he'd talked with one of his clients, a big bookie who knew everybody in the world who bet on football. The bookie told Bernie's son, "Bear don't bet on football."

Well, we were going on the air at 4 o'clock, and Sunday morning I was up there in my suite at the Bankhead Hotel in Birmingham trying to iron out what I wanted to say. Dr. Rose came up, and Bernie Moore, Red Blount, Tom Russell and Harry Pritchett, and they questioned me. "Now, Paul, could you be wrong? Is there anything you haven't told us, or remembered about a check or anything?" And I said, "Red, I went through all my checks. The bank has photostatic copies. There isn't one I can't account for, and they're available if you want to look at them." I told them about the phone calls, of course, and later I even got a list of them from the phone company. So we kept talking, and one of them said, "Well, Butts didn't help any, because he wouldn't take the lie-detector test." Wally did take one later, but I realized then what they were getting at. They wanted me to take a lie-detector test. Well, if my people had asked me to take one I'd have said go to hell, just like Wally did. But it wasn't a question now of believing me. So I said, "Look, that might be a good idea, me take a lie test, and I'd love to take it. I won't be able to tell you exactly what I said to Wally on the phone—and there's no doubt I've talked to him many times on the telephone—because I don't know for sure what I said. But I can tell you I haven't fixed any game, or bet on one."

Red Blount says, "You mean any game or just this game?" And I said, "I haven't fixed any game. Ever. And I haven't bet on one since I was a kid." Well, you could just see them lighten up, like I had taken a big load off.

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