How much is a year of a man's life worth? I don't know, but The Saturday Evening Post took 10 years of my life, and I billed them $10 million for it. I guarantee you, if I had collected that much—which I didn't—it would not have paid for the suffering they put me through. I get mad today just thinking about it. I used to wake up nights worrying about the way it was killing my wife and children. I'll never know how much it hurt Mary Harmon, because she hides her feelings better than I do. The irony of it, the thing that makes you want to cut somebody's throat, is that the people who were guilty of the whole thing, who got it started and wrote the stories—they just got paid.
In October of 1962 The Saturday Evening Post came out with a story by a reporter for The Atlanta Journal, Furman Bisher, about brutality in college football. The story tried to make a case against me and my program. They hadn't been satisfied the way Bisher crucified Darwin Holt and me the year before. The story reopened the wounds of the Holt-Graning incident and talked about how we did things—knocking people around in practice, teaching excessively rough football, "brutal" football. Bisher was supposed to be an expert on all these things because he'd been to my practices maybe twice in his life. (He will never be to another one.) It was funny, because that very fall I'd done a radio tape with Bisher in my office, and he was complimenting me on getting so much out of my personnel. My feeling was, and still is, that it's ridiculous to believe you can teach brutality and be successful with kids, to get them to give so much.
The story also made an issue of a statement I made my first year back at Alabama. We'd lost our first game that year, and I had gone on television and said there would probably be some rumbling but this was my team now and the best thing about getting beat was you always get rid of the riffraff. I wasn't talking about my players, I was talking about people, and I'll say it again if we lose a couple of games this fall. We'll get rid of the riffraff, the hangers-on, the few people who take up your time getting in your way and who would turn on you in a minute. We have them, Michigan State has them, everybody does.
Well, I had always made it a practice not to get into arguments with newspapermen, because if you do you're an idiot. You can't argue with the printing press. I have very close friends who are newspapermen, and 99% of those I've met are good people trying to do a good job. If a newspaperman writes something wrong—and I always think it's wrong if it's something ugly about me—I may think he's wrong, but he may think he's right. We've both got a job to do, but we don't have to think alike.
I know I got a lot of attention for the way I did things at Kentucky and A&M, and a lot of newspapermen who were on me then are good friends of mine now. Like Clark Nealon down in Houston. At Kentucky we were trying so hard to get publicity I even made one writer my "consultant," the only time I ever did that, too. I hoped he'd get off my back, but he still second-guessed me all the time. He's not in the business anymore. He went into promoting, and now he knows how tough it is to get publicity. At A&M it was rough for a long while. I felt so alone and felt I had to prove myself 14,000 times, which was all right, too. Nobody had a better press than I did my last year there.
I say it all the time. The coaching staff may have a team fired up once or twice a year, other times it's the atmosphere on campus, the student body, friends back home and the press. Usually the local writers want you to win as badly as you want to. They'd rather write about a winner any day. And what they write can help you. Somebody like Benny Marshall or Charles Land or Alf Van Hoose or Bill Lumpkin might write about the team or an individual at Alabama or Auburn, and what appears in the paper can stimulate and motivate. Sometimes writers from other areas can do it, too. A couple of years ago a Florida writer put something in his paper about the Lord being on Florida's side. Our good Christian boys didn't believe it. They had that clipping plastered all over the walls. We beat Florida 17-14.
Well, any other time I would have just shrugged off that first Post story. I have more confidence in myself and my program than to go tearing off in all directions. I should have just considered the source and dropped it. I've never been impressed with Furman Bisher. I remember the first time he came to Tuscaloosa, when we first got there in 1958. We took him and his wife to dinner, and Mary Harmon looked after Mrs. Bisher and spent a lot of time showing Furman her scrapbooks. If I'd known what he was up to I'd have given him 30 minutes and excused myself. He picked a sentence out of here and one from there, whatever he could find to make me look bad.
I suppose a man who has had so much controversy in his life would learn to live with it, but things were going so well, things that should have made these years the happiest of my life. We'd won that first national championship in 1961, and the coaches had elected me Coach of the Year. That is a great honor just because it is the coaches who give it. Then the brutality story came out, and it was like a blow on the neck. I remember we were flying back from Knoxville after the Tennessee game. I was sitting with a member of the Alabama Board of Trustees. He was egging me on, telling me I ought to sue, and I got to thinking what an injustice it was and how it would hurt our program. So I talked to a lawyer friend of mine, Winston McCall, and we decided to sue for $500,000. Well, you challenge somebody on one pack of lies and you wind up with a bigger pack of lies. It was a mistake. If I hadn't sued the Post on that one I don't believe there'd ever have been the second story. They must have started working on that right after we filed the suit.
The second story came out in the Post issue of March 23, 1963, but the rumors were coming to me long before that. I got calls from Alf Van Hoose and Fred Russell of the
Nashville Banner. They were in Florida, where they were covering baseball, and they warned me that something was coming. Eventually I found out who was compiling it: Furman Bisher, although his name wasn't going to be on it. Then Mel Allen called me. He was in Fort Lauderdale with the Yankees, and he was very disturbed and said if anything happened he'd help me get Louis Nizer in New York as my lawyer, if I wanted him. I even got a call from Don Hutson, my old roommate.
The story they were getting in bits and pieces was that Wally Butts, the athletic director of the University of Georgia, and I had fixed a game—bet on it. Bisher, or somebody, was supposed to have a photostat of a $50,000 check I had written as a payoff. Besides the Georgia game, I was also supposed to have thrown the 1962 Georgia Tech game. We lost that 7-6, our only loss that year and the first in 27 games.