Bear Bryant always gets up early, but one day last January, with important work to do, he rose at 3 a.m., dressed, heated a quick cup of coffee and hurried over to ALABAMA'S athletic dormitory, where he tacked this note on the dining room door:
"Just notified. Congrats national champions. Paul Bryant.
P.S. Let's start working today to make it three in a row."
Bryant was worried. Last years's football team was supposed to be good, but not that good. The 1966 squad was being primed as his next champion—and now it looked jinxed.
The fact that Bryant's biggest headache this past spring was trying to figure out who to red-shirt (his freshmen were, as usual, eager, tough and motivated) did not allay his fears. Steve Sloan, Paul Crane and Steve Bowman were gone. Alabama had only to meet Louisiana Tech (not State) in its home opener. Paul Bryant's problems were small enough to make every other coach in the country shudder—with envy.
Among the Tide's 34 returning lettermen are Ray Perkins, the All-America end who caught all kinds of passes last year with the bodies of defenders draped over him like sideline parkas, and Les Kelley, the solid 215-pound power runner who may well pick up where Bowman, the SEC's leading ground gainer, left off. And there is Tackle Cecil Dowdy who, at 205, does not look all that much until you see him hit ("The best I've ever had," says Bear) and Bobby Johns, a defensive halfback who intercepted six passes as a sophomore.
'Bama gave up only 7.9 points per game in the regular season, but the defense is experienced now. Ends Frank Whaley and Sophomore Mike Ford are quick, agile defenders. Tackles Johnny Sullivan and Richard Cole are two-year regulars, and Mike Reilly, a sophomore middle guard, "could be our best all-round lineman," says Bryant. Wayne Owen, Stan Moss and John Reitz can be expected to back up the line with smart, hard muscle, though Bob Childs, another sophomore, had such a fine spring game he just might squeeze in somewhere. Johns will play alongside David Chatwood, last year's roverback, and John Mosley, another regular who was under a push from Dickie Thompson for the safety position in the spring. "And we have a whole bunch of others we think have possibilities one way or the other," says Bryant, which means the Tide will be harder than ever to score on this fall.
But what typifies the Alabama defense is the same ingredient that makes its offense go: speed, and lots of it. Kenny Stabler and Wayne Trimble will sprint out as much and as fast as any quarterbacks in the country, though they will certainly not throw as much. Bryant has been building a ball-control attack ever since he finally got rid of those two young radicals, Namath and Sloan, and he is not about to let anyone start experimenting—regardless of how good the receivers are.
And they are good. Perkins caught 19 passes for 279 yards last year (10 in the Orange Bowl game alone), and Wayne Cook grabbed 9 for 144 more. Dennis Homan, the fastest man on the Alabama team, could be in for his biggest year if the defense leans too much toward Perkins. Of the 10 passes Homan caught last year, four went for touchdowns.
Kelley will open at left half and stay there if his services are not required at full, where Bryant will lead with Gene Raburn, with Hal Moore or Hunter Husband in reserve. Terry Kilgore will start at center with John Calvert and Bruce Stephens, two hard-hitting lettermen, at the guards. Dowdy is the strongside tackle, playing opposite 195-pound Jerry Duncan. Bryant's kicking game is certainly solid enough to keep the opposition jammed well inside its 40 for the better part of the afternoon. Steve Davis punted for a 41.7 average last year, good for second in the SEC. And any way you look at it Alabama plays only three good teams on its 10-game schedule, which makes the outlook bad for those three teams.