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John Underwood
September 11, 1972
With more bowl teams and national titles than most coaches have years, Alabama's Bryant should be ready to retire. RETIRE? Why, he's Just learning what the game is all about
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September 11, 1972

New Tricks For An Old Bear

With more bowl teams and national titles than most coaches have years, Alabama's Bryant should be ready to retire. RETIRE? Why, he's Just learning what the game is all about

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"When it was all over, though, I really felt guilty for this one reason: I had tried to convince myself that it was the challenge that interested me—nobody had ever done it both ways, won in college and the pros, and I knew I could do it—but I think now it was just the money, because I kept thinking about 'four bedrooms, seven baths, Jockey Club,' and Cadillacs and Lincolns, so many things, things I didn't need or already had. It was ridiculous. Well, never again. And don't you know they've said their prayers a million times about getting Don Shula instead of me? They couldn't have done any better. Maybe I would have won, but he won."

Didn't Sonny Werblin try to get you to coach the Jets one time?

"No. What happened was this, and Sonny probably thought I was big-dogging it, but Jimmy Hinton [Bryant's business partner] and I thought about buying a pro football team. I was in New York and went to the game with Sonny, and you know how fond of him I am, and I put it to him. 'What do you think of $10 million for the Jets?' I'm sure he must have thought no football coach could come up with 10 million, but we could have. It was that simple. Well, Sonny told me then, 'If you and your friends can get that kind of money, buy the Miami franchise.' He said we could probably get it for maybe half as much. But we didn't do anything, and he was so smart, and so right. The Dolphins were drawing less than 30,000 then, and now they're drawing 70,000. What do you suppose that franchise is worth now?"

Up from Portal 17 to the second floor of the five-year-old University of Alabama Memorial Coliseum are the offices of Athletic Director Paul (Bear) Bryant and his cast of thousands (actually 34, counting secretaries). The offices are handsomely furnished, tastefully decorated and inspirationally equipped. Reeking with class, their only concession to commercialism is the super-enlarged ceiling-to-floor lobby photographs of the bowls Alabama teams play in regularly—Orange, Sugar, etc. When Bear Bryant walks the gleaming corridors, conversation abates, and visitors sneak looks from the corners of their eyes. Bryant's office is a high-ceilinged, thickly carpeted, richly paneled sanctuary that is spacious but decorated only by three pictures on its walls: the satin-finished photographs of the 1961, 1964 and 1965 national championship Alabama teams. The best team he ever had—the 1966 team that went undefeated—is not up there. He says the '66 team had everything: quickness, balance, passing, power running, option running, receiving, good defense. It got better as it went along, and demolished Nebraska 34-7 in the 1967 Sugar Bowl. It was finally done in by the ballot box, locked out of the national championship that year by Notre Dame and Michigan State, who got more attention by playing to a 10-10 tie. Bryant believes his team could have beaten either of those two.

Bryant had finished going through his mail and was leaning back in his leather chair. His visitor had resumed the interrogation that had started in Florida.

You used to say football was a coach's game. Is that still true?

"Not as much. There's more a premium now on getting the top athlete. When we played both ways, we could take a guy like Jimmy Sharpe, 194 pounds, hone him down, have him so quick, and he'd go out and beat a guy who weighed 240. Anyway, now you've got to have ability. A guy 6'5" to rush the passer and a guy 6'4" to block him. You can't win with the good little guy anymore. No chance. The premium's on ability."

Are athletes that much better?

"Got to be. Their mamas and papas are bigger, they're born into the world bigger, they eat better and grow bigger. They're faster, stronger, better equipped. There's no comparison."

Is that what caught up with you in the Orange Bowl this year? Bigger, better athletes?

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