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After winning three national championships, Bear Bryant is not about to start worrying over a little thing like being ranked only third in the nation. Not when it is still October. And especially when he knows his unbeaten Alabamians rate no better than sixth best on rushing defense in the Southeastern Conference. Poll votes do not make tackles, nor have they been known to turn slow athletes into the speedy, agile linebackers that once were the backbone of Bryant's stingy defenses. Even though Alabama has won all its games, opponents at times this season have poured through on the Tide, and the Bear, with Tennessee and LSU ahead, is not content. Shortly before Florida's tender but talented Gators showed up in Tuscaloosa last Saturday, Bryant observed, "If we don't find some quickness, we are going to make a lot of ordinary backs look like All-Americas."
But Bryant is perhaps overcritical. Alabama also has been doing a lot of things right—such as playing offense. All-America Johnny Musso is gone, but Bryant has replaced him with a battalion of running backs who are both fast enough to go around a tackler and powerful enough to go through him—dealer's choice. The Bear has three very capable fullbacks, all of whom he considers first-string. Because none of them has carried that many times in a single game, their individual statistics are hardly overwhelming, but collectively Ellis Beck, Steve Bisceglia and Paul Spivey make a nice three-headed Heisman Trophy candidate. Bryant complements them with four halfbacks, each also "first-string." The seven come at you in waves, and by the second half they can make football less a game than an execution. In its first four victories Alabama scored 145 points, and if Bryant had so ordered the total could have been twice that.
The man who operates the offense is Terry Davis, a 177-pound senior quarterback who can run better than he can throw, though in the first four games he completed 21 of 31 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns.
Bryant thinks his quarterback should throw even more. "Terry is the most underrated passer in the country," he says, "and people just dare us to throw. They give us the air and we've got to take it. We keep saying we will throw more and we never do. We just get ahead and we stay on the ground."
But when you have blockers up front like 263-pound All-America Guard John Hannah and 242-pound second-string All-America Tackle Jim Krapf, why throw at all? Hannah is the SEC shotput and discus champion.
"I never worry about Jim getting hurt in a game," says Krapf's wife Poddy. "At least not by the other team. The only thing I worry about is Hannah falling on him."
In the opening game against Duke, Krapf, the SEC heavyweight wrestling champion for three years, came limping off the field with a knee injury, nothing serious but very painful. "Hannah rolled on me." he later explained, "and when Big John rolls on you, it smarts."
When Hannah won his track titles he weighed 298 pounds, the proper shape for the shot and discus, but one he found unfavorable for football. He put himself on a daily diet of one cup of split-pea soup and a one-inch cube of Cheddar cheese. Ten weeks later he showed up for fall practice weighing 265 pounds.
"I'd have loved to have gone on the same diet to help him," said Hannah's slim wife Paige, "but if I had I would have dropped to zero and disappeared."