Time stands still on the cherry-paneled wall behind Bear Bryant's desk at Alabama. With an appositeness perhaps only coincidental, the antique clock with the roman numerals never says anything except three minutes to nine. There are illusions of change: the Crimson Tide is now a happy blend of black and white, and when it rolls it does so with the fashionable Wishbone offense. Also, Bryant himself says he does not coach anymore, just stands around worrying his assistants. But it might as well be 1961, or 1964 or '65 or any of those years of high achievement, because for Alabama under Bear Bryant the goal is always the same, the hour near at hand.
On a cool Thursday evening two days before this latest model showed its fine hand and terrible swift fist to Tennessee, Buddy (Bearcat) Brown, an offensive tackle who is called the last of the beloved red-necks by his coaches, got up before a yawping mob of pep ralliers outside Bryant Hall in Tuscaloosa and put the proposition squarely on the line, the way the old man would. When he sidled up to the microphone at Assistant Coach Jimmy Sharpe's bidding he had his jaw out.
"Y'all want the nation'l championship?" said Bearcat.
"Yaiiiieeeeee," said the crowd.
"Well, we damn sure do," said Bearcat.
"Aaaaghyeaaaaaa," said the crowd.
To that end on Saturday, beneath the banners of their screaming loyalists ("Hang Tenn, Tide"; "Lord, I was born a 'Bama fan") and the orange haze of the Birmingham steelworks, Alabama scored three touchdowns in a five-minute burst of deadly reckoning to leave Tennessee gasping in the fourth quarter, and a loser at 42-21. And when it was over, between dispensing first a prayer and then the cigars he had been saving for the occasion, Bryant mounted a dressing room bench and waved his hand to silence the bedlam. "You're the greatest bunch I've ever been around," he said, and added with a faintly whimsical smile, "Either that or the greatest bunch of con men."
The last was a concession to moderation. Bryant has fallen in love with this, his 16th Alabama team, and must watch himself lest he get carried away. Earlier this year, on his weekly television show, he said that Richard Todd, the sophomore (and currently second string) quarterback, could be the best he ever had. It will be recalled that he once had Joe Namath. Later Bryant admitted to a certain lightheadedness, having been on pain pills that day after some extensive dental work.
Last week, nevertheless, he was still predicting prodigies for Todd, a big, fast onetime schoolboy discus champion from Mobile who was, until the Tennessee game, not only the team's most artful-looking passer but its leading rusher. Todd had done nothing to discourage him. And Calvin (Cannonball) Culliver, the fullback, would eventually be his best runner, if he wasn't that already, said Bryant. Culliver is one of those fit-right-in blacks that Bryant has been recruiting the last few years. He is a freshman and third string.
Bryant, while conducting pre-Tennessee workouts from the scaffolding of his coach's tower, spoke of this reservoir of raw talent as if it were arriving on a later plane. That if kept healthy and eligible it would be "the best we ever had by next year."