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"I sure am glad I chose Alabama. I felt that playing under Coach Bryant I'd learn more valuable things than football, things that would help me the rest of my life. That's why if Coach Bryant redshirts you, you don't question it."
Mrs. Jones enters the living room from the kitchen, where she has been checking the dinner of roast beef and sweet potatoes. "How many of those boys do you know?" she asks Joe, indicating the entire Alabama team now clustered on the sideline.
"I know all of them real well, Mama. See, Coach Bryant really emphasizes the contribution everybody makes. Everybody treats everybody else the same on our team."
Alabama goes on to trounce Ohio State 35-6, and the TV cameras switch to the locker room. As if to back up Joe Jones' claim, Bryant immediately makes a point to the interviewer. "I'm very proud of all my players," states the grizzled, stonefaced coach. "Even those who didn't play, those who were only on the scout team."
Joe Jones nods his head approvingly. "That's what he always tells us."
Redshirting, in one form or another, has been going on for as long as there have been eligibility rules in college football. The term comes from the practice of dressing temporarily ineligible athletes in jerseys different from those of the active team. In the early days that usually meant red jerseys for the athletes-in-waiting.
Current NCAA rules allow five consecutive years for the completion of four years of varsity competition, but earlier rules were much less restrictive. At one time a player who had not received his baccalaureate could take as long as he wanted to use up his varsity status. "You could even drop out of school, go home and bulk up for a couple years," says David Berst of the NCAA Enforcement Department. Up to 1960, the NCAA required athletes to complete their seasons of competition in 10 semesters of school. In 1961 the current five-year plan was adopted.
Though redshirting is specific in concept it can be ambiguous in practice. For instance, a varsity player who warms the bench for a year is little different from a redshirt, except that he will not get an extra year of varsity competition, or scholarship, unless his coach decides to offer it. It is possible, therefore, for a player to be redshirted for a season and not even know it.
And a player who sees only brief action loses his chance of having that year count as a redshirt year. In 1966 the Alabama preseason press guide listed Louis Thompson, a defensive tackle, as a junior. Thompson went to Assistant Athletic Director Charley Thornton and told him that he should be listed as a senior. "Why is that?" asked Thornton. Hadn't Thompson redshirted his sophomore year? "No, I didn't," replied Thompson. "I played 18 seconds against Vanderbilt."
Because any amount of game time voids redshirting (except in certain cases of early-season injury), players who have not played tend to become cautious near the end of the season. Late last fall an Alabama coach grabbed Split End David Booker by the jersey, ready to throw him in for the last few seconds of a runaway game. "No! Don't!" cried Booker, hurriedly explaining that he hadn't played all year and that he'd lose possible red-shirt status by going in. The coach kept Booker out of the game.