The Bear himself doesn't altogether discourage this harmless idolatry. He even turned a dollar or two once himself, in partnership with Sonny Werblin of Madison Square Garden, peddling replicas of his houndstooth hats. For the more reflective, there is on display in two adjoining rooms of the Memorial Coliseum the Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant memorabilia collection. The relics have been donated by the subject himself, and it is a solemn tribute, nearly hallowed.
Everything conceivable relating to the Bear has been exhibited: declarations, magazine covers, trophies, cartoons, keys to the city--from Sylacauga, Anniston, Florence, Gadsden and any number of other places--that is a whole section just by itself. There is an autographed photograph of Esther Williams.
And every picture of The Bear identifies him as Coach Bryant. It isn't only Coach Bryant and Lana Turner and Coach Bryant and Joe DiMaggio, it's Coach Bryant and Herman Hickman, Coach Bryant and Ara Parseghian, Coach Bryant and Bud Wilkinson. There is only the one coach.
NOW ON THIS particular sweltering day in the middle of summer, the memorabilia rooms were almost asphyxiating people because the rooms had been shut up since school let out. The only reason they had been opened was because Frank House, the old catcher with the Detroit Tigers, had come down from Birmingham. House is a well-spoken man in his 50s, trim and handsome, but he has always been known as Pig around home--Pig House. He was in the rooms with Charley Thornton, an assistant athletic director, because the Bear had given Pig permission to take some of the objects for the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
All of a sudden, here comes the Bear himself, wet from the heat, shuffling along, looking exceptionally old, his seersucker pants drooping down. He acted as if he had just stumbled this way, even though it was far down at the other end of the coliseum, on another floor, from his air-conditioned offices. Obviously someone had told him, Hey, Coach, you know Pig House is down there taking things out of your memorabilia rooms.
House looked up in distress; Thornton came to his aid. "You remember, Coach," he said quickly, "you told Pig he could take some of your stuff up to his Hall of Fame."
"Sure I remember," the Bear replied. "I just want to see what it is he's takin', that's all." And he came into the sweatbox and started examining all the things about Coach Bryant. It was like Huck Finn attending his own funeral.
Pig reported about which of the items he had already put in his Cadillac. "O.K.," the Bear said, and he started searching the walls himself. He already looked a whole lot younger than when he had stepped into the place. He didn't even look as hot anymore. "Here!" he called out. " SEC coach, alltime. Now that's not a bad thing, either."
House and Thornton couldn't agree more and hurried to get the SEC citation off the wall. "And Coach of the Decade. National. Where's that?" the Bear asked. The three of them started searching for that award, too, but it just couldn't be located anywhere. You just cannot believe how much stuff is jammed into those memorabilia rooms.
At last Thornton tried to help out. "How 'bout this, sir? The Arkansas Hall of Fame certificate?"