CALLER: "You got any tickets for Saturday's game?"
Perkins has a friend in tow, and they are quick-touring the campus in his cinnamon-colored Buick. Down Paul W. Bryant Drive, then past Bryant-Denny Stadium. The stadium looks unusually sprightly for a 54-year-old. Perkins says every seat, sign and wall has just been repainted and the press box refurbished, on his orders as athletic director. He says the old lady deserves it. Bryant teams lost only twice in 74 games there, and when Perkins played there—he was Bryant's best receiver and fastest athlete—they didn't even come close to losing. Perkins says it has always been the players' job in the off-season to paint the stadium, but it was mostly a slapdash kind of thing.
Herman Shelton, the university's grounds supervisor, calls Perkins "the best worker we ever had" when he was in school. Shelton says Perkins was also a fussbudget. When a fellow off-season painter named Joe Namath got too sloppy with the brush one afternoon, Perkins threatened to run him off the detail.
Perkins says the stadium face-lift was a bargain at $150,000—"It cost $60,000 just to paint the seats." He has also commissioned improvements on the baseball field and ordered the construction of a $4.5 million football center adjacent to the Coliseum on ground now taken up by two tennis courts. It will house all the football offices and locker rooms, as well as a training center. There's no mystery about where he will get the money. The Bryant legacy included almost $10 million accumulated in the athletic fund.
Perkins is 15 minutes late for his morning press conference. It's unusual for him to be late for anything; those who are late for an appointment with him are liable to find him gone. The conference is held in the basement of the Coliseum, in the Letterman's Club Room, which is heavy with Tudor furnishings and features a large fake fireplace. Perkins makes a brief statement bemoaning the number of injured players, outlining the practice schedule, etc. and names the captains for the Tech game—Defensive Tackle Randy Edwards, Halfback Joe Carter and Tight End Jay Grogan.
When he opens up the proceedings to questions, the media contingent of about 30 can muster only one. Like Bryant's, Perkins' menacing visage seems to cow the press. Bryant once smoked an entire cigarette before he or anybody else spoke at an Alabama postpractice press conference. When he finally opened his mouth, Bryant made a two-sentence summary, asked for questions, got none and left.
When Perkins gets up to leave, he is surrounded by those who have been saving their questions. He charms them with expansive answers and stings them with brusque replies: "Explain why I picked the captains I did? That doesn't call for an explanation." One young man asks, "People expect you to win all the time here, Coach. Doesn't that make it tougher on you?"
"They should expect me to win," Perkins says, his eyes narrowing. "I went to school here, did you know that? Did you know I went to school here?"
The reporter nods, embarrassed. He's not sure if Perkins is kidding or not.