In the main, in public, he has been picked dry by now. What more can be revealed about an old country fellow who has coached football all his life? But, of course, in the countdown to 315, Bearologists have multiplied. There is even a book out now, written by some modern-day Parson Weems, entitled YOUNG BEAR: The Legend of Bear Bryant's Boyhood. "According to the best research available, the following events in Bear Bryant's boyhood actually occurred," it says. Presumably the best research would be to ask The Bear. He's still alive. Billy Varner is still driving him all around in the Buick. But, anyway, here is a certified highlight of his legendary childhood:
"Paul was still 11 when he took his now-famous cat to church and not long after that when he took that now-famous turtle to school."
In other words, when his cats and turtles have grown "now-famous," we have heard it all.
Oh, sure, people who don't know him well like to say there is a Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant nobody really knows except possibly Mary Harmon and a couple of his good business pals who have made him lots of money. But who would believe a fool thing like that? If there has been another Bear hiding in the weeds all these years, then that certainly devalues the one we have gotten to know so well. "Why, you have to be yourself," The Bear says. "Least of all you can't fool players. Ain't that so, Billy?"
In fact, the only time The Bear has come a cropper has been when he stopped being himself—as in the late '60s, when all hell was breaking loose around the country.
"I just didn't know how to handle the change, so I started to think we must be winnin' by outcoachin', and anytime you think that, that's when you will get your ass whipped," he says. "Why, before that, I ate with my quarterback every day, but I got outta that, and then along came that rebellious era; that dope era, that why-you-want-me-to-do-this era. The players wanted to be like every other student, and you can't be that way and win. You just can't.
"But the biggest thing was, I was just doin' a lousy job. So when I understood that, I read the riot act to them and got back to work myself. I changed my approach, too. I used to tell a player comin' in, now you're gonna have to be a little bit better player each day, and you're gonna have to do better in your academics and learn lessons every day. And if you do this, you'll be a better person and be able to take your place in society better than when you came here.
"But the kids changed, so now I start the other way, at the other end of the barrel. I tell a boy, if you're not a special kind of person when you come here, I don't want you. See how I turned it around? 'Course, I do still tell 'em if I can't love you and pat you and brag on you, I don't want you. I think I can do that better'n anybody."
What, exactly? Do you mean, inspire?
"I don't know. And if I did, I wouldn't tell you."