Alabama already had Auburn convinced. The score was 38-0 with two minutes to play in Birmingham and all that remained undone in the season was for sophomore Quarterback Joe Namath to secure the 37 yards he needed to break Alabama's alltime total-offense record set by Harry Gilmer in 1945. It was third down and 13 on the Alabama 28 and one pass would get it all. Namath huddled with his team and then gave the order. Alabama quick-kicked.
Naturally, after that, Namath could not break Gilmer's record. Naturally, too, Bear Bryant admired him, not just for his selflessness but also for the guts it takes to play the defensive game that Bryant espouses. These qualities help make Namath the second—to George Mira—best quarterback in the South.
To be sure, Namath knows offense, too. He passed and rushed for 1,421 yards, and 13 of his 76 completed passes went for touchdowns last year. This spring the normally noncommittal Bryant dared to say, "I will be disappointed if Joe Namath is not the greatest quarterback in the South—ever. I will also be greatly disappointed if he is not the best quarterback in the country."
What Namath already is the only Yankee on the Alabama team. He came to Tuscaloosa from Beaver Falls, Pa., for two unshakable reasons: he "wanted to play football in the South" and he wanted to play football for Bear Bryant. Known in high school as the "Hungarian Howitzer," he had offers of football scholarships from 52 colleges, and a Chicago Cubs baseball scout was talking in terms of a "$50,000 bonus." Once in the South, the talented Namath told Alabama reporters as a freshman that it was "nice" that Bryant had varsity Quarterback Jack Hurlbut coming back because "I might get hurt." The following spring, true to his word, he won the starting job, and one day as he huddled with his cast of upperclassmen he piped: "Fellows, this is an option play. But I think old Joe's going to run with it. Let's see some blocking. Coach Bryant don't want to get me hurt."
Namath is 6 feet 2 and 187 pounds and primarily a drop-back passer in the best professional style. He seldom ran the ball in high school and it has taken him a while to accept the idea that the Alabama run-pass option is run first, pass apprehensively. Though his running improved as the 1962 season progressed, it still cost him the SEC leadership in total offense. Georgia Tech's Billy Lothridge, who ran 250 yards farther, beat him out for that.
Like an unclassified greenhouse specimen, Billy Lamar Lothridge has been the subject of mystical probing ever since he arrived at Georgia Tech. "Mechanically," says Assistant Coach Jack Griffin, "Billy leaves a lot to be desired." But then, Griffin adds, Billy's ballhandling is also sloppy, and his passing in practice "scares you to death."
Indifferent, inaccurate, sloppy, mechanically unmarvelous Billy Lothridge set four Tech records last year: most points scored (89), most passes attempted and completed (156 and 83), most yards total offense (1,484). He is only one more of the many fine quarterbacks in the South, however. Others of distinction include Georgia's Larry Rakestraw, Auburn's Jimmy Sidle, North Carolina's Junior Edge, Mississippi's Perry Lee Dunn, South Carolina's Dan Reeves and, probably the best of these, Maryland's Dick Shiner. Shiner completed 121 passes for 1,324 yards last fall, leading the nation most of the season. He is a 6-foot, 190-pound senior of German-Irish extraction from Lebanon, Pa., a stocky, methodical quarterback who passes with Mira's crispness but without his daring. Clearly, the South enjoys an impressive abundance.
On his first day as head football coach at ALABAMA in 1958, Paul (Bear) Bryant arrived at his desk at the crack of dawn, which is his custom. "I went into the office," he said, "sat down, and worried. Just like I always do." Worried ever since has been every other coach in the Southeastern Conference. The Bear has won 27 of his last 29 games at Alabama, and as this season begins he is moaning loudly, a sure sign that every other team in the SEC—except MISSISSIPPI—is in deep trouble. Mississippi can afford to relax. It does not play Alabama until 1965, and because of a schedule that is taxing only on rare Saturdays the Rebels may again finish with a better record than the Crimson Tide.