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OXNARD, Calif. – On the day the team reported to training camp with high hopes for the future, the Dallas Cowboys lost a key member of their history.
Fred Thompson’s character Arthur Branch once said in an episode of Law and Order that “If it wasn’t for that sonuvabitch Bin Laden, we’d only remember September 11 as Bear Bryant’s birthday.” Today, many people throughout the world of college football—and especially in Alabama—will make Branch proud by not letting Bin Laden spoil the centennial celebration of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s birthday.
While working on Mama Called, a new documentary of Bryant’s life, I found myself pondering a question which I had asked myself many times over the years: Was Bear Bryant the greatest college football coach of all time?
In the time since his death in 1983, it has become more and more obvious that he was. Two other coaches of major college football teams passed him up in the all-time victories list—Joe Paterno (409) and Bobby Bowden (377) won more games in the major college ranks—but Bryant’s won-lost percentage is considerably higher (.780 to Paterno’s .749 and Bowden’s .740). Bryant won more national championships (six) than Paterno and Bowden combined (four). And for what it’s worth, Bryant was 4-0 in head-to-head matchups with Paterno.
Bryant’s stature in college football is so great that there’s really only one other football coach since World War II whose reputation compares—Vince Lombardi, another man whose 100th birthday was commemorated this year. I once asked Bart Starr, who had known Bryant for years and who won five championships under Lombardi at Green Bay, if he thought Bryant was the Vince Lombardi of college football. Starr said, “At the least. Some people might call Coach Lombardi the Bear Bryant of pro football.” (More on that comparison later.)
Paul Bryant coached at four universities and completely turned their football programs around for the better. Maryland was 1-7-1 in 1944, and then, in Bryant’s first and only season as head coach, went 6-2-1. Kentucky was 2-8-0 in 1945; in Bryant’s first year, 1946, the Wildcats were 7-3. In 1953, the Texas A&M Aggies were 4-5-1. When Bryant got there the next year, he gutted the entire squad and rebuilt it practically from scratch; the Aggies finished just 1-9 in 194, but Bryant’s labor bore fruit the next year, when they jumped to 7-2-1, and in 1956, they were the Southwest Conference Champions at 9-0-1. The Alabama Crimson Tide were 2-7-1 in 1957 to 5-4-1 in 1958 under Bryant, and, of course, the rest is history.
Bryant is the only coach to have achieved greatness in both the era of limited substitution (when all players had to spend some time on both offense and defense) and the era of unlimited substitution, the modern era of football when players specialized at just one position.
Bryant coached 133 games against 25 men who were eventually voted into the College Football Hall of Fame; in those games, Bryant was 85-42-6. He also coached against 11 of his former players and assistant coaches, with a record of 45-6. LSU’s longtime coach Charlie McClendon once ruefully exclaimed, “He taught me everything I know, but not everything he knows.”
The vast majority of college football historians have also overlooked the fact that Bryant is the only coach to have achieved greatness in both the era of limited substitution (or one-platoon football, as it was called, when all players had to spend some time on both offense and defense) and the era of unlimited substitution, the modern era of football when players specialized at just one position.
Bryant coached for 38 seasons, and his career breaks right down the middle between the eras of one-platoon and two-platoon ball. The difference was probably best summed up in a comment Bryant once made to me during an interview: “In the old days, you spent more time coaching football. Nowadays [with expanded staffs and larger rosters] you spend more time coaching the coaches.”
From 1945 t0 1963, his record was 141-49-13 for an excellent .727 win-loss percentage, while from 1964-1982 he was 182-36-4 for an awesome .829. No other football coach who had to make the adjustment from limited to unlimited substitution in the game even begins to compare.
However, Benny Marshall a longtime columnist for the Birmingham News, tapped into one of the most important, fascinating sets of parallel stories in sports history when he drew the comparison (if an overblown, rather unflattering one) between Bryant and Vince Lombardi—going so far as to refer to Lombardi as “a poor man’s Bear Bryant.”
Besides being born in the same year, Bryant’s and Lombardi’s lives shared an amazing number of similarities. Both men married young and stayed married to the same woman their entire lives. Both had two children, a son and a daughter, —and both sons were named after their fathers. Their football mentors—Jim Crowley at Fordham for Lombardi and Frank Thomas at Alabama for Bryant—learned the game under Knute Rockne at Notre Dame. Both won their first championship in 1961. They each developed close and lasting relationships with rebellious prodigies—Lombardi with Paul Hornung, Bryant with Joe Namath. And both, of course, were uncompromising taskmasters who stressed fundamentals and discipline.
They nearly played against each other when Alabama met Fordham at the Polo Grounds in New York in 1933; Lombardi was ineligible for Fordham’s varsity squad but was in the stands that day.
Lombardi’s impact on pro football has faded; he has no protégés or disciples still in the game. But The Bear’s influence still pervades every level of the game, from small colleges to the pros. Joe Namath, his most famous recruit, helped bring out about the merger of the American and National Football League. Ozzie Newsome, one of Bryant’s first black All-Americans, is currently general manager of the Baltimore Ravens. John Mitchell, the first black player to start for the Crimson Tide and Bryant’s first black assistant coach, is now in his 20th season as defensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And Sylvester Croom, who starred at center and later served as an assistant coach for Bryant, became the first black coach at a Southeastern Conference school, Mississippi State, in 2004, and is the new running backs coach for the Tennessee Titans.
Bryant’s domain, I would argue, was larger than Lombardi’s or any other pro football coach’s. For nearly four decades Bryant was the dominant figure in what the great sportswriter Dan Jenkins called in his book, Saturday’s America, “the world of small towns and college communities that, from Labor Day through New Year’s, gives unqualified devotion to college football, displaying the kind of unbridled enthusiasm that can only be faked or imitated in pro football stadiums.”
Courtesy: Allen Barra
Allen Barra writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal and TheAtlantic.com. His next book is Mickey and Willie–The Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age.
David “Deacon” Jones, the Hall of Fame defensive end whom some consider the greatest defensive player in NFL history, has died at the age of 74.
The Washington Redskins, for whom Jones played his final NFL season in 1974, posted an obituary on their website Monday night after announcing the news. Natural causes was given as the cause of Jones’ death.
Jones’ NFL career started in 1961, when he was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the 14th round (186th overall) out of Mississippi Vocational (now known as Mississippi Valley State). Jones spent his first 11 seasons in Los Angeles, where he teamed with Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy to form “The Fearsome Foursome” — one of the most famous defensive lines in NFL history. Jones was selected to seven consecutive Pro Bowls with the Rams from 1964 to 1970 and made eight overall.
“A tremendously sad day for our Rams family with the passing of Deacon Jones,” tweeted Kevin Demoff, executive vice president of football operations and COO for the now-St. Louis Rams. “Revered on & off the field, a legend who redefined the game.”
Few would disagree with former Rams coach George Allen, who labeled Jones as the “greatest defensive end of modern football.” Jones, also a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was nicknamed “Secretary of Defense” by Rams fans. Jones later was named “defensive end of the Century” by Sports Illustrated in 1999.
Jones was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980.
Jones — who proved to be one of the more durable players in NFL history, missing just five games during his decorated 14-year career — was traded to the San Diego Chargers in 1972 and had immediate success, receiving defensive captain honors and a Pro Bowl selection. Jones finished his career in 1974 with the Washington Redskins.
In addition to his accomplishments on the field, the outspoken Jones is credited with coining the phrase”sacking the quarterback.”
Sacks weren’t kept as an official NFL statistic until 1982. Had they been kept far earlier, few doubt Jones would be the NFL’s all-time leader. According to the Rams’ media guide, Jones recorded a team-best 159.5 sacks with the franchise and 173.5 in his career. He recorded double-digit sacks seven times with the Rams and became the first defensive lineman to post 100 solo tackles in a season (1967).
Jones achieved success in the corporate world in the decades following his retirement, but the football accolades continued piling on. He was named to the NFL’s 75th anniversary team in 1994 and voted the 15th greatest player in league history in a 2010 NFL Network special.
Jones made several trips to visit troops in Iraq and was active in the community. He particularly enjoyed working with youngsters and youth organizations. His passion for helping shape young minds led him to start the Deacon Jones Foundation in 1997. He served as the foundation’s president and CEO.
Deacon Jones: 1938-2013
Related video: NFL Films remembers Deacon Jones
06:05 – NFL Films looks back at Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones’ legendary career with words from his contemporaries and the man himself. Click HERE to watch video.
BROADCAST LEGEND REMEMBERED: Pat Summerall’s funeral will take place on Saturday; open to the public
We have some news on Pat Summerall’s funeral to pass along. Summerall died Tuesday at the age of 82.
The funeral will take place Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m. at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas (a Dallas suburb). It will be open to the public.
We’ll pass along more information as it becomes available.
RELATED: Jerry Jones statement on Pat Summerall
Here is the statement from Jerry Jones issued Tuesday on the death of Pat Summerall:
“Pat was the NFL’s narrator for generations, with a voice that was powerful, eloquent and distinctive.
“His presence at an NFL game elevated that event to a higher level. He was royalty in the broadcast booth. He was respected and admired by players, coaches, commissioners and Presidents of our country—and always a gentleman—someone who had time for the fans in the parking lot after the game.
“Humility and kindness were his closest companions. He was a trusted friend and confidant, and for all of his immense talents as a professional, he was an even better person.
“For a man who could dramatically capture a moment with very few words, there simply aren’t enough words to adequately describe what he meant to sports and broadcasting in this country.
“There is no question that Pat broadcast more Dallas games on CBS and FOX than any other man, and this is a great loss for thousands of Cowboys fans who spent their Sunday afternoons in the living room with Pat.
“Our hearts go out to Cheri and his family. Pat was an icon and an American original.”
RELATED: Brad Sham remembers Pat Summerall
IRVING, Texas – The way Brad Sham sees it, Pat Summerall has few peers when it comes to the history of sports broadcasting.
“He’s at the top,” said Sham, the longtime voice of the Dallas Cowboys and one of Summerall’s friends. “Vince Scully is there. Red Barber. Some of this is now chocolate and vanilla, but whatever short list there is, he’s on it and he’s out front.”
Through the years Sham became friends with Summerall and was part of an old-timers media group that would meet for lunch every so often. Sham would have Summerall re-tell stories he had heard dozens of times, just to hear them again. The last time the group met came March 5.
“You have to separate it personally and professionally,” Sham said. “Professionally, he should have been the model for every television play-by-play person. He was living proof that less could be more. He knew exactly how to make the event the star of the show and still partly because of the voice God gave him but partly because he knew what to do with it, everybody knew it was a Summerall event and that made it a big deal. As the head coach of the Cowboys might say, that was his genius. He knew how to make the event the star of the show.
“Personally, he was such a nice man. He was so gentle … He could talk about what things were like when he played. He could talk about what things were like in television as he worked and saw things unfold. And he could talk about the arts, about pop culture. The fact that his Christian faith was so important to him in the last decade of his life, it kept him grounded and delighted.”
Summerall’s presence could be felt whenever he walked into a press box, according to Sham, not because of domineering personality, but because of the reverence people had for him.
“The era we live in is not an era of eloquent gentility,” Sham said. “The era we live in is an era of look-at-me noise. Media helps shape that and also reflects it so that fact that people don’t (emulate Summerall) and do what he did or try to doesn’t surprise me, but it’s a damn shame.
“We say a lot that someone was one of a kind. He was. And they stopped making them a long time ago.”
RELATED: Much more reaction to Pat Summerall’s death from athletes, analysts, writers, others
CBS Sports broadcaster Verne Lundquist: “Pat was a friend of nearly 40 years. He was a master of restraint in his commentary, an example for all of us. He was also one of the great storytellers who ever spoke into a microphone.”
Pat Summerall died Tuesday. He was 82.
That’s how Summerall, almost a decade ago, said he would craft the first sentences of his obituary — short and to the point.
The legendary sports broadcaster died in his hospital room at Zale Lipshy University Hospital, where he was recovering from surgery for a broken hip, a family friend said.
Summerall’s comment about his obituary was made at his Southlake home after a 2004 liver transplant that saved his life. He was serious.
Typical … succinct … vintage Summerall.
His minimalist staccato style coupled with a deep, authoritative voice was his trademark as the pre-eminent NFL voice for a generation of television viewers.
Summerall worked 16 Super Bowls in a network career that began at CBS in 1962 and ended at Fox in 2002.
In this June, 1949 photo, St. Louis Cardinals player Stan Musial kissed his wife, Lillian, at the ballpark in St. Louis. The Cardinals said Lillian Musial died on Thursday, May 3, 2012. She was 91.
Editors Note: Occasionally The Boys Are Back blog will feature a special post not directly related to the Dallas Cowboys. Stan Musial was an unusual personality in the sports world. His passing marks an end to a truly remarkable era. Mr. Musial was a class act, on and off the field.
Courtesy: Mark Feeney | Boston Globe | January 19, 2013
Stan Musial, “Stan the Man,” who was the National League’s preeminent player in the decade after World War II and whose 22 seasons playing the outfield and first base for the St. Louis Cardinals earned him a place in baseball’s Hall of Fame, died at his home in Ladue, Mo., at the age of 92, according to the Cardinals.
“We have lost the most beloved member of the Cardinals family,” said William DeWitt Jr., chairman of the St. Louis Cardinals in a statement posted on the team’s website. “Stan Musial was the greatest player in Cardinals history and one of the best players in the history of baseball.”
In a 1952 article, the legendary Hall of Fame outfielder Ty Cobb wrote, “No man has ever been a perfect ballplayer. Stan Musial, however, is the closest to being perfect in the game today.”
For all that Mr. Musial may have approached perfection, he never had a mystique, the way his slightly older counterparts Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams did, or the somewhat younger Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Mr. Musial played far from the New York media spotlight. He had no hallowed statistic attached to his name, like DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or Williams’ .406 batting average in 1941.
Mr. Musial, the sportswriter Jimmy Cannon said, “plays ball with a methodical gaiety and does not surrender to the moods which govern the other great ball players.” Among those alien moods was anxiety. An enthusiastic harmonica player, Mr. Musial performed the national anthem at opening day in St. Louis in 1994 with the conductor of the St. Louis Symphony’s pops concerts. Mr. Musial confided to him it was the first time he had ever felt “nervous on the field.”
The most distinctive thing about Mr. Musial was his batting stance, a coiled crouch once compared to “a man peeking around the corner.” What made Mr. Musial extraordinary was what he did, not who he was. There was nothing flamboyant or colorful about him, either on the field or off. It was no small irony that “Stan the Man” inspired one of the most memorable baseball nicknames of the 1970s when a teammate dubbed the notably eccentric relief pitcher Don Stanhouse “Stan the Man Unusual.”