On the day of college football’s national championship game, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about my recent trip to the Bear Bryant Museum in Tuscaloosa.
I’m somewhat of an Alabama football fan. I default there when things aren’t going well for my Ole Miss Rebels, which was the case this year. Plus, I’m a huge fan of single-topic museums. I can absorb so much more of things like presidential libraries and, oh, places like the Barbed Wire Museum (McLean, TX) or the Museum of Musical Instruments (Phoenix) than the overwhelming Smithsonian, the Met or the Louvre.
And so it goes with the Paul W. “Bear Bryant” Museum on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
It is well worth the $2 admission to spend an hour there learning how Alabama came to be the powerhouse it is today. I only paid $1. Turning 60 has its perks.
Actually, the museum’s focus is broader than the 25 years that Bryant spent at Alabama. It covers Alabama football history dating back to its first football team of 1892 and includes the lean years of Mike Dubose and Mike Shula that ultimately led to the hiring of Nick Saban.
There’s even John David Crow’s 1957 Heisman Trophy, which may be more fitting at Texas A&M where Crow played for Bryant. But he was Bryant’s only player to win the Heisman.
A few things I learned:
1926 Rose Bowl: Alabama’s football dominance didn’t begin with Bear Bryant. In 1926, Alabama won its first bowl game and national championship when it defeated the heavily favored Washington Huskies in the Rose Bowl. Before then, college football powerhouses were teams like Harvard, Notre Dame, even Vanderbilt. This was coined “The Game That Changed the South.”
The SEC’s First Year: The Crimson Tide took another big step in developing its reputation when the Southeastern Conference was formed in 1933. Alabama won the conference that year, finishing the season with 130 points to its opponents’ 17. Bama didn’t win every game that year. In its first SEC game ever, the Crimson Tide tied Ole Miss 0-0. Bama also lost to non-conference Fordham 0-2 in a game played in New York City.
The museum has a Waterford crystal replica of Bryant’s signature houndstooth hat, trophies and tickets from every major bowl, jerseys from iconic players like Stabler and Namath.
For me, the museum has the added appeal because of the things I remember from my childhood — Golden Flake potato chips and bottled Cokes on the set of the Bear Bryant Show, which was carried by my East Mississippi TV station. And memories of the 1969 game when Alabama beat Ole Miss in the quarterback duel between Scott Hunter and Archie Manning.
Enjoy the game tonight whomever you’ll be rooting for tonight. As for me and my house: Roll Tide.