Paul W. Bryant
This book would not have been possible had it not been for the untiring efforts of Eugene Stallings, co-captain Texas A & M 1956, All Conference SWC End, and assistant football coach, University of Alabama. “Bebes” Stallings exemplifies the true meaning of football, both as a player and as a coach.
Have you ever wondered about football? Why it’s only a game which is as fundamental as a ball and a helmet. But the sport is a game of great importance. If you take all of the ingredients that go into making up the game of football and put them into a jar, shake well and pour out, you’ve got a well-proportioned phase of the American way of life.
Football is the All-American and the scrub. It’s the Rose Bowl with 102,000 cheering fans, and it’s the ragged kids in a vacant lot using a dime-store ball. It’s a field in Colorado ankle-deep in snow, and one in Florida sun-baked and shimmering.
Leaping cheerleaders, a brassy band, and the Dixie Darlings are a part of the wonderful game of football. It’s a rich guy being chauffeured to the stadium gate, and a frightened boy shinnying the fence and darting for the end zone seats. It’s a crowd which has gone crazy as it rips down the goal posts. And it’s a nation stunned and wet-eyed at the news of Knute Rockne’s death.
Football is drama, music, dignity, sorrow. It’s exhilaration and shock. It is also humor and, at times, comedy. It’s a referee sternly running the game. It’s an inebriated character staggering onto the field and trying to get into the action.
Football is the memory of Red Grange, the Four Horsemen, and the Seven Blocks of Granite. It’s a team’s traditional battle cry, such as, “War Eagle,” in the middle of the summer. It’s a crisp fall day, traffic jams, portable radios and hip flasks. It’s train trips, plane flights and victory celebrations. It’s the losers moaning, “You were lucky, just wait’ll next year!”
Names are football, such as Bronco, Dixie, Night Train, The Horse, Hopalong, Bad News, The Toe, and Mr. Outside.
For four quarters, football is the Great American Novel, with chapters from Frank Merriwell, the Bible, Horatio Alger, the life of Lincoln and Jack the Giant-Killer.
Newspaper photos, arguments, Mr. Touchdown USA, yellowed clippings, the Hall of Fame, The Star-Spangled Banner—they’re all football.
It’s a game of young men with big shoulders and hard muscles. It’s also a game of old pros, such as, 38-year-old Charlie Conerly quarterbacking the New York Giants to a football championship.
Football is popcorn, cokes, banners and cigaret smoke. It’s people standing for the kick-off, lap blankets, pacing coaches, penalties and melodious alma maters.
Football is a game of surprises. The big guy everybody picks in pre-season as All-American fizzles out. But a kid nobody ever heard of scores the winning touchdown and a star is born. It’s Tennessee going 17 games without being scored on. It’s also tiny Chattanooga upsetting mighty Tennessee, making a coach’s dream come true.
It’s the pro halfback who is a movie star. And the water boy who got into a game at Yale. It’s Bronco Nagurski butting down a sandbag abutment, and dwarfish Davey O’Brien disappearing from sight behind an array of 250 pound linemen. It’s Harry Gilmer jumping high to pass, and Coach Jim Owens proving that nice guys finish first.
Football is Bud Wilkinson, whose Sooners are 40 points ahead, walking up and down the sideline like a caged lion. It’s 35-year-old Paul Dietzel and 90-year-old Amos Alonzo Stagg. It’s 6′8″ Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb and 5′6″ Eddie LeBaron.
Women who don’t know a quick kick from a winged-T cheer every move on the field, waving pennants, purses and even mink stoles. That’s football. So is the pressbox with its battery of clattering typewriters. And the oldtimer who claims they played a better game in his day is a part of football, too.
It’s Ray Berry, who wears contact lenses, making unbelievable catches for the Baltimore Colts. And after the game, when he dons his thick glasses, he looks the part of a studious school teacher—which he is after football season terminates.
It’s a scramble for tickets, playing parlays, wide-eyed youngsters getting autographs, a fist fight in the stands, second guessing, banquets, icy rains, color guards, fumbles, goal line stands, homecoming queens, and the typical mutt running onto the field attracting everyone’s attention.
Football is Tommy Lewis jumping off the bench in the Cotton Bowl game and tackling a touchdown-bound Rice runner simply because, “I’ve got too much Alabama in me, I guess.” It’s the quivering voice of a dying George Gipp telling his Notre Dame teammates, “Win one for the Gipper.”
It’s New Year’s, Christmas and the Fourth of July rolled into one. It’s VJ Day, the Declaration of Independence, Haley’s comet and Bunker Hill. It’s tears and laughter, pathos and exuberance.
Football is a game that separates the men from the boys, but also it’s a game that makes kids of us all.
Most of all it’s a capsule of this great country itself.
Football, in its rightful place, can be one of the most wholesome, exciting and valuable activities in which our youth can possibly participate. It is the only sport I know of that teaches boys to have complete control of themselves, to gain self-respect, give forth a tremendous effort, and at the same time learn to observe the rules of the game, regard the rights of others and stay within bounds dictated by decency and sportsmanship.
Football in reality is very much the American way of life. As in life, the players are faced with challenges and they have an opportunity to match skills, strength, poise and determination against each other. The participants learn to cooperate, associate, depend upon, and work with other people. They have a great opportunity to learn that if they are willing to work, strive harder when tired, look people in the eye, and rise to the occasion when opportunity presents itself, they can leave the game with strong self-assurance, which is so vitally important in all phases of life. At the same time they are developing these priceless characteristics, they get to play and enjoy fellowship with the finest grade and quality of present day American youth.
Not only is football a great and worthwhile sport because it teaches fair play and discipline, but it also teaches the number one way of American life—to win. We are living in an era where all our sympathy and interest goes to the person who is the winner. In order to stay abreast with the best, we must also win. The most advantageous and serviceable lesson that we can derive from football is the intrinsic value of winning. It is not the mere winning of the game, but it is teaching the boys to win the hectic battle over themselves that is important. Sure, winning the game is important, and I would be the last to say that it wasn’t, but helping the boy to develop his poise and confidence, pride in himself and his undertakings, teaching him to give that little extra effort are the real objectives of teaching winning football.
If I had my choice of either winning the game or winning the faith of a boy, I would choose the latter. There is no greater reward for a coach than to see his players achieve their goals in life and to know he had some small part in the success of the boys’ endeavors.
Boys who participate in football, whether in high school or college, are in their formative years. It is every coach’s responsibility to see that each boy receives the necessary guidance and attention he so rightly deserves. I would be deeply hurt and embarrassed if I learned a boy wasn’t just a little better person after having played under my guidance. If we, as coaches, lose the true sense of the value of football and get to a point where we cannot contribute to a boy progressing spiritually, mentally, and physically, we will be doing this wonderful game of football a great injustice by remaining in coaching.
The coaching profession is honorable and dignified and we football coaches are in a position to contribute to the mental development and desirable attitudes which will remain with the boys throughout their lives. We have the opportunities to teach intangible lessons to our players that will be priceless to them in future years. We are in a position to teach these boys intrinsic values that cannot be learned at home, church, school or any place outside of the athletic field. Briefly, these intangible attributes are as follows: (1) Discipline, sacrifice, work, fight, and teamwork; (2) to learn how to take your “licks,” and yet fight back; (3) to be so tired you think you are going to die, but instead of quitting you somehow learn to fight a little harder; (4) when your team is behind, you learn to “suck up your guts” and do whatever it takes to catch up and win the game; and (5) you learn to believe in yourself because you know how to rise to the occasion, and you know you will do it! The last trait is the most important one.
One personal reference will illustrate the intangible attributes that football teaches. We have all seen or heard someone tell about the greatest display of courage a team has ever shown. When a team you coach has had such an experience, it makes you exceedingly happy and proud of your position and the team. While I have never been ashamed of any of my football clubs, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for one of my teams in particular. I think my 1955 Texas A & M team displayed the greatest courage, rose to the occasion better, and did more of what I call “sucking up their guts and doing what was required of them” in a particular game than any other team with which I’ve ever been associated.
We were playing Rice Institute in Houston on a hot, humid afternoon. Our play was very sluggish and before we fully realized it, the game was almost over, and we were behind 12-0. We were leading the Conference race up to this point, but it was beginning to look as if we were going to be humiliated before 68,000 people. Having become disgusted with my starting unit’s ineffective play, I withdrew the regulars from the game early in the fourth quarter. With approximately four minutes left to play, I decided to send the regulars back in. I told them they still had time to win the game if it meant enough to them to do so.
The first unit went on to the field and immediately called time out. I later found out they vowed to each other they were going to do whatever it took to win the game. We eventually got possession of the football on our own 42-yard line, and the clock showed 2:56 remaining to play. Again the boys called time out, giving each man a few seconds to make up his mind just exactly what he was going to do. On the first play from scrimmage, Lloyd Taylor, a little halfback from Roswell, New Mexico ran 58 yards around left end for a touchdown. He kicked the extra point and the score was 12-7, with 2:08 remaining in the game. We tried an on-side (short) kick, and Gene Stallings recovered the ball on Rice’s 49-yard line. Our quarterback, Jimmy Wright, then threw a 49-yard pass to Lloyd Taylor who made a beautiful catch as he crossed the goal line. Taylor scored his fourteenth point as he kicked his second point-after-touchdown placement. With the score 14-12, we lined up and kicked the ball deep to Rice. Forcing Rice to gamble since they were behind, they attempted a deep pass which our great fullback, Jack Pardee, intercepted and returned 40 yards to the 3-yard line. On the next play Don Watson carried the ball across for a touchdown, making the final score 20-12 in our favor.
After the game in our dressing room when everyone was congratulating each other, and everything was in a state of confusion, Lloyd Taylor suggested we thank the Master for giving us the courage to make the great comeback. From that game on we have always said a prayer of gratitude after the game, win, lose, or draw.
The particular incident cited was the greatest display I have ever seen of boys reaching back and getting that little extra, showing their true colors, and rising to the occasion and putting into practice the thing that we preach and believe in.
What do we get out of coaching? There is nothing in the world I would swap for the associations with those boys, and the other fine men I have coached, and the self satisfaction of knowing I’ve helped many boys to find themselves. In my estimation, football is truly a way of life.