Bryant, the best coach in college football history, died a month later.
Bryant’s legacy is unassailable, though some may try to diminish it. Today, it’s no secret that Bryant was, in many ways, a man of his times: gruff, rough, a lover of stiff drink. But he also was heralded for his unending gift of giving — of time, of money, of opportunities to the sick, the needy and the downtrodden. Together, that mixture made Bryant a complex man.
Suffice it to say that Bryant documentaries shown occasionally on ESPN can leave viewers with a jaded impression — particularly if they’re not avid followers of Alabama football. Bryant had his vices, and unhealthy ones such as drinking and smoking did him no favors. He was just 69 years old when he died.
Nevertheless, Bryant’s face and accomplishments remain the face of Crimson Tide football. And always will.
A week from Monday, the man who now occupies Bryant’s chair — Nick Saban — will lead the Tide into the BCS national championship game against Notre Dame. Should Alabama win Jan. 7, it will mark Saban’s fourth national title as a coach, third national title with Alabama, and his second straight overall.
We’ll say it: Those accomplishments are darn-well Bryantesque.
Saban is 61, and win or lose in Miami, he’s doing his best to make Alabama fans consider this spate of success on par with the Bear’s best times, of which he had more than a few.
It’s hard to believe that Bryant’s late-1970s teams that were stocked with college talent and won back-to-back national championships could be topped. Truth be told, Saban may have done just that, considering the NFL-caliber players and won-loss record of his teams the last four years.
Still, it would be foolish to insinuate that Saban could overtake the Bear. Saban may win umpteen national titles and go down as one of the game’s greats. But Bryant’s place is secure.