Happy birthday Paul “Bear” Bryant!

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This Sunday would be University of Alabama legend, Paul “Bear” Bryant’s 98th birthday. Bryant served as head coach of the University of Alabama for 25 years, amassing the university’s football team 6 national championships and 13 conference championships.

Here’s a few facts you may or may not know about the famous coach. (Click on the photos for more information about them.)

  • Bryant was born in Southern Arkansas and was the 11th of 12 children.
  • He received his nickname “Bear” as a young teenager. A theater owner in Fordyce, Arkansas, offered a dollar to anyone who would wrestle a bear for a minute. Bryant successfully wrestled the bear, but the bear and owner escaped without paying.

Bryant speaking at a Pep Rally

  • Bryant accepted a scholarship to the University of Alabama in 1931, and was a member of the school’s 1934 national championship team.
  • He once played with a partially broken leg in a game against Tennessee in 1935.

Bryant accepting an award

  • During his senior year, Bryant married Mary Harmon Bryant, whom the building that houses Hoole Special Collections is named after. He kept the marriage a secret from his football coach, as he was afraid he would lose his scholarship.
  • In the 1936 NFL draft, Bryant was drafted in the 4th round by the Brooklyn Dodgers, but never played professionally.
  • In 1941, Bryant was offered the head coaching position at Arkansas, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he joined the U. S. Navy instead.
  • During World War II, Bryant served in Northern Africa aboard the SS Uruguay as a Lieutenant Commander.
  • While coaching at Kentucky for 8 years, Bryant led the school to its first bowl appearance in 1947 and won its first SEC championship in 1950.
  • Bryant coached at Alabama from 1958 to 1982.

  • Bryant received 1.5 votes for the Democratic Party presidential nomination at that 1968 Democratic Convention.
  • In 1971, Bryant recruited the first African-American scholarship player at the University of Alabama, Wilbur Jackson, and junior-college transfer John Mitchell became the first black man to play for Alabama.
  • When Bryant retired in 1982, he held the record for the most wins as head coach in collegiate football history.

Paul "Bear" Bryant with President Gerald Ford

  • Bryant passed away only a month after retiring from coaching on January 26, 1983.
  • A moment of silence in his honor was held prior to Super Bowl XVII, played 4 days after Bryant’s passing.
  • When asked by a student publication what he would have done for a living he he hadn’t become a coach, Bryant replied, “Oh, I don’t have any idea. I’ve never wanted to do anything else.”

For even more facts about Coach Bryant, as well as more photos and some videos, visit the Paul W. Bryant Museum website or drop by the museum next time you’re in Tuscaloosa. Happy birthday Coach!

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