"Enthusiastically recommended reading."
--Midwest Book Review
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His legacy has achieved mythic proportions. He is recognized as one of the greatest to ever walk the sidelines at a college football game. Bear Bryant was one of those bigger-than-life figures that seemed to not only dominate his profession but to define it. Where did that passion to win come from? Why was this man so driven to excel?
While much has been written about Paul William Bryant, this book by Don Keith takes a unique and personal look at the man, at his upbringing, at how his will to win was hardened from the time he plowed behind a mule in Arkansas until he ultimately dominated the highly-competitive world of big-time college football and rubbed elbows with presidents and movie stars.
The story is told from the perspective of one who knew Bryant well, personally and professionally. Al Browning covered Bear and the Crimson Tide as a sportswriter and author, but he was also a close friend. After the coach’s passing and before his own untimely death, Browning had completed a screenplay that he hoped would put his view of Bryant into a television mini-series for everyone to experience. The script recounted some stories that are already well known, but told them from a different viewpoint…often from the coach’s own retelling. It also offered new insight into the man, told as only someone who was as closely acquainted with him as Browning could have done.
Now, award-winning author Don Keith has taken Browning’s screenplay and adapted it to this narrative account so everyone has an opportunity to share a distinctive look at a man who had one goal…to be nothing but a winner.
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Excerpt from BEAR: The Legendary Life of Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant
By Don Keith, based on a screenplay by Al Browning
Copyright 2006 by Don Keith and Stacy Browning
The Columnist watches from a distance but decides to wait a bit before interrupting them. He continues to hit balls down the driving range. Bear Bryant is hitting golf balls off the practice tee, as well. Billy Varner is with him, handing him a new ball after every swing.
Bear finally notices The Columnist.
“Billy, I believe that is Al down there at the other end,” he says, plenty loud enough for The Columnist to hear him. “He didn’t lie when he said he couldn’t play golf worth a crap!”
The Columnist shoves his driver into his bag, picks it up and walks to where Bryant and Varner continue to send balls straight and true into the distance. Bear takes a moment before hitting the ball just as The Columnist steps up behind him
“I better make this one a dandy because it’ll most likely make the paper tomorrow morning.”
Varner laughs. “I think he has his notebook in his golf bag.”
Bryant hits the ball solidly. It goes far down the range and bounces out of sight right in the middle of the fairway.
The Columnist says, “I doubt Amos Alonzo Stagg could hit a golf ball like that. Pop Warner either.”
Bryant watches the ball as long as he can see it.
“Nope, Alfred, but they could sure coach football, and they’ve given more to the game than I’ll ever be able to.”
“That’s debatable, Coach. But what I’m wondering is what it’ll really mean to you when you become the winningest football coach in history.”
Bryant takes his time to hit another ball. It goes even farther than the last one did, and it flares just as straight and true. The Coach finally turns to face The Columnist and gives him that patented squint of his.
“You really want to talk about that bull now, Alfred?”
“Then let’s at least go sit under that pine tree and get out of this hot sun.”
They walk to the shade of the big pine, and all three men ease down to the cool grass. The coach leans back against the tree trunk and starts talking. The Columnist scribbles notes as fast as he can.
“It’s not me. It’s them…all those former players and assistant coaches. And everybody else I’ve been around. Like my mama, who I loved more than anybody. And my papa. Friends, too. Even my neighbors I’ve never talked to because I’ve been so damn busy. So, if the Lord blesses me some more…and he has already…it’ll be a record for the masses, not for me.”
“But coach,” The Columnist pushes. “Won’t you feel like you’ve done something special? Let’s face it. To be number one is to be number one.”
“Sure, Alfred. That’s something I learned behind that plow, looking at the ass end of those mules. If you try something – planting corn, coaching football, even writing a newspaper column – you ought to try to be the very best you can be at it, or you’re just wasting your time. I guess I’ve done my share of bringing new things to the game. Hell, the NCAA has had to double the size of their damned rulebook just to keep up with me…that tackle-eligible play old Jerry Duncan used to run for us...all these silly substitution rules...scholarship limits.”
The Coach pauses to collect his thoughts, while The Columnist catches up with the shorthand marks on his notepad.
“Sure, Al, I’ve made an impact. But I’d be an absolute fool if I didn’t acknowledge all the people who’ve helped me. Players like Pat Trammell and Steve Sloan and Ray Perkins. Babe Parilli. John David Crow. And that even goes for some folks I’ve never met…like Mr. Stagg and Mr. Warner. Without them, I might have never had the opportunity to be a football coach. Tell me, have you studied their careers?”
The Columnist nods. “Sure. Enough to know that Pop Warner used to have to urinate on the sideline during games because of bad kidneys.”
Bryant chuckles deeply, and it causes a cough to flare up.
“Did he smoke as much as I do?”
“I don’t know. But I somehow doubt it.”
“Well, how about helping me get one more up on him. Let me bum a Marlboro.”
The Columnist shakes his head as he reaches into his golf bag for a pack of cigarettes.
“I swear, Coach. You’re a rich man who’s trying to bust a poor man like me one cigarette at a time.”
“Hell, Billy. Would you listen to that? I’ve given this one quotes that are worth thousands of dollars down through the years, and he’s giving me a rough time over one little Marlboro.”
The Columnist reaches to light the cigarette for the coach.
“And if you come up with nine wins this season, I’d appreciate you giving me a few more of ‘em.”
The coach winks, leans back against the tall pine and blows smoke toward the heavens.
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