I work up Sunday morning having had the strangest of dreams. I told my wife, “I dreamed Alabama beat Clemson 34-10 last night. It was the strangest thing. We beat a top-10 team by dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, having no turnovers, and running up the gut play after play after play.
“We didn’t collapse in the second half. We didn’t make a demoralizing turnover. In fact, we had no turnovers. It was amazing!
“But I can’t remember the real game. What actually happened?”
She said she’d had the very same dream. Strange …
That afternoon, I took a nap and dreamt again. In this dream, the ghost of Bear Bryant appeared at the end of the game. He was leaning against the goal post — with his hat off, of course, it being an indoor game. And he waved me over to hear what he had to say.
“You know why I’m back, don’t you?” I didn’t, but I nodded anyway. “I only come back when Alabama plays football, and I’ve not seen an Alabama team in years. It’s good to be back.
“You see, there’s only one way to win — to win game after game, year after year. You block better than the other team. You tackle better than the other team. And you never, ever quit.
“And you can pass and run schemes and all that stuff, but great teams, well, when they need to, they play smash-mouth. They run it right at you. They say, ‘We’re running off tackle. Let’s see if you’re man enough to stop it, because it’s coming!’ And that’s what I saw tonight. Alabama football.
“You remember that ‘The Fourth Quarter’s Ours’ thing I started where the team raised four fingers at the beginning of the fourth quarter? Well, that’s not about being a little better than the other team in the last quarter. It’s about making the other team wish the game was over!
“You knock ’em down, pick ’em up, pat ’em on the butt, and then you knock ’em down again. And you do that until they know they’ve played Alabama! And it’s not like playing other teams. Alabama doesn’t win. Half the teams in the country win every Saturday. Alabama dominates. And tonight, for the first time in years, the fourth quarter was ours!”
Underneath the scowl and behind the rumbling voice, the man seemed excited … like he wished he was coaching again.
“I nearly didn’t come back, because of that *&(^%^ E … S … P … N,” he said pausing after each letter for emphasis. Bryant spit on the ground. “Those *&(^%^ act like the football season is a contest for the Heisman Trophy. Well, no one at Alabama’s ever won the *&(^%^ Heisman, and no one had better ever win the *&(^%^ Heisman!
“There’s only one kind of great player. That’s a player who’s part of a great team. We don’t retire jerseys at Alabama, because we celebrate teams. If a really good player comes through — and we’ve had some good ‘uns — then we let other players wear his number and try to do even better. And there aren’t many individual records set by my players that haven’t been broken. That’s how it ought to be!
“But I tell you this. If a team goes undefeated, well, nobody will ever break that record! You can’t do better than zero losses. And some of my teams set records that’ll last forever!
“I coached some really good players, you know, but I’ve only had great teams. Football is a team sport. This ‘race for the Heisman’ thing is just wrong. Football is a great sport because it teaches great life lessons. It takes boys and makes men … men who play on teams. Men who know how to work together, to set goals together, to sacrifice together …”
For a moment, I thought he was going to choke up, but I must have been mistaken.
“Yeah, I know ol’ John David Crow won that trophy back when I was at A&M, but you’ve got to realize we didn’t even know what it was back then. It was just some old guys passing out a prize at year end. Nobody tried to win it back then. If anyone on my staff had actually campaigned for it, I’d have fired him on the spot. That *&(^%^ trophy just kind of happened.
“But that team I saw playing football today … it didn’t have a single Heisman candidate on it. No stars, just really good players trying to be part of a great team … an Alabama team.”