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Paul 'Bear' Bryant's gift that keeps on giving at Alabama

JERRY CROWE / CROWE'S NEST

Six national titles made the legendary coach a beloved figure at 'Bama, but a scholarship fund he established has made a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of children of former Crimson Tide pla

January 04, 2010|Jerry Crowe

Anyone with even a passing interest in college football is probably familiar with the incomparable legacy of Paul "Bear" Bryant, the late, legendary Alabama coach.

The stadium in Tuscaloosa where Coach Nick Saban's No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide plays its home games is named in Bryant's honor. As are a conference center, a street, a bridge, an academic center and a high school, among other landmarks.

At the Paul W. Bryant Museum, where a reunion is held annually for the more than 500 people named for the former coach, Bryant's achievements can be broken down numerically: six national championships, 14 conference titles, 323 victories, 29 bowl appearances, three unbeaten seasons.

Perhaps equally impressive is this: Nearly three decades after his death, Bryant still touches the lives of the players who helped make the houndstooth-loving coach an Alabama icon.

An unusually generous scholarship fund established by Bryant at the height of his success in the early 1970s is earmarked to benefit the sons and daughters of everyone who ever suited up for the coach during a 25-season run at Alabama that ended in December 1982, a month before he died from a heart attack.

More than 700 children of former Tide players have attended their fathers' alma mater on a Bryant Scholarship, says Alabama Athletic Director Mal Moore, who estimates that about 90 were enrolled during the fall semester.

All they have to do is apply and, upon admission, they are awarded as much as $4,000 a year to defray tuition costs, Moore says. This is true, the athletic director says, whether their father was an All-American linebacker or a fourth-string long snapper, a five-star recruit or a walk-on.

If their father has died, Moore notes, they get a full ride.

"The Bryant Scholarship," says former Alabama quarterback Scott Hunter, whose three grown children all took advantage of it, "is as important as anything he left us."

Paul Bryant Jr., a banker and the coach's only son, says his father established the fund in 1973. "On a cumulative basis," notes Bryant Jr., who administers the program, "he donated more to the university than the university paid him during his career."

Originally, the Bryant Scholarship was designed to serve any student in need, the coach's son says. Its focus shifted in the late 1970s to benefit the children of former players, Bryant Jr. notes, when the son of a late Alabama quarterback enrolled.

Pat Trammell, who was Bryant's first star player at Alabama and led the Tide to a national championship in 1961, had died of metastatic testicular cancer in 1968, only two years after earning his M.D. from the Medical College of Alabama.

Only 28, he left behind a wife and two young children.

In his biography, "Bear," Bryant called the day Trammell died "the saddest day of my life."

About 10 years later, when Pat Trammell Jr. reached college age, Bryant added funds to the scholarship endowment he had established years earlier and asked that, in the future, priority be given to the children of former players.

Since then, Moore says, daughters of Joe Namath and Ken Stabler have attended Alabama on Bryant scholarships, as have children of other former Tide stars such as Major Ogilvy, Tony Nathan, Richard Todd and Jeff Rutledge, as well as sons and daughters of former players far less famous.

"It's especially good when they can meet each other," Bryant Jr. says of the recipients. "Teammates have a bond, and the children of teammates can too. Actually, there have been a few occasions where children of teammates got married."

Moore, who played and coached under Bryant for 24 years, says an annual banquet thrown by the athletic department to welcome the recipients helps to strengthen their connection.

Not all Bryant Scholarship winners, however, are children of former Tide players. Three years ago, a Bryant Scholarship was awarded for the first time to a child of a Tide opponent.

Trey Waldrep is a son of Kent Waldrep, a former Texas Christian defensive back who suffered a broken neck and was paralyzed during a 1974 game against Alabama.

Bryant had taken a special interest in the elder Waldrep, even making him an honorary member of the "A Club."

"Although we beat TCU that day," Moore said in 2006, when Trey Waldrep was awarded a scholarship, "it was a most difficult afternoon for our players and our coaches."

Moore calls the financial-aid program established by Bryant a fitting tribute to a "most generous, caring man."

It certainly is unique.

The late Charlie McClendon, a former Louisiana State coach who played for Bryant at Kentucky, established a similar scholarship endowment at LSU to benefit his former players.

Such programs, however, were later banned by the NCAA, which calls them an "extra benefit" and a recruiting inducement.

Still, the grandfathered Bryant Scholarship lives on.

Moore calls it "one of the greatest things he ever did."

jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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