Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ROBERT DEWITT: 'Bear' Can Rest a Little Bit More Peacefully Now

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ROBERT DEWITT: 'Bear' Can Rest a Little Bit More Peacefully Now

Article excerpt

TUSCALOOSA | When I think back on that winter and spring 30 years ago, the image that always comes to mind is bleakness.

I was living in a basement level apartment with gun-slit windows that seemed perpetually cold. Very little light got in, anyway, and what did seemed to get absorbed into the dark, sheet-paneled walls and ugly green carpet.

Campus always goes through a transformation from fall to winter. What was once lively and colorful suddenly seems drab and lifeless. Bare branches frame everything. Instead of lingering in sunny spots between classes wearing colorful clothing like songbirds looking for a mate, students take direct lines between buildings, tightly clad in drab, heavy winter coats.

It seemed particularly bleak on that late January day when I stood on the curb in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium and watched the hearse roll past. I don't know why every Alabama fan in America didn't want to stand exactly where I was on that day. But there was plenty of room.

Of course, the news cameras wanted to shoot pictures of the hearse rolling past the stadium where Coach Paul W. "Bear" Bryant had spent so many successful Saturday afternoons. So you can see me in a good many of the video and photo images, standing there in my L.L. Bean overcoat with the fur collar, my hand over my heart.

I didn't know what else to do with my hands, and I didn't have a hat to take off and hold over my heart. So I'm standing there looking like I'm saying the pledge of allegiance with no flag anywhere to be seen.

I'm not crying like a lot of the people you see in the videos. I'd done that the night that I found out he died, embarrassingly in front of my roommate. I'd been fine when he handed me a straight shot of whiskey and told me the news. But when I called my parents to tell them the news, the tears came.

It's not like I knew him personally. The two up-close encounters I'd had with him certainly left no impression on him. The first was as a freshman during the annual melee that was called "registration." Students swarmed what was then called "Memorial Coliseum" trying to secure their classes for the coming semester. They jostled and pushed and gave ground to no one.

And yet suddenly they parted as miraculously as the Red Sea before the Israelites. I heard a hushed muttering, saw the people stepping back so that he could pass and then he strode past me, giant-like, taller than everyone else with a big smile that a 35-6 licking of Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl had put on his face.

The other was when I interviewed him in his office. Everything about the experience made me feel inadequate. I felt like the baby- blue Izod sweater I wore made me look like a sissy. I couldn't get my hand around his enormous, hard, calloused farmer's paw to properly grip it for our handshake. …

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