Authors: Creg Stephenson & Kirk McNair
Foreword by Mal Moore
Publisher: Triumph Books
Price: $16.95 (Paper)
01/09/2012 "Always A Crimson Tide" is not exactly a "written" book in the sense, say, of Allen Barra's masterful biography of Paul Bryant, "The Last Coach," or Delbert Reed's very fine report on the contributions of Alabama football players in World War II, "When Winning Was Everything."
"Always a Crimson Tide" is a compendium, a kind of omnibus volume of information about the football program, as its full subtitle suggests: "Players, Coaches, and Fans Share
Their Passion For Alabama Football: Paul 'Bear' Bryant and Alabama's Greatest Players."
The volume is subdivided into large sections. There is, for example, a 51-page section, "Bama Goes Bowling" in which each Alabama bowl game is summarized.
A major complaint with this volume is in fact that the same stories, verbatim, may appear in two or even three sections. Stronger editing was needed.
Although of course there is a good deal about Coach Bryant, it was nice to read the section "Alabama's Other Great Coaches" with the entries on head coaches such as Wallace Wade and Frank Thomas but also on some assistant coaches. In the many quotes in interviews with past players, their love for and indebtedness to Hank Crisp, Ken Donohue, Pat Dye, Clem Gryska, Dude Hennessy, Mal Moore, Howard Schnellenberger and others becomes powerfully evident. Great head coaches assemble great teams of assistants, who usually have a strong day-to-day, man-to-man relationship with the players.
In another section, "The Champion Seasons," the seasons in which Alabama either won or nearly won, or should have won, a national championship, are summarized, each season in about a page.
"All-Time Greats: Alabama's Hall of Famers" gives brief biographical sketches of players who have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Alabama is well represented—from receiver Don Hutson who was inducted in the very first class, 1951, to Woodrow Lowe in 2009.
This section is followed, very sensibly it seems to me, by "20 More of Bama's Best," short bios of players like Joe Namath, Marty Lyons, Barry Krauss, Shaun Alexander, Ken Stabler and others who have not yet been inducted, although they may in fact already be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This volume was put together by Creg Stephenson, who has the MA in journalism from UA, and Kirk McNair, who served as sports information director at the University. McNair conducted most of the interviews.
In his introduction, Stephenson, with admirable candor says, "The most well-versed of you may already have heard or read many of these stories [but] perhaps you will learn a thing or two."
(In fact, the long and glorious Alabama football tradition has inspired such a shelf of books, the strength coach could close down the weight room and just have the players carry around Alabama football books.)
He's right on both counts.
The best parts of this book are the many interviews with past players, who usually give predicable if heartfelt responses. The majority in fact declare that the ferocious training and discipline were crucial in later life, whether in business, coaching or the military. No surprise there.
But once in a while something unexpected appears. Vaughn Mancha ('44-'47), whom I did not know of, recalls, "You never know how Alabama football is going to help you. When I was at Columbia I got pulled over for speeding. The policeman was from Alabama and recognized my name from my playing days and he let me off with a warning."
Also, Mancha says: " …at Columbia I coached Brian Dennehey. He said he couldn't understand a redneck like me, but he understood a kick in the butt."