Texas A&M’s first Heisman Trophy winner dons khaki shorts and a white and maroon A&M shirt for a morning on the golf course. His clothes proclaim his loyalty to his university, but his love for Alabama is also obvious.
The two schools will clash on Saturday for the most anticipated college game of the season. But for John David Crow, the game will be special because of his ties to both teams. The first Aggie Heisman Trophy winner served as an assistant coach for Alabama under Paul “Bear” Bryant after his 11-year career in the NFL. His late son, Johnny, also played for Alabama under Coach Bryant.
On Saturday, the two teams face off for the first time since A&M stunned the country by defeating Alabama last year, when the Aggies traveled to Tuscaloosa and exploded to a surprising 20-0 lead. The Aggies managed to hold the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide at bay for a final score of 29-24.
“I tell everybody that A&M is my true love and that I want us to win everything that we do, but Alabama is a close second because of the ties I had with Coach Bryant, and with my son playing over there,” Crow said.
Crow, a former halfback and linebacker for Texas A&M, won the Heisman as a senior in 1957. He was the only Aggie to do so until Johnny Manziel.
He calls the Heisman a team effort and believes he largely received the award due to Bryant’s advocacy for him. The coach once said of Crow, “If he doesn’t win it, then they ought to quit giving it.”
Crow grew close to Bryant during his time at A&M, as did most of his players, he said. He looked up to Bryant, describing him as a person that he admired and loved like a father, possibly because the coach was so similar to his own father.
“I’ve talked about Coach Bryant so many times in my life because he was such a big part of my life, and our life, my family, and I was very honored to have played under him,” Crow said.
In 1957, right before Crow took home the Heisman Trophy, Bryant took the job to coach at Alabama. After Crow was drafted into the NFL, Bryant served as his mentor.
“So I did go to him as an adviser for that, for many things. He was a lot smarter than everybody gave him credit for,” Crow said. “Many people thought he was a mean old man who’d kick you in the butt to get you going. Not literally, but that’s the way it was in those days.”
After 11 years in the NFL, Crow entered the coaching world himself. He served as an assistant coach under Bryant from 1969 to 1971. Crow smiled as he recalled working for Bryant as a coach as opposed to a player.
“He was the same, basically, on his coaches as he was on his players; he demanded whatever time it took to do,” Crow said. “He was a tough person, he demanded an awful lot of his players and his coaches, but that was the times. You had to get up when you got knocked down.”
Crow will spend Friday night at a reception for those who played under Bryant at both A&M and Alabama. Come Saturday afternoon, he’ll watch the game of the year in the same suite he’s occupied since the mid-80s.
While Alabama might be out to avenge last year’s loss, Texas A&M senior athletics director Jason Cook said it will take time to create a rivalry between the two teams.
“I wouldn’t really say it’s a rivalry yet, these two institutions have so many ties, from Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant to Gene Stallings, so there’s just a lot of ties and a lot of history that make this game important,” he said.
Caitlin Perrone is a staff writer for the Bryan-College Station Eagle.