I attended the Butler County Bama Club Friday evening, where I had the pleasure of meeting former Lakeside Chief Paul Trodd, the former Eufaula move-in from England who knew nothing of the American game only to wind up kicking for the Chiefs and eventually Bear Bryant and Alabama.
I was there during the ever-going New Set of Downs book tour. Former Crimson Tide linebacker Russ Wood, a high school and college teammate of Johnny Dyess, the subject of New Set of Downs, recalled one of the few losses he experienced in the crimson and white.
It was Jackson, Mississippi, Nov. 1, 1980, three days before Ronald Reagan was elected U.S. President. No. 1 Alabama had its 28-game winning streak stopped when the Crimson Tide lost its fourth fumble of the game inside the Bulldogs’ 5 yard line in the closing seconds, losing 6-3. It also ended State’s 22-game skid to the Tide.
A high school football coach who had been a walk-on at Mississippi State told me years later the locker room that day was bedlam. He said it was non-stop celebrating until suddenly a hush came over the jubilant team.
Bryant had walked in enemy territory. He addressed the attentive Bulldogs and growled, “Tomorrow, y’all are gonna read where we gave the game to you. I just want you to know that y’all kicked our %#@.”
Almost in shock, the Bulldogs looked at each other as Bryant walked out of the room. Right about then, the celebration got even louder.
MSU head coach Emory Bellard was hardly surprised by Bryant’s act.
“That’s the kind of man he was,” Bellard told reporters. “He appreciated the kind of effort and performance our young men showed that day.”
Wood and Dyess recalled how things were hardly as joyous in the Alabama locker room, knowing practice was about to get even tougher.
“We usually watched Bryant’s television show on Sunday, but his radio show on Monday night was where we could get a real feel for how our week was gonna be,” said Wood, now living in Spanish Fort.
Wood remembers a caller from Starkville on Bryant’s radio show telling Bryant how he was sorry his Bulldogs had ended the Tide’s long winning streak, but they were sure happy in Starkville and that they were still celebrating.
Wood recalled Bryant not missing a beat, returning with “I’m sure happy for y’all and I’m glad you called the show. I just wish you’d call more than once every 23 years.”
As for Friday in Greenville, former Alabama star running back Major Ogilvie was on hand for the golf tournament as well as several former Tide players. The featured guest was Jake Coker, the St. Paul’s product who began his career at Florida State, backing up future NFL players E.J. Manuel and Jameis Winston. He would transfer to Alabama, and after backing up Blake Sims for a season, Coker and Bama won the NCAA championship in the legendary – 45-40 – victory over Clemson. He signed as a free agent by Arizona in the NFL, but never managed to recover from knee surgery and retired from football in 2017.
Coker did not speak highly of his day playing under Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. While he didn’t name anyone in particular, he said FSU’s program was not up to par as many would have expected when he arrived in 2012. The school didn’t have an indoor practice facility until the following year, and Coker said the Muscle Milks available to players were often expired for two or three days.