On September 11, 1913, Paul William Bryant was born in Munro Bottom, Arkansas, the eleventh of twelve children born to Wilson Monroe and Ida Kilgore Bryant. From a young age, he was undertaking legendary things, like the time when, at age 13, he agreed to wrestle a bear at a carnival. The nickname "Bear" stuck.
By 1930, Bear was a high school football player whose team won the Arkansas state championship, but he didn't quite make it to graduation. In fact, when the Bear was offered a football scholarship to the University of Alabama, he had to finish up his degree at a Tuscaloosa-area high school while undertaking fall practice with the Tide.
Now, here in Kentucky, we know Bear Bryant as the Coach who toughened up the Wildcat football team for eight seasons and reinvented the way we recruited our players. He took the 'Cats to their first Bowl game in 1947 and on to their first SEC Conference title in 1950.
The 1950 Wildcats went on to upset the #1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners in the Sugar Bowl, with a final score of 13-7. That Sugar Bowl game is considered one of the greatest upsets in college football history, as the Wildcats ended Oklahoma's run for an undefeated season.
Now, as we all know, Coach Bryant stayed in Lexington through 1953. The stories are murky about why he left us to coach the A & M Aggies. Some say it's over a fight with Coach Rupp over a Cadillac, a watch, or maybe a cigarette lighter. Others say that the rivalry between the two legendary Kentucky coaches has been over-dramatized. In 1966, Bryant himself told Sports Illustrated: "The trouble was we were too much alike, and he wanted basketball No. 1 and I wanted football No. 1...In an environment like that one or the other has to go."
I hear that, after his 8 seasons at Kentucky were over, he tried his hand at coaching Down South and took to wearing a snazzy hat. I'll leave the stories of those years to our friends in Alabama who can tell them way better than I ever could.
Here's to Coach Bryant and the 1951 Sugar Bowl. Go Big Blue!