Thirty-two years ago: ‘Bear Bryant has died’

It was about this time of day 32 years ago when the news flashed across my computer screen

Cleveland
Cleveland

at The Clarion-Ledger: “Bear Bryant has died. Details to come.”

I was stunned. At first, I just flat didn’t believe it. I had covered his last game as a coach in the Liberty Bowl about a month before.

Quickly, we went to work, planning the next day’s coverage, funeral coverage and a special commemorative section.

And then, I was off to Tuscaloosa cover the biggest funeral I have ever seen. The two Jackson newspapers sent four writers and two photographers.

It may sound odd now that a Mississippi newspaper would cover the death of football coach one state over with so much depth. But Bryant wasn’t just any coach, and he had earned Mississippi’s respect by dominating our teams and doing so with class for more than three decades.

I’ll never forget his impromptu speech to Mississippi State players after State had beaten him 6-3 at Memorial Stadium in 1980. Thirty-five years later, those State players will tell you that Bryant’s speech, while standing on a folding chair, is one of their most poignant memories on one of the greatest afternoons of their lives.

And I’ll never forget a guy driving up to the funeral home in Tuscaloosa. He was bleary-eyed and looked as if he hadn’t slept in weeks. I asked him if he minded talking to me about Bear Bryant.

He said, “I heard the news on my car radio in New Jersey yesterday, and I just turned around headed this way. I don’t know why, I just had to come. I mean, man, I can’t believe Bear Bryant is dead.”

There were hundreds of stories like that. Bryant touched people everywhere.

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Click here: Remembering my first encounter with Bear Bryant.

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