Twenty years ago today, the man who established Alabama football as a frenzied, myth-drenched, quasi-religion, the man whom they called “Bear”, died. That man, of course, was Wallace Wade.
Yes, Wallace freakin’ Wade, all right? In 1926, he took his Alabama squad on a cross-country train ride to play Washington in the Rose Bowl. Wade, an Ivy League man, knew all too well the attitude that awaited them. Barely two generations removed from the Civil War, it’s no surprise that Alabama was a severe underdog in the game. After all, football is a game of strategy and teamwork. What chance would a squad of Southern boys have?
History records the 1926 Rose Bowl as a hard sell. Local fans didn’t think they’d get their money’s worth watching Washington manhandle a hapless Crimson Tide. One imagines that many ticket-holders may have left after the first half, when the Huskies led by an impressive score of 12-0. Too bad, as those early birds missed a hell of football game, which ended as a one-point Alabama victory.
After that, the Alabama Crimson Tide was big, bad, and nationwide.
A little too big, probably. The notoriety brought increased attention, expectations, and accountability as George Denny, the university’s president – perhaps you thought his last name was ‘Stadium’ or ‘Chimes’, used Bama football to market the school’s image around the nation. Wade eventually left Alabama to coach the football team at—where was it?
Oh yes. Duke.
Freakin’ A, Duke! And he was won just as many games with the Blue Devils as with the Tide. Wade represents the primary crest in the wavelength measurement of Duke football coaches (with our beloved S. Orr Spurrier being the second). Nowadays, Duke football travels the nation accepting big paydays for four-quarter beatdowns. Tomorrow’s stop is Tuscaloosa. Plenty of seats are still available.
So if you go, remember the lessons of Alabama’s first bear. Underdogs are not to be trusted, and stay for the whole game.