TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) – WIAT 42 sat down for a rare interview with Paul Bryant Jr. during the weekend of the 2014 Florida game. The 1964 National Championship team was returning to town for the occasion with famous names like Coach Gene Stallings, Coach Howard Schnellenberger and Joe Namath. Bryant has a special relationship with this team.
“I was in school with them,” he says. “These were all my buddies. My class with the next year, but I overlapped with a lot of them–everybody that was on this team.”
The 1964 squad is celebrating the 50th anniversary of their national championship season.
“A lot of them come back to Tuscaloosa regularly,” Bryant explains, “but it’s great that we have them all here at the same time.”
In addition to being a classmate, naturally, Bryant also had the unique perspective of being the son of the team’s famous head coach, Bear Bryant. The coach’s first national championship season with the Tide had been a few years prior, in 1961. Bryant remembers how the coaches wouldn’t let the later teams forget the 1961 players.
“All the players and teams were special,” he says. “The first championship team Alabama had was in 1961. Probably these players [the 1964 team] if you ask them, the coaches would remind them when they coached them of any deficiency or anything they were trying to correct…they would probably say, well the  team wouldn’t have done this. So the  team probably heard that a lot.”
Bryant shared classes in the business school with many of the players from that team.
“They did a wonderful job as players at Alabama, and they’ve collectively done very well in their careers and with their families. We’re really proud that they all chose to come back for this get together.”
Despite Bryant’s unique perspective of the football program, due to his direct connect to the head coach, he is quick to label himself as a fan. He frequently describes the intense commitments the players made to have success in the games.
“They time they spent practicing and in meetings and off-season conditioning workouts were very demanding and extreme,” he says.
Bryant goes on to say, “Most folks think it’s the play call, or something that happens, but it’s the time that they put into preparation.”
That’s one similarity Bryant sees between Coach Bryant’s championship teams and the way Coach Saban works with player, now.
“The preparation was just intense and down to the minute detail,” he says, “and the reason they had the good team as it is now was all that’s put into preparation. A difference from then to now is the physical ability. These guys were the best athletes we had, but they weren’t near as big and as fast. Certainly, the size of the players were a lot different.”
Bryant denies the rumors that he is the reason Nick Saban ultimately came to coach at the University of Alabama. “I haven’t had a role in anything, but I’ve been around it,” Bryant says. “He works as hard as anyone, and of course, he’s the top coach in the country and everyone recognizes that.”
WIAT 42 also asked Bryant if there was anything he wanted to share about his father, Coach Bryant, that most people don’t know. “If I did, I wouldn’t want to share it,” he responds with a smile. “I think the players are really the best ones to talk to about football. I’m not a football authority at all, but I just know how hard they worked when they were in school.”
He did share that his mother supported the team by going to the games and eating in the dormitories with the players. His sister, who was older, occasionally had a tough time when someone would criticize her father. Bryant also grins when he remembers, “She probably didn’t have the dates she would have had, otherwise, because everybody was scared to come to Coach Bryant’s house, but that was way back then.”
As for Bryant, himself, “You know, I just enjoyed the association with it. Being around it.”
Before finishing our interview, WIAT 42 asked Bryant if there was anything else that he just wanted to add. His response: “I think the fans that are watching from a distance tend to want to second guess the players when every play isn’t perfect on the offense or defense, and I think, unless they’re really done it, they don’t really know what’s involved.” He refers back to the 1964 National Championship team by saying, “I think these guys, coming back for this reunion…I don’t think you’d ever see them second guessing the present players, or whoever, somebody that doesn’t complete every pass. They’ve been in the ring and done that, and know the amount of work it takes.”
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