I am reading The Last Coach, a life of Paul "Bear" Bryant by Allen Barra. An interesting book by a very good writer. Bryant has been everyone’s image of who is a great football coach and his life story confirms why. Here a few stories from the book that I thought were worth repeating.
Bryant grew up dirt poor in Arkansas and he remembered all his life when he was able to afford to have cleats attached to the shoes he wore playing football in school. He said "I wore those cleats to football, to class, to Sunday school, I wore them in the house, everywhere…" Twenty years later, at the University of Kentucky coach Bryant noticed that his young quarterback, George Blanda, was having trouble asserting leadership off or on the field. Bryant recalled seeing Blanda walk across campus and when he jointed him to talk to them as they walked he noticed Blanda had stuffed cardboard in the bottom of his shoes. Blanda says that a couple of days after that Coach Bryant called him into his office and told him that as quarterback he would be talking to the newspaper reporters so "why don’t you go down to Graves Cox (a local clothing store) and buy yourself some new clothes and maybe new shoes too. In fact, get a couple pair." Blanda protested he did know how he would ever be able to repay the coach and Bryant told him: "George, this is for the University, not for you. You’re going to be in the public eye and it will look good for Kentucky for you to look good in the papers. Don’t worry about the money. The way you are going, you’ll be playing professional football some day and you can pay me back then." Blanda went on to play a record twenty six seasons in the National Football league. He said he tried to pay Bryant back every possible way he could, "but I never really felt like I made up the debt for those shoes."