The Missing Ring: How Bear Bryant and the 1966 Alabama Crimson Tide Were Denied College Football’s Most Elusive Prize Keith Dunnavant Thomas Dunne Books 1st editionJan 31
During the turbulent battles over issues such as civil rights and Vietnam in the mid-1960s, the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide football team, led by legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, had its own causebecoming the first team in modern college history to win the national championship for three straight years. In this solid if somewhat overlong study of the Tide’s quest, Dunnavant expands upon his earlier Bryant biography, Coach, to explore how national politics and collegiate sports inevitably collided. While the bulk of the book delivers insightful profiles of the team’s working-class players and fast-paced looks at the team’s unbeaten season, it also convincingly argues that Alabama’s image as reflecting “establishment America” was skewed by “the poisonous climate” of Gov. George Wallace’s segregationist policies. But in a provocative account of a late-season meeting with Notre Dame, Dunnavant names his story’s true villains: Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian, who, as Dunnavant sees it, played for a tie, sitting “on the ball to avoid a turnover” instead of playing to win”the most cynical act in college football history”and the sportswriters who voted “media darling” Notre Dame the national champion over a team from “a state seen by many Americans as a national pariah.” (Sept.)
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This book fortunately is more than its title would imply, being a deeper, broader portrait of the celebrated but flawed University of Alabama football teams coached by Bear Bryant in the mid-1960s. While author Dunnavant, who has already written a full biography of Bryant (Coach, 1996), ostensibly focuses on that 1967 team–a group that was undefeated but was, controversially, segregated–he reveals the sheer willfulness that marked Bryant’s teams over the coach’s 25-season tenure. The author also places that 1967 season into rich historical context, which saw the state of Alabama and its governor, George Wallace, vainly leading the fight nationwide against civil rights. Dunnavant too readily excuses Bryant, who abided the segregation, for his role in that system. But he makes clear that segregation probably cost the undefeated Tide the 1967 championship to Notre Dame, which tied one game that season by letting the clock run out rather than having the valor to go for the win. Alan Moores
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“Keith Dunnavant’s triumph is that he takes us into the heart of Alabama, into the darkness and the light, and there we see Joe Namath, Kenny Stabler, Ray Perkins, and their band of brothers play football for Bear Bryant the way life should be lived, at full throttle, indomitably.”
—Dave Kindred, author of Sound and Fury: Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship
The Missing Ring is more than a football book. It is both a story of a changing era and of an extraordinary team on a championship quest.
Very few institutions in American sports can match the enduring excellence of the University of Alabama football program. Across a wide swath of the last century, the tradition-rich Crimson Tide has claimed twelve national championships, captured twenty-five conference titles, finished thirty-four times among the country’s top ten, and played in fifty-three bowl games.
Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip into the Heart of Fan Mania
St. John’s account of following the University of Alabama’s football team as a part of the team’s fanatical legion of tailgaters is just as much fun as the book’s title (words to a school chant). As St. John, an Alabama native who writes for the New York Times, tries to join Bama RV nation, he spends five months obsessing about every tiny detail associated with Alabama football and, in the process, comes into contact with a slew of good ol’ boys, well-to-do entrepreneurs and the most hated man in Alabama. Despite his own passion for Bama football, St. John is an outsider and must go to the extreme, like buying his own dilapidated RV (astutely nicknamed “The Hawg”), to be completely accepted by the hardcore RV-owning regulars. Driving the country roads from Gainesville to Nashville, St. John uncovers the ugly, quirky and splendid qualities of both football fans and the states below the Mason-Dixon line. But this book is more than a beer and barbecuefueled travelogue. St. John also explores the sociological and physical effects of being a rabid sports fan. These journalistic asides contrast nicely with St. John’s superstitious, obsessed sports-fan persona, which rules much of this amusing and insightful book.
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What is it about sports that turns otherwise sane people into raving lunatics? Why does winning compel people to tear down goal posts, and losing, to drown themselves in bad keg beer? In short, why do fans care?
In search of answers, Warren St. John seeks out the roving community of RVers who follow the Alabama Crimson Tide from game to game. A movable feast of Weber grills and Igloo coolers, these are hard-core football fans who arrive on Wednesday for Saturdays game: The Reeses, who skipped their own daughters wedding because it coincided with a Bama game; Ray Pradat, the Episcopal minister who watches the games on a television beside his altar while performing weddings; and John Ed, the wheeling and dealing ticket scalper whose access to good seats gives him power on par with the governor. In no time at all, St. John buys an RV and joins the caravan for a full football season, chronicling the world of the extreme fan and learning that in the shadow of the stadium, it can all begin to seem strangely normal.
Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is not only a hilarious travel story, but a cultural anthropology of fans that goes a long way toward demystifying the universal urge to take sides and to win.