Eight husky players carried Paul 'Bear' Bryant to his...


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Eight husky players carried Paul 'Bear' Bryant to his grave under a bare hickory tree and more than 8,000 mourners in two cities said goodbye Friday to the man they called the greatest football coach who ever lived.

A crowd of 5,000 -- many dressed as though for an Alabama football game -- watched in eerie silence as the grim-faced young pallbearers carried Bryant's flower-blanketed casket to the grave.


Only the sound of one woman sobbing broke the stillness.

A funeral procession three miles long, consisting of more than 300 cars and six buses carrying Bryant's last University of Alabama team and many of his former players, drove the 60 miles to Birmingham behind the white hearse after funeral services in Tuscaloosa.

Hundreds of cars were lined up alongside the interstate in Birmingham to watch the procession pass. Several red and white banners reading 'We Love You, Bear' flapped from interstate overpasses as the motorcade rolled by.


At the request of Bryant's wife, Mary Harmon Bryant, the motorcade passed Bryant-Denny Stadium, the Crimson Tide's home field, and drove within sight of Legion Field in Birmingham, scene of many of his greatest victories.

Bryant, who won 323 games in his 38 seasons -- more than any other college coach -- died Wednesday of a heart attack only 28 days after retiring. He was 69.

The pallbearers were defensive backs Jeremiah Castille, Jerrill Sprinkle and Tommy Wilcox; quarterbacks Paul Fields and Walter Lewis; linebacker Eddie Lowe; offensive tackle Mike McQueen, offensive tackle, and split end Darryl White.

Assistant Alabama Coach Kent Johnston said 'The family picked them. They wanted husky ones.' But it appeared they had leaned toward quickness instead -- only two of the pallbearers weighed over 200 pounds, although all were remarkably muscular.

'I think Coach Bryant was the greatest leader this country ever had,' said his former All-America and Dallas Cowboy linebacker Lee Roy Jordan. 'And not just the leader of Alabama football players, but of the whole nation.'

The funeral service at the First Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa was deeply religious, with little reference to Bryant's career or character. 'We give thanks to God for his personal strength in leading men and the tenderness with which he could touch a child,' the Rev. Joe Elmore said.


Gov. George Wallace and former Washington Redskins Coach George Allen, representing President Reagan, were among the 400 dignataries, family members and friends who packed the church for the rites.

Because of the overflow crowd, the service also was piped into the nearby First Baptist Church, which seated 1,300, and the Presbyterian Church, which accommodates 600.

Hundreds of others gathered silently outside the Methodist church to wave goodbye when Bryant's body was loaded into a hearse for the trip to Elmwood Cemetery.

Former New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath -- Bryant's most famous player -- former Oklahoma Coach Bud Wilkinson and Georgia Coach Vince Dooley were among those at the graveside, bathed in bright sunshine.

Many of the members of Bryant's last team held their faces in tense grimaces, obviously fighting back tears, at the graveside. Others cried openly.

It was perhaps the most oddly attired gathering of mourners the cemetery had ever seen. Mrs. Bryant was dressed in a simple black dress and veil. She was accompanied by her son, Paul Bryant Jr., and daughter, Mae Martin Tyson.

But many mourners wore crimson and white, the colors of the Crimson Tide. Some wore Alabama caps and others were seen in houndstoothcheck hats, which Bryant always wore on the sidelines on game day.


A number of people wore T-shirts that said 'It Took a Giant to Replace the Bear,' referring to former New York Giants Coach Ray Perkins, whom Bryant selected to succeed him at Alabama last month.

In a brief graveside service, the crowd recited the 23rd Psalm and the Lord's Prayer and then Bryant's family left, with the mourners straggling behind and the simple pine casket still beside the grave.

It was lowered into an underground vault later.

Other sports notables at the funeral included New York Jets quarterback Richard Todd, Jets defensive lineman Marty Lyons, former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, former Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Dodd, Duke Coach Steve Sloan, former Ohio State Coach Woody Hayes, Florida Coach Charlie Pell, former Arkansas Coach Frank Broyles and Auburn Coach Pat Dye.

Half a dozen helicopters carrying news photographers hovered near the cemetery, which lies at the end of a black community in southwest Birmingham. The family had asked that cameras be barred from the services.

Latest Headlines