Aug. 18, 2008
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -
An important link to the University of Alabama football program's past and present were reunited this past weekend with a golden anniversary celebration.
Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's first Crimson Tide football team returned to the campus for a 50-year reunion as some 75 former players, coaches and family members of the 1958 UA squad reminisced about their time at the Capstone.
Bryant came to Alabama in January of 1958 and inherited a program that had won only four games in the previous three seasons, including a 0-10 record in 1956. Bryant immediately instilled a winning attitude with a rigorous off-season weight program, spring practice and the start of fall camp.
In the span of four years, Bryant took a program from a winless season to the national championship in 1961. Eleven true freshmen on the 1958 team were part of that 1961 national championship squad, including Pat Trammel, John O'Linger, Billy Neighbors, Tommy Brooker, Billy Richardson, Bill Oliver and Mal Moore.
While a member of Bryant's first team, Moore was a player and assistant coach on all six national championships in the Bryant era. This weekend he also served as host and tour guide for the group as the Crimson Tide's Director of Athletics.
"No question, these guys are very close," Moore said. "I was a freshman on the '58 team. I remember every one of them. I can see everything that happened in my mind. I did want to share this day with them, because I know they are proud of everything that we have done. This is their university and their home. I really enjoyed the weekend.
"That makes it real special that we came in here and we came in here with Coach Bryant. The first year we were 5-4-1 and then later national champions. You remember it all. I think at one time or another, every one of us wanted to quit. I did. I had never been out of the town of Dozier. But somehow, you'd hang in there for another day, another week and somehow you had made it through the semester. You just became more comfortable. A lot of players went other places, but that was all a part of making that big change and changing the way a team thinks. When you look back on it, it was remarkable."
In 1958 Marlin "Scooter" Dyess was a sophomore running back from Elba, Ala., for the Tide. Dyess returned this weekend and enjoyed seeing old teammates and recalling the fond memories of his UA playing career.
"I am proud to be a small part of it," Dyess said. "Coach Bryant called our team the `turnaround team'. The first year we almost beat Auburn and the next year we beat them, and from there on you know the history of the Auburn series. What created this turnaround were all the people that stayed. We lost 30 guys in the spring and fall together and a lot of them were better athletes than the ones that stayed."
Dave Sington, was a co-captain (with Bobby Smith) on the 1958 squad. His brother, Fred Jr., was a freshman that year. Their father, Fred, Sr., was a former Tide great and All-American at the Capstone during the heyday of the 1930s.
"Everybody had high expectations," Sington recalls. "You had a team that won four games over a period of three years, and basically speaking, we went 5-4-1 that year, and were in a couple of games that we should of won. I think the players were just trying to survive. I think we knew when we went on the field that somehow or another, we were going have to try to win that football game anyway we could. We did win a couple that we weren't supposed to."
Sington holds the distinction of scoring the first points in the Bryant era with the 37-yard field goal against LSU at Ladd Stadium in Mobile.
"As Coach Moore and Coach (Gene) Stallings told us (at Friday night's dinner), we were the beginning of it. It makes you kind of proud to know that you were the beginning of something. I always remember Coach Bryant using the word "oneness". You have to have that with a team and this team was that way. The oneness is still there among these teammates." That oneness has made the Crimson Tide one of college football's most successful programs.
Editor's Note: The 1958 Alabama football team held its 50th reunion this past weekend in Tuscaloosa. This is the first installment of a series depicting the weekend's events.