Monday, September 06, 2004
By Mitch Dobbs
Alexander Ingram with Mal Moore
Alexander M. Ingram is used to telling the stories, but today he IS the story. Ingram was at the first game played at then-Denny Stadium in 1929. Today, as part of the 75th-anniversary celebration of Bryant-Denny Stadium and Denny Chimes, the University of Alabama is recognizing Ingram as a part of Alabama football history.
Ingram grew up in Tuscaloosa and has attended approximately 450 University of Alabama football games (probably more, but he¹s never counted). Born October 13, 1915, Ingram said he's seen every Alabama national championship team play, but the earliest game Ingram vividly recalls is the 1928 Tennessee game, which began the current run in the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry.
"The first time I saw us lose was in 1928, and Tennessee beat us 15-13," Ingram said. "I didn't like that at all. I haven't had any use for Tennessee ever since then."
Ingram did not make the trip out to Pasadena for Alabama's first Rose Bowl on January 1, 1926, but he was a part of a large crowd who gathered at the Tuscaloosa High School Auditorium to get play-by-play updates coming across a ticker-tape machine. It wasn't until the following year that the game was broadcast nationally on radio.
"Bo Lewis was your head cheerleader and he stayed in Tuscaloosa," Ingram said. "He had a red megaphone and a red mop. If we had a good play he threw the megaphone up and caught it, and for a touchdown he'd throw the red mop up and catch it. He was very colorful."
The first game in the great stadium was an easy win over Mississippi College, 55-0. The stadium was actually dedicated a week later before Alabama's 22-7 victory over Mississippi (according to Ingram, they were known as the Wildcats back then, not the Rebels).
"It rained bad, real bad," Ingram said of that dedication game. "I don't know if we outplayed them very much so, 22-7 I guess is all right. I sat through the whole game, but a lot of people left because it was awfully wet. They had bleacher seats on the eastern side and bleacher seats in the end zone and the scoreboard was hand-operated. Sometimes they'd put the score upside-down and everybody would yell until they put it up right."
Ingram grew up on Queen City Boulevard, a few doors down from legendary broadcaster Mel Allen and a couple of blocks from Alabama broadcast legend Bert Bank. (Bank was responsible for bringing Alabama football to the radio airwaves). As a child, Ingram was on a neighborhood football team called "The Little Rascals" and Bank served as a referee. Both Ingram and Bank later became decorated World War II veterans.
There are ten games listed as "milestone games" at Bryant-Denny Stadium in the 2004 Alabama media guide, and Ingram has attended them all. He saw Alabama's Jim Burkett score the Tide's first ever 100-yard kickoff return and Alabama's record 833-yard performance against the Virginia Tech Hokies in 1973. "They were called VPI back then," Ingram scolds. And even before that, he says, they were known as the Gobblers.
"You know why they were called Gobblers?" Ingram asked. "They would sit at the table in a dining room at a coal mine and they would gobble their food down. So they became the Gobblers. They weren't good."
In fact, Ingram has not missed a game at Bryant-Denny since the 1950s. For the self-proclaimed old-timers who say Harry Gilmer was better than Joe Namath, Ingram can top you. Dixie Howell was the best he ever saw.
"At the Rose Bowl in that second quarter we threw everything at Stanford. Dixie Howell ran through the whole team, went between that All-America tackle and All-America end and reversed his field and went right past All-America Bobby Grayson for a 67-yard-run for a touchdown, which put us ahead 16-7. He only weighed 160 pounds."
And around campus, Howell apparently had all the charisma of Namath and Kenny Stabler combined.
"I saw (Howell) in January of `35 at Bibb Graves Hall," Ingram said. "I had class in that building and I saw him go in with that letterman's sweater on. He started up those steps - and what made it even better is it echoes in there, and he's a good looking guy ¬and the girls would all poke their heads out the door and shout his name. You'd hear "Dixie! Dixie! Dixie! Dixie!" echoing up and down the hall."
Ingram graduated from Tuscaloosa High in 1934. He enrolled at the University of Alabama in the fall of 1934 and graduated with a degree in Business in 1938. He was a classmate of Paul W. Bryant both at Tuscaloosa High (Bryant was taking some classes in order to get his college prerequisites in order prior to enrolling at UA) and at the University.
One of Ingram's favorite stories is of a dance he attended in 1934. Ingram, a slight man, even by 1930s standards, forked over 50 cents to get into the dance that was held in the upstairs part of a local restaurant.
"I got there late and I saw this cute little girl, Mary Boone, dancing with this tall football player, and she had a pained look on her face," Ingram said. "I told the guys standing by the wall, `I¹m going to break on this guy.' `Break on' meaning to cut-in, and steal the girl for a dance.
"They said "You're crazy, you're crazy. He's twice your size," Ingram continued. "Really he was more than twice my size, but I said `I'm going to do it anyway.' I got over there and I broke on him and he stopped dancing.
"He was a foot taller, and he glared down on me. I think I closed my eyes. I don't know what happened. And then about that time I heard her saying `Thanks a lot! He was about to break my back.' I'd broken on Paul `Bear' Bryant and I lived to tell about it."
It was during this time he became acquainted with Claudia Taylor (later known as Lady Byrd Johnson) when she was a student in summer school at UA.
"Nobody would have anything to do with her because they didn't know her," Ingram said. "I became sort of friendly with her. Along in August one afternoon she said `I'll be seeing you. I'm going home tomorrow.' And then she gave me her name for the first time.
"Thirty years later her picture was on the front page of every newspaper in America and I said `That's Claudia Taylor!' Claudia Taylor was standing by her husband in Dallas who was taking the oath of office as President. She had become Lady Byrd Johnson."
Ingram attended most UA games in the 1930s, and he had a passing acquaintance with Dr. Denny. Ingram said Denny would greet him when they passed each other on campus, but Ingram doesn't know how Denny knew him.
Following his graduation he worked in banking in Birmingham until he entered the Army in 1940. He later was assigned to the Army Air Corps. Following his training in the Army Air Corps, Ingram was assigned to the 94th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in Bury St. Edmunds, England. From there he flew 35 combat missions as a ball turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress in World War II.
He speaks most often of a mission over Brux, Czechoslovkia in May, 1944, that saw over 300 American bombers shot down. During one of the missions he was frostbitten when his electric suit malfunctioned. He still suffers from that injury today.
At 89 years old, Ingram currently lives just a few blocks away from Bryant-Denny stadium and plans to attend all the games at the stadium in 2004 and beyond. He is and will continue to be a part of the history of University of Alabama football and Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Note: A special thank you is due to Tony Riley, who befriended Mr. Ingram while a student at the University in 1984 and has continued their relationship since. Mr. Riley provided much of the background information used in the story.