Paul Bryant coached Alabama to 232 victories, six national championships and a unique place in the hearts of Crimson Tide fans for more than a half-century.
There were so many great players in those 25 seasons, yet none won a Heisman Trophy.
One Bryant player did win the Heisman ... in the season that paved the way for Bryant to return to Alabama to coach his alma mater. This Heisman race took place with a team bearing down on a national title, only to see that dream fade in the season's closing weeks after Bryant's contractual courtship with Bama went public.
John David Crow, a halfback and linebacker for Bryant at Texas A&M in 1957, won the Heisman as a senior. His offensive statistics weren't impressive, even by 1957 standards; he topped 100 rushing yards only once and didn't even lead the Southwest Conference in rushing. But playing at 6-foot-2 and 214 pounds, he was a rugged runner, relentless blocker and ferocious tackler. He even kicked a few PATs when called upon.
"The reason I played was because I could play defense," Crow, 76, said recently from his home near A&M in College Station, Texas. "Coach Bryant thought you win on defense and special teams: 'Just don't screw it up on offense.' He was pretty successful at doing that."
Bryant had stated that if Crow didn't win the Heisman, they should stop giving it out. Crow believes Bryant's "campaign" for him was pivotal.
"He didn't do much bragging on players," Crow said. "There were people in Oregon and Washington who never saw me play a down, but what he said caught their attention."
Crow collected 1,183 points with a high of 241 first-place votes. Alex Karras, a senior defensive tackle for Iowa, finished second in points (693) and first-place votes (128).
Classmate Loyd Taylor, Crow's partner at halfback, didn't need convincing by Bryant or anyone else.
"He was a great, great athlete," said Taylor, who lives in Bryan, Texas. "A great, great teammate for four years."
A northern Louisiana native who starred at Springhill High School, Crow spurned Notre Dame, Oklahoma and his home-state LSU for the all-male military college primarily to play for Bryant, who reminded him of his strict, disciplined father.
After Crow starred in his second A&M varsity game as a sophomore in 1955, the Bear bragged that Crow "ran over everybody." "But then in closed-door sessions," Crow said, "he made sure that I didn't actually believe all of that stuff."
In 1955, A&M improved to 7-2-1 from 1-9 in Bryant's first season. The Aggies then went 9-0-1 in 1956 and won the Southwest Conference, but they couldn't play in a bowl due to probation. The Bear's production in those two seasons, compared with Alabama's 2-17-1 record under J.D. "Ears" Whitworth, sparked pleas from Bama fans to bring Bryant home with seven years to go on his A&M contract.
A&M began the 1957 season ranked second in The Associated Press poll behind Oklahoma, winner of 40 consecutive games. Crow saw little action in the first three games because of a knee injury suffered minutes into the opener. He didn't play a full game until the fifth week, against TCU. His 40 yards rushing in a 7-0 victory were overshadowed by his interception and a forced fumble, both inside the Horned Frogs' 10-yard line.
When the Aggies beat Baylor 14-0 a week later for their fourth shutout in six games, they passed also-unbeaten OU in the poll.
A&M trailed for the first time all season playing at Arkansas on Nov. 2. The Aggies won 7-6, and Bryant credited the victory accordingly: "The good Lord, a group of fine boys and old Crow. You don't have to be a Phi Beta Kappa to see that Crow was all over the place."
A&M improved to 8-0 the following week by beating SMU 19-6. Crow had two interceptions, completed a halfback pass and kicked two PATs as the fill-in kicker. And "blocked like a truck," Bryant said.
Next was a Nov. 16 date at Rice down in Houston. Taylor recalls A&M players being concerned that week when Bryant was late for a practice. ("That was a no-no," Taylor said.) The Bear finally showed up in a suit and tie, which was unusually stylish attire for the coach, Taylor said. But of course a sweatshirt and whistle wouldn't have been appropriate for negotiating with Alabama representatives.
On the morning of the Rice game, the top-ranked Aggies awoke in the Shamrock Hotel near the Rice campus to a story in the Houston Post written by Jack Gallagher stating Bryant's move to Alabama was a done deal. That afternoon, the largest crowd to see a football game to date in Texas (72,000) watched the Owls stun the Aggies 7-6.
Afterward, Crow lamented he played "like a sorry freshman." Today, he concedes the Bryant situation affected the team.
"We would have won the national championship if that hadn't happened," Taylor said.
A&M was still eligible to win the Southwest Conference title and earn its first trip to the Cotton Bowl in 16 years with a win at home against a young Texas team under first-year coach Darrell Royal. The Longhorns won 9-7, and some Texas fans tried to pull down the goalposts at Kyle Field. That venture was quickly discouraged by Aggies faithful and cadets, some of the latter drawing their sabers.
Meanwhile, in Tuscaloosa, Whitworth's Tide extended Alabama's record for consecutive losing seasons to four upon finishing 2-7-1 for the second year in a row (after going winless in 1955).
In early December, Bryant officially signed with Bama. "This is the most difficult thing I've ever had to do," he said. "The only reason I'm going back home to Alabama is because my school called me."
The Aggies finished 10th in the final 1957 poll, which was released before bowl play back then. But their swoon continued, losing to Tennessee in the Gator Bowl 3-0.
It was Crow's year, however, and he took the Heisman home to College Station.
No other Aggies player has won the Heisman, and A&M hasn't been No. 1 since November 1957.
Crow played 11 NFL seasons for the Cardinals and 49ers, earning four trips to the Pro Bowl. He was an assistant coach with the Browns and Chargers from 1972 to 1975.
Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1976, Crow was the head coach at Northeast Louisiana from 1976 to 1980. He served as Texas A&M's athletic director from 1988 to 1993 and retired from the university in 2001.
Crow said winning the Heisman became more meaningful as the years passed because he would be Bryant's only winner. He worshipped his coach and developed a close relationship with him later in life, even serving as an assistant coach under Bryant at Alabama from 1969 to 1971.
"If I had a problem, I'd call my dad," he said. "But if I really had a problem dealing with the outside world, I would call Bryant."