Category Archives: College Football

Of Doctors and Hustlers — Alabama’s Greatest #12

#12 PAT TRAMMELL and #12 JOE WILLIE NAMATH

When Joe Willie Namath showed up in Tuscaloosa in 1961, he had raccoon eyes, a watch with a chain, and a shaggy head of Hungarian hair beneath a blue straw hat.  He was there because he could not go to the school he wanted.  Instead of studying for the SAT the summer between high school and college, the cool-kicking Namath drank whiskeys with the hustlers of his West Pennsylvania town, some of whose shoes he’d grown up shining.  So he couldn’t achieve the score to get into Maryland, his first choice.   The opportunist Paul Bryant came hard at the amazing Yankee athlete.

In Mark Kriegel’s biographical saga, Namath, Bryant’s secretary says nearly 50 years later she still remembers exactly what the shadowy kid, whose grandparents were full-blood Hungarian and floated on a boat to the States, was wearing the day he showed up in the Alabama coach’s office.  ”He had long hair, blue jeans, z-ring zipper boots, and a men’s undershirt with the sleeves rolled up.  I thought, My goodness.  We are scraping the bottom of the barrel.”  Joe Willie was a fish out of water, less than comfortable, and it would take him a good while to feel welcome.

Four years earlier, when Pat Trammell stepped onto campus, he was not such the oddity.  He sported crew cut hair and dripped confidence.  Former Tide defensive back “Brother” Bill Oliver told Richard Scott, author of Legends of Alabama Football, that on a recruiting weekend before the ‘58 school year, he overheard the bold kid from Scottsboro, Ala., talking with some other recruits about what positions they may play in college.  ”Well,” Trammell told them.  ”Y’all can just forget about quarterback.  I’m going to be the quarterback.”

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As a quarterback, Pat had no ability.  He was not a great runner, but he could score touchdowns.  He didn’t pass with great style, but he completed passes.  All he could do was beat you.”

Paul Bryant
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Where he lacked the raw talent wizardry to run the ‘Bama offense, as Namath would later, Trammell made up for it by being a pure-natural  leader with the brains and the guts.  ”I’ve never known of a smarter player,” UA assistant Jimmy Sharpe once said.  Teammate Billy Neighbors (’59-’61) said his QB being the “smartest” made him the “best football player [he’d] ever played with — and I played with some great players, like Bob Griese and Babe Parelli.  Pat Trammell was still the smartest football player I ever played with.  It was just the way he ran the team, the offense.”

A doctor’s son, he was elite in the classroom as well and planned to attend medical school if he didn’t go pro.  Namath’s old man worked in a Pennsylvania steel mill and was praying his son soaked up whatever education he could in Tuscaloosa, or else play his way into the big leagues — ’cause if not, the SAT flunky would be right back in Beaver Falls, busting it in the mill alongside his father.

A member of Bryant’s first signing class at UA and the leader he needed to win that first national title in 1961, Trammell was the Bear’s favorite player, a fact obvious to the other players by the way the two interacted.  They weren’t just player and coach, they were the best friends.  So when Joe Namath, a phenomenal athlete who seemed like the type the coach would despise for slacking, came to ‘Bama as heir apparent to the lead role, it might seem a little strange how much Coach Bryant liked him.

In high school, the rebel Namath did have a hero.  Johnny Unitas, pro football’s golden arm in those days, was from Pittsburgh, about 45 minutes from Beaver Falls.  Along with most football kids, Joe wanted to be the next Johnny U.  In fact, he wore Unitas’s #19 jersey for home games and #29 away (that was the closest away jersey number his school had in stock).  People around town even called him “Joey U” for a while.  So in 1961,  #12 Trammell’s senior year as the Alabama varsity conductor, Namath geared up to lead the freshman team (back then freshmen had to play on their own squad before graduating to the varsity as sophomores).  He casually told the team manager he’d like to wear #19, not expecting  issue on the matter.  Carney Laslie, the assistant athletic director, quickly denied that modest request:

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Laslie… didn’t care what number Joe wanted or Johnny Unitas or any of that. The University didn’t have a number 19 jersey, and Laslie was too damn stingy to buy one. The boy would get number 12.

“I think Coach Bryant had something to do with that,” says [former Tide assistant] Clem Gryska.

Unitas might have been a great quarterback, but he wasn’t Pat Trammell.  A shining exemplar of Southern virtue, [the Tide’s senior QB] seemed to have little in common with the young Yankee wearing 12 for the freshman team.  But they shared a talent for victory, and in Bryant’s scheme of the world, victory was virtue.

As Bryant’s feelings toward Trammell were well known, Namath’s new number evoked the greatest of expectations. “Word spread,” remembers Clyde Bolton of The Birmingham News. “It was kind of like a beautiful girl had moved to town.”

Namath
by Mark Kriegel
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Trammell certainly wasn’t the type to be jealous by all the attention this new kid on the block got from his coach or anyone else.  Beside, he was ‘Bama’s undisputed field general, and a fierce one at that, having led the Tide in passing, rushing, and scoring as a sophomore in 1959 and rushing and scoring in 1960.

Bryant was maturing as a coach, and he knew a great football team needs not only a strong leader on the sidelines but also someone to call shots, roll heads, on the field.  His valiant and vocal – now veteran – quarterback fit the role from the first day he strapped on a crimson helmet.

“With the intense future doctor in the huddle,” writes Allen Barra, author of The Missing Ring, the Bear didn’t have to worry about kicking [butt], because Trammell’s footprints could often be seen on the other players’ pants.”

Somehow the cocksure Tide QB, a genius of both school and football, even managed to blur the distinction on who, in fact, was the squad’s ranking shotcaller, him or Bryant.  “He was the only guy I knew that could talk back to Coach Bryant,” says Billy Neighbors. ”They’d send in plays and he wouldn’t run ‘em because he knew more about what was going on than the dang coaches.  And Coach Bryant never would say anything to him about it, because he knew Pat was right.  Every time I can ever recall, he was right.”

Pat Trammell was the model quarterback for a championship-caliber football program.  Such natural leadership instinct is rare, and Bryant knew finding a replacement for following seasons would be tough.

He also knew — before he even met Joe Willie Namath face-to-face — that the hustler prince of West Pennsylvania could be one of the greatest players he’d ever put behind center.  Namath once told a man photographing him for his high school football media guide that either he’d have sunglasses on for the snapshots or the man could sit on a tack, so to speak.  So, as of 1961 and with the bulldog Trammell still barking signals for the Crimson Tide, the team’s future quarterback fell short of the standards for leaders or role models the senior #12 had established.  And the other players sure didn’t seem to respect this woppy young greaseball when he showed up looking like S.E. Hinton’s Muse.

Maybe that’s why Bryant shocked to the bone every ‘Bama player and coach when, on Namath’s first day in Tuscaloosa, he invited the 18-year-old into the pit of his practice Tower, where only a governor, a university president, and a comedian whom Bryant enjoyed, had previously been — and nobody to this day can confirm those other invitees.  But all at practice that day remember the time Joe Namath joined Bear Bryant in the Tower.  When the Tide rookie, quite clearly per coach’s orders, was more-or-less commanded to wear #12, every person in the program, whether they realized it or not at the time, began to recognize their next field leader.

That season Trammell flawlessly guided the varsity to 11 wins, zero losses, and both the SEC and national titles while Namath wowed crowds on the freshman team.  As the elder studied medicine instead of playing professional football (his decision to do so was heavily influenced by his former coach and confidant), the younger lived up to expectations, becoming “the greatest athlete I ever coached,” as Bryant would later say, and reeling in All-conference and All-America honors and piles of victories over the next three seasons, which included the ‘62 Orange Bowl, the ‘63 Sugar Bowl,* and the SEC and national crowns in ‘64.

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Broadway Joe was the coolest kid in America, an object of affection for girls and gangsters, a source of bafflement for bookmakers everywhere. He made a debonair comedy of most likelihoods. He walked off with Jagger’s girls. He spilled drinks on Sinatra. He grinned his way through it all.

The Raiders broke his face, and he caught a flight to Vegas, came back the next week, and set a single-season passing record. Namath had a concussion when he hit Maynard  in the AFL Championship Game. He was still drunk the day he threw three touchdown passes against the Patriots in ‘66.

Namath
Kriegel
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Namath could dunk a basketball reverseways, sideways, or just plain in-your-face-ways, and he bragged about giving up the sport when his high school coach attempted to get him and his four black co-starters to play slow-tempo offense.  When he saw signs for “colored water” during his first trip to Tuscaloosa, writes Kriegel in Namath, he wondered what made the water colored.  His first year was full of all kinds of adjustments to the ’60s South, and he nearly skipped town.  Namath stuck to it, however, and was right as rain in 1962 when he finally took the varsity field, the one place he could never be an outcast.

“Nothing came easier to him than football,” said Bryant.

His very first collegiate pass, the second play of the Tide’s opener vs. Georgia, Namath delivered an artistic stroke over the shoulder of receiver Richard Williamson, who never broke stride on his way to a 52-yard score.  “Pat Trammell couldn’t throw it like that,” Williamson says in Namath.  “We’d hadn’t seen anybody who could throw it like that.”

The sophomore finished that debut with a total of three passing touchdowns and another on the ground.  By air, he had 179 yards, and it was obvious he would be shattering Trammell’s single-season school record, set the previous year.  A couple weeks later, a Vanderbilt defender picked at the young QB after popping him one play.  “Hey number 12,” the Vandy player taunted.  “What’s your name?”

“You’ll see it in the headlines tomorrow,” Namath responded.  And then he threw a touchdown on the very next play.

He not only exhibited swagger on the field, but he also executed it with finesse.  His supreme talent-backed confidence was different than Trammell’s who used his head to both outwit his opponents and smash in their facemasks.  Both so different but both so great.

In 1968, when Bryant’s favorite player and person told him he had cancer, the Bear’s heart skipped a beat.  When Trammell died on December 10, 1968, it broke.  One month later, almost to the day, Namath guaranteed his New York Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts, led by his childhood hero, Johnny Unitas.  Meanwhile down in Alabama, Paul Bryant was about to enter one of the toughest periods of his career, wishing he had a Trammel or a Namath to help him.

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Where the Sidewalk Ends

For whoever makes a shelter of reeds and hides has joined his spirit to the common destiny of creatures and he will subside back into the primal mud with scarcely a cry. But who builds in stone seeks to alter the structure of the universe and so it was with these masons however primitive their works may seem to us.

– Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

A Drug Called Tradition has reached the place where the sidewalk ends and walked with a walk that is measured and slow, into a strange new world.
Where the Sidewalk Ends

3SIB We encourage you to follow us — to 3rd Saturday in Blogtober — or as we like to call it: Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West Meets the Evening Amber in the East.

We’ve already introduced ourselves in that bloody coliseum of spit and hate. So join us where October’s sanguine moon always shines the field on that sacred fall Saturday. Beware: the Alabama folks smell of sweet cigars, and the Tennessee people… well… they just smell of rotted cheese and Jack Daniels.

Thank you readers, commenters, and everyone else.  The pleasure’s all on this side of the table, trust us.

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns
crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

– Shel Silverstein

DCT is currently bouncing around ideas for what will become of this site.  Please comment below with ideas and suggestions or email us at drugcalledtradition@gmail.com. Thank you for everything.

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Filed under 2009 College Football, Alabama, Alabama Basketball, College Basketball, College Football, Fulmer, Kiffin, Saban, SEC, SEC Basketball, Tennessee, Uncategorized

The Puppy Who Lost His Way

What happened to our little boy scout?

Andre Smith Boy Scout

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Filed under Alabama, College Football, Former Players, NFL, SEC

Defending the Undefendable

Defending the Undefendable

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Filed under 2009 College Football, College Football, Defiance of Logic, Diversion, Kiffin, SEC, Tennessee

Smelley May Play Football for UA in ’10 – and How It Came to Be

He’s not eligible to toss his name in the barrel for 2009, but former South Carolina quarterback Chris Smelley says he will strongly consider suiting up for the Alabama Crimson Tide football team in 2010.

“It’s a thought,” Smelley said. “I talked to Coach Saban about it when I first got here. It’s a little time down the road. I have to sit out this year, won’t be able to play for, what, a year-and-a-half or so, but it’s something I’d definitely be considering strongly.”

Spurrier Smelley
Lil’ Bumpity-Bump for da’ road. Don’t let your meat loaf Ol’ Ball Coach…

The Tuscaloosa native transferred back home last month to play baseball for the Tide and is currently enrolled at The University. If he does decide he wants to get back under center, he’d have to sit out a season, as he said, and would only have one remaining year of eligibility.

HOW IT CAME TO BE
Fans may remember Smelley, who graduated from Tuscaloosa’s American Christian Academy (ACA) in 2006. He appeared to be the only other signal-caller beside Tim Tebow on Alabama’s radar for most of the ’05-’06 recruiting season.

Mike Shula, ‘Bama’s coach back then, seemed to be the lone human in all the world that didn’t realize Tebow, college football’s most sought-after recruit that year, was a Florida lock – and that the masquerade of a “tough decision” between the Gators and Tide was undoubtedly cooked up by ESPN producers as a storyline for the network’s nationally televised documentary devoted to following around the all-star prospect during his recruitment.

Shula at Tebows
Oh, howdy Coach. Welcome to our lovely town, Smallville Ponte Vedra Beach! Timmy’s back in his room G-chatting with Urban handcrafting Bibles for homeless children. Please wipe your feet on our specially ordered blue-and-orange door mat from the Florida Athletic Department Pottery Barn. Wouldn’t want to track any kryptonite dust in here…Timmy’s allergic to that, you know! What’s the glove for?

Shula spent like 99 hours at Tebow’s home near the Atlantic coast the days before the current UF quarterback’s decision – he apparently missed the Florida Gator helmet mailbox on the way in. Or maybe he forced himself to avert his eyes and pray his last hours-effort on Timmy T would somehow alter the course of fate, as Smelley had committed to South Carolina by the time he reached the Tebow driveway.

The UA coach spent what he surely believed was quality recruiting time with the former Nease High star, probably sitting in Tebow’s bedroom under Florida football posters, bonding as only quarterbacks can…

Left Handed Smudge Guard
See Timbo, us left-handed quarterbacks aren’t freaks! We just have a different blind side…and get poor penmanship grades in elementary school because our stupid cow of a teacher doesn’t notice we’re left-handed…and then when she does finally notice, we have to wear these weird gloves when we write so we don’t smudge the ink! It’s totally normal!

…but the rest is history, as they say.

While Shula was attempting to fit a giant iron block in a tiny iron circle, S.C. coach Steve Spurrier was on Smelley like Jimmy Johns on an eightball, even though the talented QB in ‘Bama’s own backyard reportedly wanted to play for his hometown college.

Alabama never even offered him.

So it goes, Shula hadn’t completely ditched Plan C amid the Tebow ordeal, however. Almost immediately after the “shocking” ESPN commitment announcement and coinciding loss of Smelley to the Gamecocks, the ‘Bama coaching staff jumped all over Texas high school senior Greg McElroy and eventually convinced the Lone Star slinger, who looked like an eight-grader compared to Tebow, to sign with the Tide. McElroy is now a junior in Tuscaloosa and is the favorite to replace three-year starting QB John Parker Wilson as the leader of the offense.

Spurrier promised Smelley “a chance to compete,” and that’s what he got during his three seasons in Columbia. He played in the first two games of his freshman year before being injured for the remainder of ’06. He then competed for the starting QB position over the next two seasons, even sporadically starting over the course of that time. Never able to secure the solid leading role, however, Smelley decided in January 2009 he wanted to come back to Tuscaloosa to try his luck on the baseball diamond.

Smelley Spurrier

When Bear Bryant returned to The Capstone to coach in 1958, he told reporters, “Mama called, and when Mama calls, then you just have to come running.”

No idea if Chris Smelley feels the same about his return to Tuscaloosa. Maybe he just wants consistent playing time in some damned sport. But if he chooses to put back on the pads in 2010, he might be able to get just that.

Playing time won’t come easy, though, Chris…that McElroy kid that Alabama signed instead of you – word is he’s turned into one helluva football player.

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Filed under 2009 College Football, Alabama, College Football, ESPN, Florida, Former Coaches, Meyer, Saban, SEC, South Carolina, Spurrier

Who Will Play Quarterback for Alabama in 2009?

The frost was working out of the ground, and out of the air, too, and it was getting closer and closer onto barefoot time every day; and next it would be marble time, and next mumbletypeg, and next tops and hoops, and next kites, and then right away it would be summer and going in a-swimming.

It just makes a boy homesick to look ahead like that and see how far off summer is. Yes, and it sets him to sighing and saddening around, and there’s something the matter with him, he don’t know what. But anyway, he gets out by himself and mopes and thinks; and mostly he hunts for a lonesome place high up on the hill in the edge of the woods and sets there and looks away off on the big Mississippi down there a-reaching miles and miles around the points where the timber looks smoky and dim it’s so far off and still, and everything’s so solemn it seems like everybody you’ve loved is dead and gone, and you ‘most wish you was dead and gone too, and done with it all.

Don’t you know what that is? It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you DO want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! It seems to you that mainly what you want is to get away; get away from the same old tedious things you’re so used to seeing and so tired of, and set something new.

That is the idea; you want to go and be a wanderer; you want to go wandering far away to strange countries where everything is mysterious and wonderful and romantic. And if you can’t do that, you’ll put up with considerable less; you’ll go anywhere you CAN go, just so as to get away, and be thankful of the chance, too.

Well, me and Tom Sawyer had the spring fever, and had it bad, too…

– Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, Detective by Mark Twain

Modern college football was not even a twinkle in America’s eye when Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer rambled around fictional St. Petersburg, Missouri, near the banks of the Mighty Mississippi.

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Filed under 2009 College Football, Alabama, College Football, Former Players, Saban, SEC, Spring Practice 2009

His Chainsaw Unit Ran on Diesel Fuel

We tripped over an EDSBS post Wednesday reflecting on the curious connection between sickingly talented running backs and their penchants for bizarre, disturbing, or just plain illegal, activities. The post begins,

Cecil Collins, oh, for the things you could have been had you not decided to break into apartments and strange women sleep.

Collins smashed bones to pieces for one hot streak of games in 1997 before breaking his leg, and then deciding the best thing to do with his spare time was entering apartments not belonging to him and cuddling with women.

He wasn’t a molester; no, we prefer the term “cuddle bandit,” instead, as it sounds so much more jaunty.

Reference to the former LSU tailback reminded us of a time when we were terrified of but three things in this world:

(1) Skeet Ulrich;

(2) forgetting to return a book to the public library for several years, causing an accumulation of overdue fines exceeding a million dollars; and

(3) Cecil “The Diesel” Collins.

Beside having the baddest-ass nickname in the history of people, every time he stepped onto the field he evoked that melancholic flood of hot fear-blood in the stomachs of opposing players, coaches, and fans – and probably even his own teammates.Cecil Collins

We remember watching The Diesel absolutely run roughshod over folks in the ’97 LSU-Auburn game down in Death Valley. He was like a cyclonic bulldozer every time he carried the ball, and it was clear that after a couple of his runs, instead of attempting to stop him, Auburn defenders were trying to get out of his way.

Because he hurt. Hurt bad.

It was a game in which it seemed like every time LSU ran the ball, the Tigahs either scored or sent somebody to the hospital – or both. Collins finished that game with 232 yards, but LSU’s own defense couldn’t contain AU quarterback Dameyune Craig, and the visitors eked out a 31-28 win over coach Gerry DiNardo‘s squad.

In 1995, Collins’s senior season at Leesville High School, he wrecked the fields for over 3,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. The performance led to his coronation as Louisiana’s first Mr. Football as well as his second straight player-of-the-year award in 4A, Leesville’s classification. When his high school career was over, he had compiled over 7,800 yards, good for second-best all-time in state history, and 99 touchdowns.

The Diesel only played in three full D1 college football games, however. After missing his first year at LSU due to grades, he stepped in alongside second-string RB Rondell Mealey against Mississippi State to cover for injured starter Kevin Faulk in the second game of the season. LSU’s scary rushing attack did not skip a beat without Faulk, as Collins and Mealey tore into Bulldog coordinator Joe Lee Dunn‘s defense for 257 combined yards (Collins had 172). The next week he had his way with Auburn. Following that, he rumbled over poor Akron for 179 yards.


Note that he lost a shoe at the line of scrimmage and was angry he only got to run over one defender.

In Collins’s fourth outing in an LSU uniform, against Vanderbilt, he broke his leg early in the contest. Somebody important must’ve been praying for Vandy. In just over three college football games, The Diesel had gained nearly 600 yards and caused more cranial contusions than Mike Tyson.

After his injury, Collins was arrested for breaking into a girl’s home and “cuddling” with her. He claimed to have been sleepwalking when the incident occurred, and LSU bought it. But then it happened again, and this time he was dropped from the football team and the university.

Let’s be clear about something – if Cecil “The Diesel” Collins entered our home in the middle of the night and attempted to “cuddle,” caress, or even make us watch Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion with him, we would oblige and offer to make him panna cotta. Then we would request that he allow us to remove our mud-colored underwear and slip into a sheer satin teddy. We’d do all this not because we’re into dudes (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but because he is the most terrifying individual on Earth.

Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion
Haha…you’re right, Cecil…Society IS unfair! Just because Phoebes wasn’t as ‘pretty’ as Mon or Rache, she didn’t get a solid crack at the big movie deals. But we’ll take this blockbuster over Ace Ventura or Picture Perfect ANY day, right? Ok…yeah…hugs are good…

But now The Diesel is in prison. Not long after signing with the Miami Dolphins and actually playing in some NFL games in ’99, he broke into a married woman’s house for more creepy breathing and cuddling. The woman’s husband was home.

Guess they didn’t have any panna cotta ingredients in the pantry.

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Filed under Auburn, College Football, Former Players, LSU, Mississippi State, SEC, The "friendly" but maybe "too friendly" principal in Scream 1, Things That Go Bump in the Night, Vanderbilt, Wes Craven