Today marks the anniversary of a watershed day in not only the history of Alabama football, but in the state of Alabama.
At 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 26, 1983, legendary Crimson Tide football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant died at Druid City Medical Center in Tuscaloosa after suffering cardiopulmonary arrest. He was 69.
Bryant’s death came just four weeks after he’d coached his final game at Alabama, a 22-15 victory over Illinois in the 1982 Liberty Bowl. He’d announced his retirement from coaching on Dec. 15, 1982, but remained on board as the school’s athletics director.
Bryant was head coach at Alabama from 1958-82, winning 13 SEC championships and six national titles in 25 seasons. His 323 career victories were a major-college football record at the time.
Then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace said Bryant “brought great fame and honor to Alabama. No amount of words will permit to describe the loss we have suffered with Coach Bryant’s passing. He was widely loved and respected by all.”
As you might imagine, Bryant’s death made national news. Then-president Ronald Reagan offered his condolences, saying, “Today we Americans lost a hero who always seemed larger than life.”
Bryant’s funeral took place on Jan. 28, 1983, with hundreds attending the memorial service at Tuscaloosa’s First United Methodist Church and more than 5,000 at the graveside service at Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham. The funeral procession from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham included 400 cars and was viewed by thousands of mourners who stopped along I-20/59 and stood on freeway overpasses to bid the coach farewell.
As Birmingham News sports editor Alf Van Hoose wrote following Bryant’s final game, the coach was such an institution in Alabama that “Thousands know no Alabama football except Bear Bryant football. Say this for those: They knew the best.”