When the game ended today, which was quite some time after it had been over, several Alabama players hoisted him to their shoulders. Bear Bryant submitted willingly, smiling and saying: "I'm too old for this."
But hardly the senile soul he would like us to believe. That became clear after he rode 30 or 40 yards, through an ever-increasing mob so thick that Joe Paterno could only get close enough to shout his congratulations for tying Amos Alonzo Stagg as the winningest coach in the history of college football.
A few more steps and the parade stopped, under orders from the 68-year-old man on top. "You're going the wrong way," Bryant yelled, and the legend toters reversed their field. The Bear always knows where he's going. And where he's been.
Of course he remembers more than the score of victory No. 1 some 37 years ago: Maryland, 60-6, over Guilford.
"Scored on the first play of the game," he said. "Threw a screen pass and it went 60-some yards for a touchdown. I had dinner the night before the game with (Redskins owner) George Preston Marshall and Don Hutson and I was worryin' about the game. Hutson looked at me and said: "If you gotta worry about them, you'd better get in another business."
His mind wandered and was wonderfully philosophic for perhaps 20 minutes after the private team celebration the 31-16 rout inspired. The setting was anything but suitable for such a moment: a shower area hastily carpeted. To reach the place where he would talk about an accomplishment for the ages, Bryant had to duck under some faucets.
He rambled for eight minutes, thanked everyone whose name came to mind. The young coach (Bryant Pool) whose season-long concentration had been Penn State; the players, "who played over their heads the first half," school administrators and the good Lord.
Finally, somebody else got a word in. How did it feel to tie Stagg's record of 314 victories?
"I haven't thought about it," he said, lying.
Nobody is that eloquent without some preparation.
"I haven't tied it, either," he went on. "There's a tremendous multitude that share it, from Maryland to Kentucky to Texas A & M to Alabama. And it's more than just players and coaches. It's parents and ministers, and media, people who had some influence.
"Pick out any one of our young men and check it out. Find the people who influenced his being a football player. Maybe it'll be 15 or 20. Then multiply that by the number of players on the team; multiply that by the number of games we've played. So there's an awful lot of people to share this."
Bear thinks he met Stagg.
"But I'm not sure," he added. "I think coach (Frank) Thomas introduced him to the squad (when Bryant was a player at Alabama in the early '30s)."
There was little suspense to a feat that ranks with John Wooden's basketball success as arguably the all-time collegiate accomplishments. The before and after today was more memorable than the during.
Bear's was an entrance to behold, and savor. Both teams were on the field when all eyes shot to the north end of the stadium. Here he came, slowly, the man who outfought many of his peers, outthought some others and outlived the rest, an old man walking slow and tall. And loving it.
He walked up one sideline to the Alabama bench, moving a yard at a time, flanked by a few policemen and several aides, slowly enough for anyone who cared to think about him with each step. A 'Bama man could have rattled off all 314 victories from the time he left the end zone to the time he reached his spot beyond midfield.
Here he was, the ultimate survivor in a high-wire business. He has been called everything imaginable in football, from thief to saint, but demands just one description: winner. Think about this: Bryant has a better won-lost record from age 60 to age 68 than he did from age 50 to 60. And that was better than from age 40 to age 50.
Bryant has won 160 games since turning 50. That is 12 more than Paterno has won his entire career. And Paterno's winning percentage (82) is the eighth best of any coach in history.
"He adjusted to everything," Paterno said the night before he tried to delay Bryant's glory. "There was a time you could keep something you had for a while, before films. Now everybody has it the week after you use it. There can't be anything better than what he and Wooden have done."
Earlier this week, Bryant phoned Jim Tarman, Penn State's associate athletic director, and was told Alabama could not practice in Beaver Stadium the day before the game. Paterno extends that courtesy to no one, Tarman told Bryant.
Where does State practice the day before a home game? Bryant asked.
State does not practice the day before any game.
"Hmnnn," Bryant said to Tarman. "Does Joe know something I don't?"
In two of the most important games of his career, the '79 Sugar Bowl and today, Paterno's teams have been embarrassed by Bryant's teams on goal-line stands.
"Bear," a Lion booster yelled after the 'Bama players gently let him off their shoulders and he made his way to the dressing room, "tell us how to get one yard against you."
He was mod, for him, in a white turtle-neck sweater and red V-neck, crimson trousers and multicolored sport coat. Two burly aides guided him, supporting each arm, as he walked perhaps 200 yards along a fan-lined path after the game. The Tide crowd was chanting: "314, 314, 314." The State partisans looked on in awe.
The most intriguing part of the game came just after a goal-line stand early in the second half. The jubilant 'Bama players leaped off the field in joy, hugging each other and slapping everybody on the sideline except Bryant. Not a player who helped on that heroic series came within a yard of Bryant, who had acknowledged their deeds with several doffs of his hat.
Strange. In their finest moment of a special game, the players avoided their coach. But then Bryant has not been one of the boys for several decades.