This was before the houndstooth hat and the state trooper escort off the field. This was before the six national championships, the 27 bowl appearances, the 314 coaching victories. This was before George Blanda, Lee Roy Jordan, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler and John Hannah.
This was September 1945, and Paul William (Bear) Bryant was the new head coach of the University of Maryland football team.
So new, in fact, that he was still in the Navy when Maryland President Curley Byrd announced that Bryant -- then a 32-year-old lieutenant commander and coach of the North Carolina Pre-Flight team -- had accepted an offer to coach in College Park.
A number of people had influenced Bryant's decision, including George Preston Marshall, the owner of the Redskins, who knew Bryant as a fine player at Alabama. Marshall had lent him money to buy civilian clothes when he was discharged and very nearly hired him to coach the Redskins in 1948. But Bryant's players at Pre-Flight were the most convincing in his decision to take the Maryland job.
"When the war was over, he called me in to his office and told me he had offers to be an assistant at Georgia Tech and Alabama and to be the head coach at Maryland," said Vic Turyn, the Pre-Flight quarterback. He is now a retired FBI officer from Ellicott City, Md., who is in charge of security for a Baltimore bank.
"He said to me, 'I'd like for you to have a team meeting and I'd like to take the job you guys select.' We took a vote, and the sentiment was that he'd have more control over our lives if he was a head coach. So I told him I had 25 guys who'd go with him to Maryland. He got on the phone right then and told the Maryland people he'd be up to take the job."
Bryant also showed early that he was a shrewd recruiter. Joseph Drach, an offensive tackle and defensive end who accompanied Bryant to College Park, explained why.
"All the guys who decided to go with him left North Carolina on a bus," recalled Drach, an executive at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore. "We were all discharged from the Navy in Norfolk. None of us had a nickel to our names, no civilian clothes, nothing. But as we walked out of the base in Norfolk, there was a bus outside the main gate. It said 'University of Maryland' on the side, and that's how we got to College Park.
"When we got to the campus Sunday night, Coach Bryant met us, and so did Curley Byrd. I think we even registered for class that night. We practiced the next day and played our first game that Saturday. It's hard to believe, but it's true."
It also is true that the first of those 314 victories was accomplished under the lights at Byrd Stadium before a crowd of 6,000. The men of Maryland routed tiny Guilford, 60-6, scoring on a two-yard quarterback sneak by Turyn three plays after they first touched the football.
Make no mistake, these were the men of Maryland. Most of the 15 players Bryant took with him were in their early 20s, and a few had seen combat duty. Several had played college football before the war.
Turyn was an exception. Too small to play high school football in West Virginia, Turyn went to Navy training school at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo. Bryant was on a recruiting mission to get players for his Carolina Pre-Flight team, and was interested in running back Bill Poling.
When Bryant asked Poling if he knew of any other football players, he mentioned his roommate, Turyn, whose only football experience was as a quarterback in intramural games.
"He asked me what position I played, and I said halfback," Turyn recalled. " 'How'd ya like to come to North Carolina with me?' he says. I said I'd love it. The funny thing is, I was always too scared to tell him I'd never played. It didn't really matter though because I did everything the way he taught. Because I'd never played, I really didn't have any bad habits."
Turyn finally confessed early in his first season at Maryland. Bryant was so flabbergasted he called a press conference. "He got all the writers in there," Turyn said, "and said to 'em, 'That shows you what a keen judge of talent I am. Hell, I wouldn't know a player if he walked right up to me.' "
Still, Bryant must have done something right. After a midseason slump that included two losses and a tie, the Old Liners won their last three games, including a brutal 19-13 victory that ended Virginia's 14-game winning streak. Maryland finished 6-2-1.
Virginia Coach Frank Murray was infuriated by his loss to Maryland, according to a report by Rud Rennie, a columnist for the New York Herald-Tribune. "He (Murray) boiled," Rennie wrote. "He threw professional etiquette to the chilly winds. His eyeglasses quivered on his twitching face. He sought out Bryant, his conqueror, and, through clenched teeth, he complimented him -- on having played the dirtiest game he'd ever seen."
Bryant's former players insisted that was not the case, although they recalled some rather physical practices. "They were very tough, very physical, very well-organized," said fullback Harry Bonk, who lives in Rehoboth, Del. "There was combat every day. No patty-cake football."
"He'd also get right down there with you to show you how to do it," recalled Drach. "He'd just knock you right on your rear end. 'Here's how ya block,' he'd say, and then bam, you'd be flying."
Bryant also had a strict set of rules -- no smoking, drinking, staying out after 10 p.m. during the season. Those rules ultimately led to his departure.
Late in the season, Bryant suspended a lineman from Baltimore for breaking curfew. Byrd wanted him put back on the football team. Bryant refused, and when he found out Byrd also wanted to fire one of his assistant coaches, he decided to leave.
So Bryant accepted an offer from the University of Kentucky for $12,000 a year, and on Jan. 12, 1946, he announced that he would be leaving Maryland. "A lot of us wanted to go with him," Bonk said. "We had a team meeting, and he told us what had happened. He was crying, some players were crying.
"He convinced us that it would be better to stay at the school because we had made a commitment. He assured us we'd keep our scholarships. He also told us he didn't want us to get reputations as tramp athletes. And just about everyone stayed."
The day after his resignation became public, Maryland students staged a strike, although a Baltimore Sun report indicated, "The only classes attended by students during the first two periods were a course in organic chemistry and a dancing class. They said they couldn't afford to miss the class in chemistry and danced because they enjoyed it."
Whatever, 2,500 students gathered that afternoon and didn't disperse until Bryant appeared. "I am leaving Maryland under my own free will," he insisted.
"But the football team won't stay," several students yelled up at the coach.
"Yes they will, they'll all stay," Bryant said. "You are carrying placards around against the best friend you ever had, Curley Byrd. I am leaving because I have kids like you I have to look out for."
Recently, Bryant was asked what he remembered about Maryland, and particularly that first victory against Guilford. He recalled "the night before the game. I was frettin' and stewin', got myself all worked up and Don Hutson told me, 'Bear, if you're worried like this already, you'd better get in another profession.' "
Bear Bryant continued to worry for 36 years. For 314 games, it was so unnecessary.