One of the last people to see Paul (Bear) Bryant alive was Ray Perkins, his successor as football coach at the University of Alabama. News of Bryant's death a few hours later shocked Perkins, who had gone to Charlotte, N.C., after visiting Bryant at a hospital in Tuscaloosa, Ala., yesterday morning.
"I stopped by a few minutes before 9," Perkins said. "He said he was feeling good, and he was sitting on the side of his bed eating breakfast. The doctor said his vital signs were good. That's why I was so shocked."
Asked the one thing he will remember most about Bryant, whose 323 victories were more than any other college coach, Perkins answered the way many of Bryant's former players did:
"Being there and meaning an awful lot for a young man when he needed someone like that; and being there for a lot of other young men, too. That means more than winning all those games. I know that meant more to him, because he told me it did."
Steve Sloan, all-America quarterback at Alabama and now coach at Duke: "Coach Bryant was one of the greatest men of this century. Certainly his will to win will be a legacy for all athletes and people alike."
Marty Lyons, all-America defensive lineman in 1979 and now a member of the New York Jets' Sack Exchange: "I just owe the man a great deal of love and respect."
Richard Todd, New York Jets quarterback: "He should be best remembered for all the help he gave to a lot of people."
Lyons was so emotional, according to United Press International, he could hardly talk above a whisper.
Typical of the reaction from the coaching fraternity--not only from the 12 active coaches who had played for him--were comments by Joe Paterno of Penn State, last season's national champion, and John Merritt of Tennessee State, No. 4 in career victories.
"He was a monumental figure in intercollegiate athletics, a man who set standards not easily attainable by men," said Paterno, whose team's only loss last season was to Alabama.
Merritt: "Bear Bryant was one of a kind, and I think that when we go to try to find a replacement in our profession for him we're gonna find that there is none. There perhaps will never be one that can take his place. Bear Bryant is one of the true human beings who went about this earth doing good."
"The world today needs people to look up to," said Charley Thornton, assistant athletic director at Texas A&M and an assistant to Bryant for 18 years. "I think the whole nation lost a legend in the mold of John Wayne or George Patton . . . He taught you how to reach down and get that little something extra."
Woody Hayes still remembers the only time he coached against Bryant--his Ohio State team lost, 35-6, in the 1977 Sugar Bowl. "He beat my pants off," Hayes said. "He was a winner. He was honorable and he won with good, clean ballclubs."