All of college football is in for a dramatic change this fall with a number of players and coaches having been inducted into the armed services. Coach Frank Thomas of Alabama says his coaches Hank Crisp, Red Drew, Tilden Campbell and Ed Hickerson are all in the armed services while he reports players Vaughn Stewart, Morton Kimball, Lloyd Wise, Howard Hughes, Mackey McCoy, Carl Mims, Herman Beard, Linday Lauro, John Suski, Louis Godfrey, Red Billings and Buel St. John are also defending the USA and obviously not playing football this fall.
Houndstooth has joined crimson and white as the unofficial “third color” of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Newborns are adorned in houndstooth patterned baby blankets, sorority coeds don houndstooth rain boots at the slightest chance of precipitation and UA athletes wear uniforms trimmed in the distinctive pattern. How did this pattern that originated in woven wool in the Scottish highlands get its connection with Bama and how has it become important to Tide fans? After the 1964 season professional football teams were all targeting a quarterback from Pennsylvania who had made his mark on the gridiron in Alabama. The upstart American Football league was determined to give the NFL a run for its money. Signing the star college seniors was a major part of the plan. Joe Willie Namath was the star at the center of the bidding war. Namath was wanted by not one pro league - but two.
On November 28, 1964 each pro league held its draft on the same day. The St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL selected Namath in the 12th round and the NY Jets representing the AFL made him their first pick. After consultation with Coach Paul William “Bear” Bryant, Namath signed with the Jets for the then record salary of $427,000.
During the negotiations Bryant and Namath met with Jets owner Sonny Werblin and Coach Weeb Eubank. Werblin, a flamboyant businessman, presented Coach Bryant with a houndstooth hat in an attempt to garner Bryant’s friendship. Bryant wore the hat to a game and the legend was born. Though hats were in style and Bryant wore one at almost every game, the houndstooth design caught the eye of Bryant and the fans. Tuscaloosa area men’s stores began carrying the hats just in case the coach stopped by.
Late in Bryant’s life a line of officially licensed houndstooth hats bearing a reproduction of his signature in the band were manufactured for public sale. The Bryant Museum to this day answers called from fans who mistake one of these mass produced hats for one actually worn by the coach. The most asked question the museum gets about Bryant’s hat is, “What was his size?” The answer is 7 5/8.
As the planning for the Bryant Museum began to take shape in the late 1980s Bromberg Jewelers wanted to honor the coach in a special way. Through their business relationship with the Waterford Crystal company a one-of-a-kind “hat” was created and is on display in the museum’s exhibit hall.
After the 1971 Auburn game a zealous Tiger fan snatched the hat from Bryant’s head as he left the field. Tide assistant Coach Jack Rutledge saw the young man running away and sprinted after him. Here’s Rutledge’s account from a December 12, 1971, Tuscaloosa News article by Delbert Reed.
“When he passed the Auburn bench he put the hat on and started over the fence and I caught him about that time,” Rutledge said. “The hat fell over the fence and a photographer got it and brought it to me.
“I carried it to Coach Bryant in the dressing room,” Rutledge said. “I’m sure glad I got it back.”
The following week Bryant got boxes and boxes of hats from distraught fans that were unaware the hat had been recovered. Bryant received so many that he gave houndstooth hats out to the media at the Orange Bowl press conference a few weeks later.
Houndstooth recently became a rallying symbol as Tuscaloosa was struck by a devastating tornado on April 27, 2011. Ribbons, car magnets, t shirts and more carried the pattern as an emblem of remembrance and recovery.
One of the duties of Tide fans is to ensure that current and future generations of fans understand the history of the houndstooth pattern but more importantly what it symbolizes as part of the tradition. First, it symbolizes a man and a coach whose leadership abilities are unmatched. Second, it stands for all the Tide athletes who have had the privilege of representing for the Tide in competition. And third, it is a bond between fans and generations; a reminder of what is expected of all of us each and every day.
Next time you are making a “third color” selection, pass on a bit of insight to your friends and family.