Young Bear Was Shy
My grandmother, the late Fern Nutt of Fordyce, Arkansas, was Bear's first cousin. Her husband, Harry, played end with Bear on the 1930 Fordyce Redbugs football team that beat Little Rock High School (later, Central High, site of the 1957 integration crisis) for the state championship.
My grandmother saw young Paul tangle with the bear that won him his famous nickname, and she said he was so shy that he'd often cross to the other side of the street to avoid contact with people. She thought he may have been ashamed because his parents had him drive a wagon into town to sell their homegrown vegetables.
But when he began playing football, she said, everything changed. As his skills and strength on the field grew, so did his confidence, and athletics transformed him into a confident young man who became our most famous college football coach.
I met him in person only once, at my grandmother's house on Morton Street in Fordyce in the early 1970s. Paul didn't get back home too often, but he always visited my grandmother. He signed a slip of paper for me, and I walked him out to his car as he was leaving. I was 11 or 12 and big for my age, and I'll never forget how he turned to me, put his hand on my shoulder, squeezed it as if he was sizing me up, and said, "I hope you'll come play football for me at Alabama when you grow up" in that graveled voice of his.
I didn't turn out to be an athlete, and I never saw him in person again, but it was an unforgettable moment.