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Local loyalties on the sidelines in Alabama-Texas national championship

Dewey Mitchell and Allen Crumbley are among the most popular businessmen in Pasco County. Their Prudential Tropical Realty has been a mainstay, and they are active in many community charities.

But when it really comes down to it, this is what will be written in the first paragraph of their obituaries, which hopefully will be many years from now: They played football for Paul "Bear'' Bryant at the University of Alabama.

In Mitchell's house, there is a framed picture of Bryant in his signature hounds- tooth hat about to send a play in against Tennessee with a handsome young linebacker, No. 61 — Dewey Mitchell. In football crazy Alabama, there could not be a higher honor than being touched by the hand of Bear.

Crumbley and Mitchell were teammates in the late 1970s. This will not come as any surprise to those of you who know Mr. Crumbley. He would flat-out knock you on your butt. Wild-eyed and fearless. You know, a cornerback.

He played on the 1978 Alabama team that won the national championship by dispatching previous No. 1 Penn State in the Sugar Bowl, 14-7. Last week, while quail hunting with some old buds in eastern Alabama, he recalled hitting All-American wide-receiver Scott Fitzkee so hard that Fitzkee threw up on the sidelines.

"You can still see it on ESPN Classic,'' Crumbley said by phone, chuckling. "My claim to fame: I hit a guy so hard he threw up.''

Mitchell got a ring for that national championship too, although by then he was a student assistant coach. He completed his playing days the season before when Alabama finished second in the nation with a 10-1 record. Mitchell would also get a ring when the Crimson Tide repeated as national champs in 1979, and a few years later he would be honored as captain of the U.S. Olympic judo team in Los Angeles.

Mitchell's family is well-known in Pasco, where his father, Jim, was a longtime rancher and mother, Dorothy, served for many years on the School Board. That's why he stuck around here and developed his business with his old teammate. But his heart has never been far from Tusca-loosa.

"Coach Bryant instilled discipline and pride,'' Mitchell said. "Nick Saban (the coach today) has done a lot of the same things. When they travel, they are classy. They are polite to people. It makes all of us Alabama guys proud.''

Crumbley says the same.

"I have such vivid memories of Bear,'' he said. "You can't get it out of you, not that you would want to. These were our formative years; such a big part of our lives. Coach taught us discipline and fair play. There was no hot-dogging or trash-talking.''

Which brings me to why I'm writing this column.

I fully intended to engage Dewey and Allen in some trash talking going into the big game this Thursday — Texas vs. Alabama for the national title. I'm one of the few Longhorns in these parts, a 1971 grad who enjoyed back-to-back championships when Darrell Royal was coach. Big difference between me and the 'Bama boys, however. They actually played. I just ran my mouth. Oh, yeah, and for the Arkansas game in 1969, I made a huge sign out of a dormitory bedsheet that earned a color quarter-page in Sports Illustrated. Maybe they'll put that in my obituary.

They both took the high road. Mitchell even praised Darrell Royal, for crying out loud, recalling how he and Bear were great friends. Neither former player would say anything bad about Texas, and they were cautious about accepting a bet. Don't wanna jinx the team, right?

Last year, when Florida beat Alabama en route to a national championship, Crumbley found himself having to wear a Gator ("Big Reptiles,'' he calls them.) tie. This year he got revenge — and a shoe shine.

I have to admit that since I got to know these two men 20-some years ago, I've been more of a fan of the Crimson Tide. Maybe I'm just a fan of Mitchell and Crumbley and their families.

But I can tell you this: Come Thursday night, I'll be wild-eyed myself in front of my TV, clad in burnt orange and burning some good luck candles. Poor ol' Texas will need all the karma it can get to beat this Alabama juggernaut. As Darrell Royal would say, I'm not even sure we deserve to be on the same field with these guys. (Of course he said that just about every game.)

I did manage to get Mitchell and Crumbley to agree to a bet. Somebody is going to be real uncomfortable next week posing for a picture in the other team's colors.

"Roll Tide,'' they both said.

But as they know, this is a newspaper. We always get the last word — or in this case, words:

Hook 'em Horns!

Local loyalties on the sidelines in Alabama-Texas national championship 01/02/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 2, 2010 1:27pm]
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