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Alabama myths and mysteries resolved heading into SEC title game against Florida Gators

It has been nine years since Alabama played for — and won — the SEC championship. After almost a decade of struggles that included several years of NCAA probation, the Crimson Tide is ranked No. 1 and one win from playing for the national title under Nick Saban, in just his second season as coach. So in honor of the Tide's resurrection, here's a look at some things a non-Alabama aficionado might wonder about:

Why the Crimson Tide?

In early newspaper accounts, the team was simply the "varsity" or the "Crimson White" after the school colors. The first nickname popularized by headline writers was the "Thin Red Line," which was used until 1906.

"Crimson Tide" was said to be first used by Hugh Roberts, former sports editor of the Birmingham Age-Herald, to describe the 1907 game against Auburn played in Birmingham. It was the last between the schools until the series resumed in 1948. Auburn was heavily favored, but the "Thin Red Line" held it to a 6-6 tie in a muck of red mud, thereby earning the name "Crimson Tide."

Why so passionate about the pigskin?

Alabama played its first game in Birmingham in 1892, so Tide fans have had a long love affair with the game. At one time (1896 to be exact), there was a rule forbidding teams to leave campus to play, but it was overturned in 1899 after students rallied for the cause. World War I forced the cancellation of the 1918 season, but the Tide has still managed to total 11 national (including six AP) and 21 SEC championships.

Can Tide fans ever let go of the Bear?

The man is a legend. Paul William "Bear" Bryant, above, was national coach of the year three times, won eight SEC coach of the year honors, coached six national championship teams and on November 28, 1981, he became the winningest coach in the history of college football. When he retired after the 1982 season, he had won 323 games over 38 years at four schools. He has a museum in his honor. The sports shops in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa carry hounds-tooth hats, and photos and posters of the man. The team runs onto the field as Bryant recites one of his most famous lines on the JumboTron: "I ain't never been nothing but a winner." Sure, it doesn't help that aside from Gene Stallings, every other coach (i.e. Ray Perkins, Bill Curry, Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula) has struggled in the Bear's shadow. Could Nick Saban finally be the one to keep the Bear off his back? A national championship might help. Maybe.

Information from RollTide.com, Alabama sports information, and cfbdatawarehouse.com was used in this report.

Why is the mascot an elephant?

According to 'Bama lore, this story dates back 78 years. In 1930, then-coach Wallace Wade was in charge of a stellar Alabama team when Atlanta Journal sports writer Everett Strupper covered its Oct. 8 game against Mississippi. Four days later, he published a story that read in part: "That Alabama team of 1930 is a typical Wade machine, powerful, big, tough, fast, aggressive, well-schooled in fundamentals, and the best blocking team for this early in the season that I have ever seen. When those big brutes hit you, I mean you go down and stay down, often for an additional two minutes. … At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble, there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, 'Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,' and out stamped this Alabama varsity." Strupper and other writers continued to refer to the linemen as "Red Elephants," the color referring to their crimson jerseys. The 1930 team was 10-0, shutting out eight opponents and allowing only 13 points all season while scoring 217. The "Red Elephants" defeated Washington State 24-0 in the Rose Bowl and were declared national champions.

Alabama myths and mysteries resolved heading into SEC title game against Florida Gators 11/30/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 30, 2008 10:42pm]
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