SBJ/November 5-11, 2012/CollegesPrint All
Texas A&M’s entry to the SEC this season created new rivals, but because of legendary Bear Bryant, the Aggies and the University of Alabama always have enjoyed a connection.
Now, as many of Bryant’s former players get together this week for the first SEC game between A&M and Alabama, Atlanta-based MELT hopes the reunion can turn into a 30- or 60-minute special for a sports network.
“These stories need to be preserved,” MELT President Vince Thompson said.
Before the legendary coach lifted the Crimson Tide to greatness, he coached Texas A&M from 1954-57. That first recruiting class in College Station famously became known as the “Junction Boys,” a story that was retold in a movie and also a book.
Many of those Junction Boys from A&M — more than 20 of them — will be part of a reunion at the Paul W. Bryant Museum in Tuscaloosa on Friday night, the night before the Aggies play at Alabama. The coach’s only son, Paul Bryant Jr., helped arrange the get-together.
“We just thought it’d be a great way to start the series between Texas A&M and Alabama,” said Dennis Goehring, a player for Bryant on that 1954 team and class leader who keeps up with the Junction Boys.
When MELT’s Thompson heard about it, he began making plans to capture the reunion and the stories of the Junction Boys on video. Like an early-days NFL Films, Thompson is committed to collecting as much content from reunions like this as he can possibly market.
He plans to tape the reunion and the introduction of the former players before the game Saturday, as well as interviews with many of the former players talking about Bear Bryant. MELT is seeking a corporate sponsor to underwrite the project.
“Part of my passion is chronicling the stories of these legends,” Thompson said. “Who knows? This might be the last chance to get all of these guys in the room and get the story straight.”
■ You know that when you talk about sportsmanship in college athletics, a lot of people are rolling their eyes, right?
ROBY: I’ve been in presentations where I’ve seen it. I had it happen to me when I took over as AD at Northeastern. In my first staff meeting, I was emphasizing the importance of a positive student-athlete experience, and talking about our core values as the coach being an educator. And after a few days, it got back to me through different channels that I didn’t want to win. It’s interesting how people equate your commitment to young people and their development and their education to “You don’t want to win.” We’ve been socialized to think that’s not how we do this. If you’re keeping score, then you must not want to win at all costs. Well, I never said that I didn’t want to win. What I said was I didn’t want to win at the expense of the athletes. That’s what I said, but people interpret that to mean, “Oh, geez, this guy is here to do some kind of social experiment and we’ve got to hold hands around the campfire and sing together.” I was trying to send a message to them right away about what’s important to me as the leader of the department.
■ Administrators are running multimillion-dollar businesses and dealing with hugely high-profile and high-pressure situations. Do they have time to think about sportsmanship?
ROBY: It’s something that needs to be ever-present. When you’re keeping score, people want to win and they’re willing to do anything to win. There are different motivations for why people want to coach, why they want to own a team, why they decide who gets picked and who doesn’t. You’ll always have parents who want their kids to be the best and they’ll do anything they can. We have to educate folks about the downside of pushing too much. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to win or that we’re not competitive people, but there also should be a place for humility, perspective and sportsmanship. … The salaries folks are making, the revenue that’s being generated, that’s when we lose sight of what we’re there to do. When people lose their perspective, they start to make a lot of bad decisions. We see it all the time in corporate America, in marriages, in athletic departments that are committed to win at all costs so they make more money and keep feeding the monster.
■ Is conference realignment further mixing the message?
ROBY: It’s not to our betterment. It’s to our detriment. The lack of camaraderie and loyalty is diminished. Now people don’t trust one another when they’re in the same room because they’ve seen too many examples of “We’re with you” and then next month they leave. The motivation of putting yourself in the best possible financial position is influencing those long-standing rivalries and what’s best for your fans and alumni. … Unfortunately what happens is that decisions about where you go and who you play are driven by the opportunity to cash in financially, the influence of football, television, your marketing rights, all that. You wonder, “What does this have to do with higher education?” and you’re hard-pressed to come up with a good answer.
■ There is more and more public discussion about the role of the university president, right?
ROBY: There are too many examples of athletics being a separate entity from the rest of the institution, and then we wonder why there’s no control. The Carnegie Report in 1929 addressed the professionalism of college athletics in 1929. We were talking about it then and we’re still talking about it now. Back then they were talking about how the presidents needed to have more control of athletics, and we’re still talking about that. You’re starting to see with some of the NCAA reform where presidents are getting more engaged. That’s appropriate.