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Bear Bryant Was A Houndstooth Hat Brim Away From Becoming a Hog

Not only that, but Bryant, an Arkansas native, briefly briefly attended an Arkansas university.

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

The "Taxidermy" line

Look at this picture. That hog and that elephant - now  those animals are a man's-man beasts, none of the cute, cuddly and sanitized fluff you see running around at your local Razor Fest or Prince of Tides Fest of whatever it is Alabama fans do. No, these things represent the truth - straight from the wild and hungry, raw, powerful.

Not unlike Bear Bryant himself, who hailed from just about the most hardscrabble background of any legendary coach we know of. He did the normal hardscrabble things like peddling vegetables, not graduating high school on time, running around without shoes and being one of 12 children.

He also straight WRESTLED A BEAR.

That little tussle cost him a hunk of shoulder, but he came out of it with a nickname and a helluva story. The great ones, after all, are always great storytellers. That's certainly what one of Bryant's graduate assistants at Alabama learned, as I wrote in my most recent piece for Whole Hog Sports:

Larry Lacewell had heard plenty about Alabama head football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant growing up. They share the same small Arkansas hometown, Fordyce, after all, and Lacewell’s father had been Bryant’s close friend. As teenagers Bryant and "Chink" Lacewell had hopped boxcars on wild adventures taking them as far as Cleveland.

Lacewell learned more about his dad’s imposing 6-foot-4 friend in 1959 when he took a Crimson Tide graduate assistantship under Bryant. Bryant hooked Lacewell up with a dorm room and made sure he earned his keep. With a chuckle, Lacewell recalls duties that included being Paul Bryant, Jr.’s "babysitter" and a "real good gopher."

So it came as no surprise when Bear Bryant needed someone to drive him home to Fordyce from Tuscaloosa, the 22-year-old Lacewell was the man for the job. On that roughly 280-mile trip they talk about many things, including Lacewell’s experience as a football player for the Boll Weevils of what is now the University of Arkansas-Monticello.

It was then, just after they had stopped to put in a call to Lacewell’s mother, that Bryant shared a Boll Weevils story that made Lacewell "about fall out of the car."

Lacewell recalls Bryant asking: "‘Boy, you didn’t know I went to school over there, did you?’

"I said ‘What?’"

Lacewell already knew Bryant had left Fordyce High School before graduating and early on had a hard time figuring out how to succeed in life. Ultimately, an Alabama booster in nearby Pine Bluff played a big role in routing him to Tuscaloosa, just as he had with wide receiver Don Hutson, a Pine Bluff native and future NFL superstar.

In his memoir, Bear, Bryant recalls Crimson Tide rosters were filled with many Arkansans "because of the influence of Jimmy Harland, who ran a poolroom in Pine Bluff where the school kids hung out. He had adopted Alabama. A self-appointed scout. After Huey Long came to power in Louisiana, Harland did some recruiting for LSU, too, but when Long got shot he went back to pushing Alabama full-time. Our 1935 Rose Bowl team was loaded with Harland recruits—Don Hutson, Charlie Marr, Bill Young, Happy Campbell, Leroy Goldberg, Joe Dildy, Dutch King, me."

Before arriving in Alabama in the fall 1931, though, Bryant moved to Monticello to enroll at the Arkansas Agricultural and Mechanical College, which in 1971 became part of the University of Arkansas System.

"He said he went to work for some guy who worked a drug store in Monticello," Lacewell recalls. "He said he didn’t get the money he thought he deserved at the end of the week, so he packed up and left to go back home."

Bryant’s legacy is now irrevocably tied to the Crimson Tide, but before he became Alabama’s head coach in 1958 he twice came close to joining the University of Arkansas.

Read more about those episodes - which included a seriously lucrative offer by Little Rock businessman Jack Stephens - in the rest of my Whole Hog Sports article here.