By David M. Shribman
‘Rising Tide: Bear Bryant, Joe Namath and Dixie's Last Quarter" is one more excursion into sports and sociology, produced by two history professors, one from Purdue (Randy Roberts) and another from Ball State (Ed Krzemienski). It's presented in an unusually approachable academic style.
The coach and the quarterback were transformational figures in a transitional era. When Namath moved from his home state of Pennsylvania to Tuscaloosa to play football for the University of Alabama, he encountered separate bus-station bathrooms, one for whites and one for "coloreds," for the first time. Roberts and Krzemienski relate this affectingly and effectively.
"I ain't never been nothin' but a winner," the Bear once said, and of course that was the Namath creed as well. Together they personified the rise of the South in college football and the ascension of Alabama in the football firmament.
But this volume is another reminder that neither the South nor Alabama could reach their potential, on the field or in the broader society, as long as they clung to segregation.
"For Bear Bryant," the authors write, "history was fast becoming an inescapable burden." In Alabama, in this time, football was more than a game. It was a metaphor.
"Rising Tide" is published by Twelve (437 pages, $28).