University of Missouri

Mizzou fans visit Bear Bryant museum before Tigers take on No. 1 Alabama

Bear Bryant’s hat at his namesake museum in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Bear Bryant’s hat at his namesake museum in Tuscaloosa, Ala. pbaugh@kcstar.com

Six hours before kickoff, Kenneth Gaddy carries a new artifact into the Paul W. Bryant Museum. It’s an original newspaper tab from the 1982 Liberty Bowl — the last game “Bear” Bryant ever coached — donated by a Citrus Bowl representative visiting Tuscaloosa to watch No. 1 Alabama play Missouri on Saturday night.

The museum may never put the clipping on display. Gaddy, the director of the museum, said only 5 percent of artifacts make their way into the main exhibit.

There’s more Alabama football history than there is display space.

The Bryant Museum celebrated its 30th anniversary Monday. It brings in about 40,000 visitors a year, and Gaddy estimated it will get over 2,500 the day of the Missouri game. Sunny weather, a night kickoff and Alabama’s homecoming all helped with attendance Saturday.

Bryant, who won six national titles in a 25-year coaching career at Alabama, originally wanted a display documenting every college team he ever coached, dating back to his days at Maryland in 1945.

“That’s what the idea for the museum sprung out of,” said Gaddy, who took over as director in 1991.

Bryant never saw his vision come to fruition. He died in 1983, five years before the museum opened. When visitors walk into the exhibit area, they are greeted by a bust of Bryant, as well as the team pictures he originally wanted displayed.

Though the museum is named for Bryant, it serves as an archive for all Alabama football history.

“I wouldn’t say it makes you a fan of Alabama football, but it certainly makes you appreciate the history and what it’s all about,” said Brian Kelly, a Missouri fan from St. Louis.

Kelly was one of a chunk of Missouri fans at the museum, and he joked that the exhibit did not make much mention of the 1968 Gator Bowl, which Mizzou won 35-10 over Alabama. Backup quarterback Micah Wilson’s parents stopped by before the game, and sprinkles of yellow shirts jutted out from fans wearing Alabama crimson.

“Good luck!” one Alabama supporter told a pair in Missouri gear.

“We’ll need it,” the Tigers’ fans replied.

The museum displays artifacts from each Alabama head coach. Nick Saban’s Gatorade-stained shirt from the 2010 national title game stands proudly in a glass case, and there’s a Cotton Bowl trophy from Mike Shula’s four-year tenure.

Naturally, the biggest display is for Bryant. While most coaches had a few cases of artifacts, Bryant is given a full alcove. The museum reconstructed his office, and it shows off the six national title rings from Bryant’s time as coach. One display features his Presidential Medal of Freedom, which Gaddy said is his favorite object in the museum.

The director said that multiple schools have reached out to him with questions about building museums on their campuses, including Auburn and Georgia.

“Building those type of places that are OK for the public to go, universities need to do that,” Gaddy said from his office, which features signed footballs and a Bear Bryant-style fedora. “They need places that are acceptable for visitors, for prospective students, alumni to go and feel at home on campus.”

Gaddy’s office sits in the collections area, which holds the other 95 percent of the museum’s artifacts. There’s not enough room to display all of Alabama’s bowl and conference trophies, so six sit on floor.

At Missouri’s athletic complex, the school’s SEC East championship plaques stand proudly on display. At Alabama, the SEC West trophies don’t even make the museum’s main exhibit.

“There’s a lot of hardware in there we may never ever get in Missouri,” said Bob Dinsdale, a Mizzou alum from the Kansas City area.

The collection area also features newspaper clippings dating back to 1915 and film from the 1920s. Students doing research can explore the archives, which also includes information about Alabama’s other sports. A videographer makes over 100 historic projects from the collection area.

“If you said you wanted to do research on the soccer team, we’d have that information,” Gaddy said.

Saban has visited the museum, and Alabama shows off the display to recruits from every sport. It’s even featured in the tour of the engineering school. It’s located in the middle of campus, and adults only need to pay $2 for admission.

A painting of Bryant bids visitors farewell as visitors leave the exhibit. He’s smiling in front of the Denny Chimes tower wearing a white Alabama hat.

The ticket collector calls, “Roll Tide!” as fans walk out the door.

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