A lot was benumbed on the 1961 Iron Bowl aback Alabama pulled up to Legion Acreage a day afore kickoff.
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Bear Bryant’s fourth Crimson Tide was undefeated, touting what abounding still accede the best ascendant aegis in affairs history. Since civic titles were awarded at the end of the approved division aback then, the afterpiece with Auburn meant alike more.
So, what Alabama begin aback it accustomed in Birmingham on the eve of alpha was troubling.
“It was like walking about on concrete,” said Bill Battle, an end on that 1961 team.
Months of aerial academy and academy amateur on the accommodation not advised to avant-garde standards larboard Legion Acreage a disaster. That’s what fabricated Bryant’s acknowledgment to the altitude so clever.
It complex a arrangement of accompaniment troopers, allegation to the account and a last-minute abstruse weapon.
Stacks of shoe boxes greeted Alabama players at breakfast the abutting morning.
Only these weren’t football cleats.
And as far as Gary White knows, their adventure has never been absolutely told.
White was in his third division as arch administrator for Alabama’s football aggregation in 1961. He had accustomed in the Ears Whitworth era as an abettor administrator and climbed the ranks beneath Bryant.
After seeing the field, White remembers the chat abaft the scenes.
The guys bare soccer shoes, Bryant determined.
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They had bendable spikes that could cross that mess. Abettor drillmaster Carney Laslie was in allegation of accessories and the plan to accompany a football agenda account of shoes from a adequately abstruse action to the west ancillary of Birmingham in beneath than 24 hours.
“So, that night,” White recalled 57 years later, “from all over the state, accompaniment troopers brought them to the stadium.”
That’s area Chief Joe Smelley came into the equation. One of the accompaniment troopers who abundantly attentive Bryant on bold canicule was in allegation of the artery convoying statewide.
It’s safe to say he had some influence.
They were advancing from all corners of the accompaniment because no one abundance had abutting to abundant in banal to amuse this abrupt and ample demand. There was no way that accomplishment could accept been mobilized afterwards Smelley’s help, White said.
“We were accepting them from Mobile, from Huntsville, Dothan,” White remembered. “I beggarly we had them advancing from everywhere that night. They were cat-and-mouse for us aback we accustomed at the stadium.”
Any soccer shoe a antic appurtenances abundance abounding in football-player sizes anguish up in Birmingham.
Battle, who went on to become Alabama’s contest administrator from 2013-17, remembers seeing the new bliss for the aboriginal time.
“We acquainted like kids at Christmas activity to try on those shoes,” Battle said. “Some of them had lightning stripes activity bottomward the side. We anticipation that was the coolest thing.”
This wasn’t alike the aboriginal time Alabama fabricated cossack adjustments on the fly that fall. A torrential cloudburst afore the Mississippi Accompaniment bold in Bryant-Denny Amphitheater appropriate the managers to alleviate all the accustomed cleats and alter them with best ones.
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Alabama won that one, 24-0 on accession day.
Those spikes wouldn’t assignment at Legion Acreage in the Iron Bowl, however. So, it was up to White and the managers to accomplish faculty of this airlift and get the soccer shoes unboxed and accessible for the better bold of their lives.
“We got everybody outfitted,” White said, “went out and broiled up and the blow is history.”
Benny Nelson acutely remembers the afterimage of those soccer shoes in the Legion Acreage locker room. Nelson, who went on to be an All-American two seasons later, was again a third-string active back. He got a new brace of shoes that December day in Birmingham.
Unlike the old covering shoes, the new imports didn’t charge as abundant assignment to breach them in.
“Put these on, go out there and see how these work,” was Nelson’s anamnesis of Bryant’s pregame instructions with the new gear. “And everybody admired them. They formed absolutely well. It was appealing able he begin out a way to affected that problem.”
As Nelson remembered it, the addled acreage was formed “like you would a highway” and corrective it.
“And it looked great,” Nelson said. “It absolutely did, until you absolved out there on it. It was like arena on a parking lot.”
Apparently, the new shoes helped. They had anchor area the old cleats did not.
“It fabricated a hell of a difference,” Nelson said. “I mean, you could run in those shoes. They had a bendable block on them and they were all the aberration in the apple in that bold …”
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“… Not that we weren’t activity to exhausted them anyway,”
Alabama cruised to a 34-0 win with Pat Trammell at quarterback, Lee Roy Jordan at centermost and All-American Billy Neighbors at tackle. Nelson remembers Neighbors didn’t get the soccer shoes but wore “high top tennis shoes” for that Auburn game.
“We looked fast as the wind,” said White who went on to assignment 38 years with Alabama contest afore backward in 1996 as an accessory contest director. “It was astonishing how it all formed out.”
Auburn threw four interceptions abyssal the exhausted up acreage in acceptable footwear. It wasn’t Ralph Jordan’s best Tiger aggregation entering with a 6-3 record, but they were on a two-game acceptable band over Georgia and Florida.
The Iron Bowl, however, was never close. The Tide led 24-0 at halftime and a few canicule later, Bryant’s aboriginal civic appellation at Alabama was official. A 10-3 win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl completed the absolute 11-0 season.
The adventure of the soccer shoes, however, appeared to be absent to history. Newspaper belief from the time didn’t acknowledgment the move. Bryant never mentioned it on his statewide television appearance taped the day afterwards the game.
Nelson recalled cutting them for a while best in practices afore Bryant airtight them up one day never to return.
Now, Alabama has a $68 actor arrangement with Nike that runs through 2025 and fields are aboriginal carpets of cautiously manicured turf.
Battle still action about the time they bamboozled Auburn with aggregate on the line.
“I saw an Auburn guy several weeks afterwards the game,” Battle said 57 years later, “and he said aback you all ran out on the acreage in those soccer shoes, the bold was over.”
Michael Casagrande is an Alabama exhausted biographer for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.
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