I wasn't sure how my idea of a little one-on-one time with the Bear would be received and I will admit being a little intimidated by the thought. Yes, dear reader, yours truly found herself a little bit daunted by the fact that I wanted to talk to Bear Bryant about the new found excitement surrounding Kentucky Wildcats football.
Remember now, it wasn't as if I intended on barging in with demands he listen and converse. I had been to his special room many times before and he had recently revealed he knew of my presence. I really wanted to know how he was feeling about what was going on around Commonwealth Stadium this February and had decided to get his take on it.
I remembered how sometimes the Bear was alone watching replays, so I decided I would find the perfect opportunity to find him not 'entertaining' the boys. As luck would have it, today he was alone in his room. I decided against knocking on the door for fear he would automatically think it was Lou trying to aggravate him. We all know that he-who-always-knocked-on-the-door was asked to leave almost every time and this was exactly what I did not want him to think.
Just like before, I quietly settled in to my favorite spot in the room, the one where I could see what he was watching on his large monitor. I wasn't really trying to stay hidden in the shadows like before, but I didn't want to seem as an intruder at some inopportune moment. As an outsider, I had always been allowed to quietly observe and had never been asked to leave, so my plan was to stick with the winning strategy.
The Bear wasn't watching a game today. Much to my surprise, and by the wonders of the world wide webz he was watching clips on YouTube. I shouldn't have been surprised, now that I think about it. Old dogs will learn new tricks, especially the smarter ones. I did notice he was watching a clip of some kind that featured Nick Saban when I sat down, but I also noticed the next clip he watched was the Come Be a Hero recruiting video Kentucky Athletics had released last week. Then next videos were clips of Coach Stoops from National Signing Day. He knew I was there, obviously.
I saw this as my invitation to speak. "Mr. Bryant", I said softly, "I'm really glad you don't mind my coming here to visit you in your special place. I really do love listening to everyone's football conversations."
"I don't mind at all, little fan" he said. "Your love for the Kentucky Wildcats and your hunger for football is something I can appreciate. Please, if you don't mind, call me Bear. We are friends now, your respect has been appreciated but if you are going to talk to me, you've got to drop the Mister" he said with a reassuring smile.
I too smiled. "Yes, Mm ... Bear, " I corrected myself quickly. "I will try" I said with a laugh.
"Bear?" I asked, "What do you think about Kentucky's recruiting class this year? Things seem to have taken an upward tick in the last couple of months" I added. "I can tell you from my experience that the fans are definitely more excited. I just want to ask you is Coach Stoops' recruiting something I should be very excited about? Really, really excited?"
"Little fan, I have recruited more boys than I can count. There is reason to be excited about Kentucky football. Change is happening for the better, so yes, be excited. You know that it is highly unlikely that your team will win ten games this year, but you hope that soon you will. One other thing is that I'm also sure you know that the Wildcats won't beat the Tide this year" he said with a little smirk under his voice.
Sensing a little smack talk with him would be fun, I looked at him and said with a grin on my face, "Hey, Bear, I understand this whole 'Roll, Tide, Roll' thing you've got going on, but I'm sure you know that everyone is beatable on any given Saturday, and yes, that means even 'Bama. There may be all kinds of fun things happening in Commonwealth Stadium this fall." We both broke out the smiles from our little jab.
Getting back to the conversation at hand, I said "Oh, there's another thing ... Stars, stars, stars. The measure of a great player is not his star chart. It's the hard work and dedication a player gives his team. Most of my favorite players were not 5 star recruits. I think we need to see them wearing the Kentucky jersey and then we'll make our own decisions. Am I wrong?"
"I don't think so", Bear said. "I used to hear the 'experts' say recruits came to me because of my name. I used to say all this BS about my name recruiting never meant much. I didn't recruit any studs. The ordinary ones played for me. I also used to say, you never know how a horse will pull until you hook him to a heavy load."
"This I do know, little fan", he added. "Everybody's got pretty good players now, more players than there's ever been. If you play poorly, you're going to get beat." he said with a strong presence.
"Trust me, Bear. This I know. I may have only been a football fan for a few years, but I know our new coach will have to work hard to win. The SEC is one tough conference. A smart man once said, Winning isn't everything, but it sure beats anything that comes in second", I quoted with a huge grin.
Bear laughed out loud, and said with a wink, "Yes, he is indeed."
All I could do was nod in approval and smile along with this incredibly smart man. I found myself extremely gratified reflecting on the fun I had had. I had not expected to have such a joyful day. Exchanging smack talk was the unexpected gift for this Kentucky fan.
Sensing it was time for the others to arrive, I thanked him for his time (to which he replied something about having nothing but plenty of it) and I bid him farewell. Until next time, my friend, until then.