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Myths And Legends About Paul "Bear" Bryant And Adolph Rupp At the University Of Kentucky

By Jon Scott

Many people have heard the story about Paul "Bear" Bryant leaving Kentucky.  According to legend, Bryant was at a banquet where UK basketball coach Adolph Rupp was awarded a shiny new Cadillac, while Bryant was given a cigarette lighter for his work.  With that, Bryant knew that Kentucky would never support him in football in the way he thought it deserved, and that led Bryant to eventually leave the school.

This story has been told often through the decades, including by Bryant himself during banquets, and while it ensured laughs from the audience, it also served as a perfect analogy for how Kentucky seems to put an emphasis on basketball at the expense of football.

The only problem with this story is that it DIDN'T happen.

[Continued after the jump]
It is indeed true that Rupp received a Cadillac, however it was given to him by UK boosters (not the school) in 1956,  well after Bryant had already left the school following the 1953 season.  The reason for the gift was to thank the coach for 25-years of service as coach at Kentucky.   But there's no evidence to support the claim of a Cadillac being awarded to Rupp when Bryant was football coach.

This lack of direct evidence supporting this story has always been troubling, especially since a few people who knew Rupp personally have contacted me in the past and informed me that they asked Rupp specifically about it and were assured it was not true.  

Recently, I was able to trace the source of Bryant's comment to a banquet held in early December 1950 in Oklahoma City prior to Kentucky's showdown with top-ranked Oklahoma prior to the Sugar Bowl.   Going back to the microfilm of the Lexington Herald during that time, it is clear that the specific claims Bryant had made (that a joint banquet was held the week prior) were untrue.  

Beyond that, further reading of then-Herald Sports Editor Ed Ashford after Bryant's 'quote' was published confirmed that Bryant's remarks were not supposed to have been taken seriously.  In fact, Ashford noted that Bryant had made the same joke numerous times previous to the banquet, only this time someone reported it as true and it found its way into numerous newspapers around the country.

This story has been repeated often through the decades, but until now, no one seemed to actually try to verify whether it actually happened or not.  As they say in the movies regarding how the media often treats their stories, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."      This example of a tall-tale that took on a life of its own, going on for over 50 years, only underscores the importance for for journalists and reporters to check their facts, a practice that is sorely lacking in the media today.

For more information about this along with the relationship between Bryant and Rupp, please see the following webpage.