By: Jeff “SQUIRREL” Tew
On October 30, 1977 I was born in Dothan, Alabama to a family who had bled Alabama Crimson since the football teams’ inception in 1892. Growing up, all I knew was Alabama football.
Wanting to further engrain my DNA in Alabama fandom, my Dad took the liberty of having Alabama coaches sign and send me memorabilia. In my possession I have a signed picture of “Bear” Bryant addressed to me and dated just months before his death.
After the Bear’s death, my Dad upped the ante and began to have Alabama coaches call me on my birthday. On October 30, 1985 we were living in Birmingham. I will never forget the call that came…. Coach Ray Perkins. To an 8 year old kid who followed the Tide religiously, I was equally starstruck and floored. I am certain Coach Perkins wondered if he was speaking to dead air because I was so nervous, I hardly uttered a syllable. The only words I recall saying were at the end of call when I exclaimed, “Thank you Coach Perkins, Roll Tide.”
Most amazing and memorable of these conversations with Alabama coaches was the phone call I received on October 30, 1987. The phone rang and on the other end was Coach Bill Curry. As a then 10 year old, who had already gone through this drill with Coach Perkins, I was somewhat more at ease. Coach Curry and I made small talk for a minute and I sensed the call was about to be over. What came next left me feeling as if I were in a dream. Coach Curry said, “Jeff, I have talked with your Dad and I want you to come to a practice next week. We’re playing LSU and would love for you both to see us prepare.” I was speechless.
The next week my Dad drove over to Tuscaloosa and to our amazement we were greeted by Coach Curry in front of the Alabama practice facility. Coach Curry gave us a tour of the football complex and led us in to the locker room where the players were preparing to enter the practice field. My dad and I stuck by Coach Curry the entire practice as he explained plays and scenarios. Later, Coach Curry even let me walk up to Bear’s famous tower. Even though Bama was preparing for LSU in Death Valley the next week, Coach Curry treated us like we were the only people there.
Towards the end of the practice I played catch with then quarterback David Smith, who was rehabbing an injured shoulder. Coach Curry even went as far as to let me run a play with the offense in which I handed the ball off to Bobby Humphrey. Think about the impression all of these things on a 10 year old kid who lived and breathed the Tide.
After practice concluded, Coach Curry took me and my Dad up to his office. Although we should have been at his mercy and thanking him eternally for the privilege he afforded, Coach Curry actually thanked us for making the trip and being such supportive fans. As a parting gift, Coach Curry offered us two signed Alabama hats. I was on cloud nine.
The story doesn’t end here. In February of 1988 our home in Birmingham burned while we were away on a family trip. We lost over fifty percent of the items to fire, including the two hats Coach Curry had signed. The next day my father made two calls. The first call was to the insurance company to file a claim. The second call was to Coach Curry’s secretary to let her know of the incident.
Later that week two new hats arrived with a letter from Coach Curry sending his condolences for our losses. Twenty five years later, I remain stunned by the overwhelming kindness displayed by Coach Curry.
Looking at the career of Bill Curry, many Alabama fans will speak of someone who was not an “Alabama man,” a mediocre coach who could never beat Auburn. Remember, Coach Curry had a brick thrown through his office window by a faceless coward disgusted with his futility against Auburn. After Coach Curry’s loss in the 1990 Sugar Bowl to Miami, a season in which Curry went 10-2, finished in the Top 10 and was awarded the SEC and Bobby Dodd Award for Coach of the Year, he was abruptly fired.
This, sadly, is the legacy most in the Alabama community will remember of Coach Curry. I, on the other hand, will forever recall a man who went above and beyond the call of his coaching duty to show a 10 year old Alabama fan a day he will never ever forget. Thank you, Coach Curry.