Ray Perkins is busy clearing up some misconceptions. For one, there's no metal plate in his head. The three holes are there all right, but no metal plate. And none of the holes in his head is the one he presumably had to have to take the job at Alabama as Bear Bryant's successor. Perkins thinks it's funny you should remember. The holes don't even show.
The way it was supposed to have happened was that when Perkins first played at Alabama in 1963 he-had a head-on collision with another freshman football player at practice. Perkins wound up in the hospital, a previously uncharted constellation spinning around in his brain. The constellation was diagnosed as a subdural hematoma. Perkins says he remembers how grim that sounded because Ben Casey, a television surgeon of the time, had to deal with one every other week or so. "When they said 'subdural hematoma' I thought, 'Uh-oh.' "
The holes were drilled to relieve the massive blood clot and salvage Perkins' football career and perhaps his life. An ore bucket full of stainless steel supposedly was used to cap off the operation. Bryant himself told the story, and hadn't he taken a room at a hotel near the hospital to better monitor Perkins' progress?
That's right, says Perkins. Except, forget the metal plate. On a clear day, he can't hear Radio Free Europe after all. He says he couldn't have played football with metal in his head, and all he wanted to do in those days was play football. Now, of course, he only wants to coach football, even from the hottest seat in college sport.
Looking nonetheless cool in his freshly pressed slacks and short-sleeved dress shirt, Perkins is sitting in what used to be Bryant's office in Memorial Coliseum at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa at T-minus-five days and counting until his first game as Bryant's successor. The game will be with Georgia Tech, an old—and formerly bitter—rival. Except for the paneled walls, the office is mostly new. The desk that Bryant used to loom behind has been replaced by one that is a few square yards smaller. The new rug is elephant gray, like the new sofa, and there are color-coordinated upholstered chairs in gray and crimson stripes and a large stuffed one that is solid crimson.
Like his desk, Perkins, too, is smaller than Bryant. And, of course, they look nothing alike. At 41 Perkins still has brown hair, which he combs in a kind of modified Buster Brown. The Bear's was sparse and gray when he died, at 69, on Jan. 26, just 42 days after Perkins took the job that Bryant had vacated. But there's a haunting reminder of Bryant in Perkins: his piercing blue eyes. Not the way they look, but the hard way they look at you. Card-counting eyes. Eyes of a bird of prey.
"Bryant used to say that to succeed in this business you have to be one-half coach and one-half son of a bitch," a visitor says to Perkins. "How much of an s.o.b. are you?"
Perkins doesn't answer. He lets the question sit there for a minute, the way Bryant used to. "I don't know," Perkins says at last, "but I'm tough enough." To keep people in Alabama happy you have to win, Perkins is told. "We'll win," he says flatly.
Perkins says the business of legend-following is another misconception that needs clearing up. He has talked to his players about this. He says he wouldn't have campaigned so hard for the job—he left the New York Giants' helm to take it—if it was the minefield everybody thinks it is. It doesn't bother him at all, he says, to be engulfed by the ongoing apotheosis of his former coach and benefactor. Bryant's image is everywhere in Alabama—on billboards, in hotel lobby showcases, in drugstore displays—and can be purchased in the form of everything from framed posters to a fiber-glass facsimile of a bronze bust. Right out front at the Coliseum, Tenth Street is now Paul W. Bryant Drive, renamed after Bryant's death, and the Tuscaloosa police are having trouble keeping the signs up. Souvenir hunters have run off with 10 since March.
This deification is only as it should be, Perkins says. "The greatest honor of my life is following that man," he adds. His blue eyes narrow. "But when I took the job they asked me if I was intimidated by Coach Bryant. I said he wouldn't have wanted me if I was. I'm not replacing him; I'm following him. People say it's better not to follow a legend, but not everybody who follows a legend has to fail. The guy who says he'd rather follow the guy who follows the legend is too scared to be there in the first place. He doesn't deserve this job. It's the best coaching job in America."
There are other misconceptions Perkins would like cleared up. Things that have made some Alabamans believe he's just the unfeeling s.o.b. the Crimson Tide bargained for. They shake their heads over the changes he has made. No more wishbone offense, a Bryant specialty for 12 years. No more Bryant tower on the practice field, an edifice as familiar to Alabamans as the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville. No more this employee or that one—more than half the coaching staff and some other familiar figures, including the Tide's radio announcer for 25 years, were canned.
The impression is one of a ruthless young man knocking over symbols and treading on feelings, making up in insolence for what he lacks in tact. One of Perkins' biggest allies is Jerry Duncan, a former teammate who is now a Birmingham stockbroker. But Duncan, who also works as a colorman on 'Bama broadcasts, was incensed by the replacement of the radio man, John Forney, and told Perkins so. And when Bryant's old tower was found rusting on its side on a flatbed trailer behind a warehouse at Cain steelyard, the weeds growing up all around, it was easily seen as an insult to Bryant.
But is Perkins really so ruthless? Or is he simply a man returning to the methods that led to the glories he experienced as a player under Bryant: the national championship teams of 1964 and 1965, the undefeated team of 1966, which should have been similarly crowned. No wishbone? The Tide didn't use it when it won in Perkins' days as a wide receiver, and he never coached it anywhere. No more names on the backs of jerseys? "We've never won a national championship with names on the jerseys," he says. White helmets as well as the traditional red? "We used white helmets in the '60s." No tower? Perkins wants to be "down there with the players"—the way Bryant preferred to be at Perkins' age. The tower was left on the field for a while, Perkins says, but it became a "distraction." Now he'd like to see it put in the Hall of Fame or in a special place on campus for everybody to see.
Interestingly enough, says Perkins, the biggest change might well have been made by Bryant himself had he coached—and lived—on: the switch to a multiple offense, with a greater emphasis on passing. Bryant's coaching was marked by his willingness to adapt readily to trends, and with the more liberalized pass-blocking rules in the NCAA, another change appeared inevitable. "When I talked with Coach Bryant in '82 about bringing in a new offensive coordinator for Alabama, I named a guy I wanted but didn't get, and he said, 'Yeah, I'd get him, too, and then I'd throw the ball.' " Against Georgia Tech, Perkins says, Alabama will be throwing the ball—about once for every two times that it runs.
Most conspicuous is the absence of any controversy—or even a hint of negative feeling—about Georgia Tech. The old acrimony is gone. No one even mentions it, although at its bitter peak it almost ruined Bryant's career.
The bitterness had begun with an old rival's complaints about the helmet-busting style of football that Bryant's teams played. The rival was Yellow Jacket Coach Bobby Dodd, who taught moderation and chafed in the early '60s as Bryant's tougher approach stole the Southern spotlight. The issue eventually emerged in print after a Tech player's jaw was crushed by an Alabama linebacker on a sideline foul that was not seen by officials. Subsequent games were laced with rancor—and usually won by the Tide. Bryant said he took his "lunch bucket" when he went to Atlanta and always returned before dark.
Dodd pulled out of the series in 1964, and Tech dropped out of the SEC and into a partial eclipse. The estrangement between the schools didn't end until Bryant moved to conciliate in the late '70s. By then Tech was a faded name, no longer a national power, and Dodd was out of coaching, no longer a threat.
Now the rival coaches are Perkins and Bill Curry, who played under Dodd, and there is no animosity whatsoever. The two were, in fact, teammates—and occasionally roommates—for five years on the Baltimore Colts. Instead of brickbats they toss bouquets. Curry was the teammate Perkins went to for solace when his playing days were ended, partly because of injury, 11 years ago.
Rain has softened the Alabama heat, but not for long. It had been in the high 90s the week before; it is now in the 80s, but the Saturday forecast for Birmingham, where the game will be played, is clear and hot. Perkins has allowed Popsicle breaks at practice. The workouts are closed, even to the old alumni friends of Bryant's who used to attend regularly. Some have been offended, but it doesn't change Perkins. He doesn't want "any distractions."
After practice, Gary White, who ran the athletic dorm when Perkins played at Alabama and is now the assistant athletic director, takes the wheel of Perkins' Buick Park Avenue and chauffeurs him to Birmingham for an "annual appearance" before the Birmingham Touchdown Club. After he signed in January, Perkins says, he made "60 or 70" appearances, sometimes two in a night.
He says it helped him remember why he loved college football so much—"Everybody gets involved, and the kids really want it." He tells the story of a pro player who balked at being traded because the team that wanted him was going to make him a starter, and he was afraid of getting hurt. "Money's the factor now," Perkins says. "Playing is secondary.
"I know these guys want to play," he says of the 'Bama team. "They've got the best attitude of any group I've been around, college or pro. I know because I was like that. If I could, I'd still be playing. I know they're talented, too. I've never seen a group that could catch the ball as well as they do."
"College or pro?"
"College or pro. And I know they're good people because I know what they come from. But I don't know what they'll do in a game because I haven't been with them in one yet. And I really don't know how all these changes have affected them. I think it's been a lot tougher for them than it has been for me. Look what they've gone through. Their coach retired. A new coach came in. The old coach died. The new coach put in a new offense. One thing after another."
Perkins is asked if he thinks his team has what coaches like to call "character," that special will to win.
"Yes, I do." He pauses. "Well, I take that back." He says he has studied the records and found a surprising thing. "They lost six games and tied a seventh the last two years. Four times in those seven games they carried leads of seven points or better into the last quarter—and lost. I'm not sure what that says about their character. Alabama teams are supposed to win in the fourth quarter."
White whisks Perkins into an elevator at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Birmingham and leads him to the ballroom jammed with 450 white male members of the Birmingham Touchdown Club. The ballroom is breathtakingly tacky, a cacophony in red, with chandeliers that look as if they've been blown from a bubble pipe. The membership stands and applauds as Perkins hustles up to the podium. He hasn't eaten, but it's too late for that. The fatty edges of prime ribs and hollowed-out baked potatoes litter the plates on the crowded tables. The membership is into the carrot cake.
Gaylon McCollough, a center on the 1964 Alabama team, introduces Perkins. McCollough is a big, handsome, square-jawed man who was on the search committee that chose Perkins. He's also the plastic surgeon who gave Bryant a minor face-lift a year ago. He introduces Perkins as a "fierce competitor," "intense" and "goal oriented." Perkins barely has time to scare the audience about Tech—"It's ridiculous, Alabama being favored by 19 points. Bill Curry thinks they can win the Atlantic Coast Conference this year, and Bill Curry doesn't blow smoke"—when the program makes a grinding shift of gears and goes into a live radio talk show. The announcer feeds the phoned-in questions to Perkins.
CALLER: "I'm looking forward to the upcoming season, and I was just wondering if you were."
PERKINS (He waits for the crowd to stop laughing. He's not the natural Bryant was with an audience, but he makes a good effort at being wry): "I'll probably show up."
CALLER (in a small voice): "I want to come to Alabama to play football for you, Coach Perkins."
PERKINS: "HOW old are you, Son?"
PERKINS: "Good. I'll see you in 11 or 12 years."
CALLER: "How come no names on the jerseys this year, Coach?"
PERKINS: "Because we haven't won a national championship with names on jerseys. And, I admit, I'm superstitious."
CALLER: "I've got a real important question to ask you, Coach."
CALLER: "You got any tickets for Saturday's game?"
Perkins has a friend in tow, and they are quick-touring the campus in his cinnamon-colored Buick. Down Paul W. Bryant Drive, then past Bryant-Denny Stadium. The stadium looks unusually sprightly for a 54-year-old. Perkins says every seat, sign and wall has just been repainted and the press box refurbished, on his orders as athletic director. He says the old lady deserves it. Bryant teams lost only twice in 74 games there, and when Perkins played there—he was Bryant's best receiver and fastest athlete—they didn't even come close to losing. Perkins says it has always been the players' job in the off-season to paint the stadium, but it was mostly a slapdash kind of thing.
Herman Shelton, the university's grounds supervisor, calls Perkins "the best worker we ever had" when he was in school. Shelton says Perkins was also a fussbudget. When a fellow off-season painter named Joe Namath got too sloppy with the brush one afternoon, Perkins threatened to run him off the detail.
Perkins says the stadium face-lift was a bargain at $150,000—"It cost $60,000 just to paint the seats." He has also commissioned improvements on the baseball field and ordered the construction of a $4.5 million football center adjacent to the Coliseum on ground now taken up by two tennis courts. It will house all the football offices and locker rooms, as well as a training center. There's no mystery about where he will get the money. The Bryant legacy included almost $10 million accumulated in the athletic fund.
Perkins is 15 minutes late for his morning press conference. It's unusual for him to be late for anything; those who are late for an appointment with him are liable to find him gone. The conference is held in the basement of the Coliseum, in the Letterman's Club Room, which is heavy with Tudor furnishings and features a large fake fireplace. Perkins makes a brief statement bemoaning the number of injured players, outlining the practice schedule, etc. and names the captains for the Tech game—Defensive Tackle Randy Edwards, Halfback Joe Carter and Tight End Jay Grogan.
When he opens up the proceedings to questions, the media contingent of about 30 can muster only one. Like Bryant's, Perkins' menacing visage seems to cow the press. Bryant once smoked an entire cigarette before he or anybody else spoke at an Alabama postpractice press conference. When he finally opened his mouth, Bryant made a two-sentence summary, asked for questions, got none and left.
When Perkins gets up to leave, he is surrounded by those who have been saving their questions. He charms them with expansive answers and stings them with brusque replies: "Explain why I picked the captains I did? That doesn't call for an explanation." One young man asks, "People expect you to win all the time here, Coach. Doesn't that make it tougher on you?"
"They should expect me to win," Perkins says, his eyes narrowing. "I went to school here, did you know that? Did you know I went to school here?"
The reporter nods, embarrassed. He's not sure if Perkins is kidding or not.
"These people expect us to win, and so do I," says Perkins.
A red-haired woman intercepts him on the way out. She identifies herself as a columnist for an Alabama weekly and asks for a picture—of her and him together "for my column." Perkins puts his arm around her and grins. "I'm glad there's something around here worth looking at," he says. The redhead gushes happily as the two of them pose for the photographer.
Perkins eats lunch at Bryant Hall, the Alabama athletic dorm. When built in 1963, the place was so well appointed it was known as the Bear Bryant Hilton. Through the magic of redecoration, it has come to look like a $1.98 steak house. Its interiors, dominated by red, black and silver foil, are garish enough to give all its inhabitants insomnia. The furniture looks as if it were designed by Buck Rogers, and the lamps appear to be various types of military weapons. Perkins has ordered a refurbishing.
As Perkins drives up, a husky blond athlete waves at him from a car where he is talking with a girl. When Perkins is seated inside, a black player comes up and, deferentially, asks if he can stay in Birmingham with his mother after the game. "She's coming in from Washington just for the weekend." Perkins purses his lips. "We travel as a team," he says finally. The boy waits for a second, trying to determine if that's the answer, and then gets up, thanking Perkins for his time. Perkins softens. "I'll think about it," he says. But when the player is gone he says he knows he can't allow it because it would "start a flood. And all it would take to spoil it would be for someone to stay in Birmingham and wind up in a car wreck. His family would never forgive me, and I wouldn't either."
The husky blond player calls to Perkins from a nearby table. "My girl friend was impressed, Coach," he says.
"Why didn't you introduce me?" Perkins says, smiling.
"I'm still scared of you," says the blond.
Walter Lewis, the Alabama quarterback and team star, is there. Lewis was a pallbearer at Bryant's funeral. He says the transition to Perkins "has been rather smooth." He says the one thing that seems to link Perkins and Bryant is that "they both care." He says Bryant stuck by him last year when "unfounded rumors" were flying that he was dating the wife of a white player. He says Bryant never treated him like a "black" quarterback, nor did he think of Bryant as a "white" coach. "He told somebody before he died that he regarded me like his grandson, Marc," Lewis says. "And I thought of him as a father."
At the last major team meeting of the week, Perkins tells his players he doesn't know how they're going to react to the pressure on Saturday because "I haven't been there with you yet to know. I think I know. I think you'll react positively.
"The alibis have been lined up on the table for you—new coach, new offense, all of it. But if you, lose you won't lose because of those things. You'll lose only if you don't play as well as you're capable. But if you do play like you're capable, you'll win."
The woman at the campus bookstore is pouty-pretty, brunette and pregnant. She's the buyer for the section of the store where you can purchase memories for a discount. Bryant's image seems to be on everything there. The big numbers are framed prints of paintings of Bryant, one selling for $200. There are no pictures of Perkins, only two bumper stickers: IT TAKES A GIANT COACH TO FILL BEAR'S SHOES and THE TIDE JUST KEEPS PERKIN' ALONG. The pregnant woman says she can't offer any Perkins memorabilia because "he hasn't allowed it."
Perkins seems to have a golden touch. Sometimes the touch has been a rub the wrong way. Alabama has switched from Adidas shoes to Pony's for the new season. Perkins made the deal. Pony had provided shoes for the Giants when he coached them. The Wall Street Journal says Pony will give the shoes to Alabama and that coaches of the stature of Perkins might be paid more than $50,000 for the privilege.
When Perkins' agent, Robert Fraley, tells the sponsors of Bryant's television show, Coca-Cola and Golden Flakes Potato Chips, that the price to sponsor Perkins will be higher, almost triple Bryant's fee, Golden Flakes balks. The company president is an old Bryant crony, Sloan Bashinsky. When he balks too long, Perkins' agent signs on with a rival company, Frito-Lay. Bashinsky is angry. He has sponsored the Bryant show for 25 years. He openly criticizes Perkins. "The way he's doing business, he'd better win," Bashinsky says.
In his office after the morning coaches' meeting, Perkins watches a tape of his first television show. He will have two a week during the season, on Thursdays and Sundays, each 30 minutes long. The producer, a massive, sweating man with a black beard, is awaiting Perkins' approval. He suggests Perkins might like one of those fancy monitors to use himself. Perkins smiles and says yes, that it would make a nice "present."
In the Frito-Lay commercial break, Perkins appears to announce that the Alabama athletic fund will be given $50 for every point the Tide scores this season, a gift from the sponsor. One of the men he has invited in to see the show suggests Perkins had better check that out with the NCAA because there might be a rule against it. "If nothing else," the guest says, "it's sure to offend other coaches. The first time you win a game 45-0, they'll say you ran up the score for the money."
Perkins is immediately concerned. He asks Sam Bailey, his associate athletic director, to call the NCAA right away. "We probably ought to change that, regardless," Perkins says. "People who know me know I don't run up the score on anybody. But I can see where somebody might think so."
The producer asks Perkins if he'll need a van for the show on Saturday. "That's for you to decide," Perkins says. "I can't worry about vans. I don't want to think about vans. I've got Tech to think about."
When he leaves the office at lunchtime, he takes a drive into the country to "get away for a while." When he signed with the Colts in 1967, he used the bonus to buy 330 acres of Alabama farmland, at $87 an acre, and felt wed to the area for life. He's now on the board of directors of the First Alabama Bank (Bryant was on First National's), he belongs to the three Tuscaloosa country clubs, and McCollough is putting together an investment group for him. All that is secondary, Perkins says, to winning this first game. "It's the most important game I've ever played or coached in, including the Super Bowl. I've never wanted anything so badly in my life."
Namath is at the afternoon practice. He's in for the weekend at Perkins' invitation. He calls Perkins "Raymond" and tells the local press he is "perfect" for the job. Namath says he likes the fact that Alabama is switching back to a more diversified attack, with the quarterback passing more. "There are no wishbone quarterbacks playing in the NFL," he says.
Dude Hennessey, a former Alabama assistant coach, is squiring Namath around. It was Hennessey who recruited Perkins for Alabama. "Petal, Mississippi," he says. "Population 8,000. I got him with a 98¢ steak."
Hennessey says when he went to Petal to see Perkins he couldn't pry him loose from his job at the Sinclair gas station. "I asked if I could take him to breakfast. He said, 'I've got to wash trucks.' I said, 'How about lunch?' 'No, got to pump gas.' 'Dinner?' 'I got to finish washing the trucks.' When I finally signed him, I took him across the river to Hattiesburg for dinner. I had in mind a nice, big juicy $10 steak, one for each of us. But he ordered a 98¢ hamburger steak, with onions, and iced tea. Naturally, I had to eat what he ate."
Namath is Perkins' surprise guest at a pep rally at Foster Auditorium, the old gymnasium-field house. It's sweltering inside, but 3,000 show up to cheer to the thump of band music. They react to every move. When Perkins blows into the mike, the crowd cheers. He thanks them for coming and assures them the Tide will "represent you well both on and off the field." Namath tells the crowd, "We are all in this together," and the crowd cheers Namath and itself.
Perkins drops Namath off and drives home alone. The Perkins' house is on two acres in Ridgeland, outside Tuscaloosa, and it's a beauty, with a triple-decked swimming pool and five bedrooms. When he was a boy, Perkins says, he dreamed of having such a house and owning land "as far as you could see." But he and Carolyn, his wife, married right out of high school, and those things seemed unattainable. "Funny how life turns out," he says.
Carolyn and their second son, Mike, 16, arrive from the pep rally shortly afterward. Perkins breaks out root beer. Mike shows his father his new yellow-and-black football jersey. He has made the team at Tuscaloosa Academy as a wide receiver. At a lanky 6'2", Mike seems more cut for basketball, but he says he told his basketball coach he was only playing the game "to stay in shape for football."
Perkins is incredulous. "You told him that?"
"Yeah. They don't usually let you play two sports there, and I want to play football," says Mike.
Perkins grabs his son's head and presses his cheek to it.
At 2 a.m. in Ridgeland, Perkins is staring at a hole in his ceiling. From 1979 to 1982, when he was coaching the Giants, Perkins figured he averaged 3½ hours sleep a night during the season. Now he has it up to four or five. He thinks by sheer determination he can train himself to maintain that, except for one gluttonous night a week, when he'll treat himself to seven hours.
He drifts back to sleep for a while, but he's still out of the house and at the office before daybreak. Driving out to the Coliseum in the semidarkness, he passes under a sign that was strung across the road by his Ridgeland neighbors: GOOD LUCK COACH, GAME #001.
Friday is throwaway day. The team is either ready or not. Tampering now is useless. The game plan is in. There are no revelations. The Perkins offense is a variety show of I formations, running and passing, veer and veer options, drop-back passing and bootlegs, etc. "Ninety-five percent of it I've learned from other people," he says. "You're fooling yourself if you think you're going to revolutionize football."
Nevertheless, he goes to the brown chalkboard opposite his desk to scribble out the components one more time. Perkins says it is an offense made for Lewis: "He's got a great arm, and he can run, and doing what we'll be doing will give him plenty of opportunity to do both."
The defense is in the hands of Ken Donahue, the assistant head coach; Donahue did the same job for Bryant. His work habits are legendary. Once, as Bryant and a friend drove by the Coliseum after midnight, the friend pointed out that a light was on in the football offices. "Yeah," Bryant growled. "It's that damn Donahue up there making me look like a genius."
At his desk, Perkins sifts through telegrams of encouragement. Seven are from New York Giants players. When he first took over the Giants, Perkins remembers, some players said he was a "martinet." They were also quoted as saying he "drives you too hard" and "gives you no sense of security." One said he was "a heartless leader in a heartless business." When the Giants went to the playoffs for the first time in 18 years in 1981, they said other things, that he had "taught us a work ethic" and "whipped us into shape" and "brought us national respect."
Perkins smiles at the irony. He says in the first game they played that first year, the Giants didn't make a first down the first two or three times they had the ball. "The crowd yelled, 'Bring back McVay [the previous Giants coach]!' " He says he heard that when the Giants lost their first 1983 game, the crowd yelled, "Bring back Perkins!"
After dinner, the 75 players who will suit up pile into the buses for the 50-mile ride to their motel in Bessemer, where they'll spend the night before going on to Birmingham on Saturday. Later, Perkins will say that when he settled in for the ride, up at the front of the first bus, the chilling thought crossed his mind: "This is his seat," and tomorrow he would be "going into his stadium."
Legion Field is jammed, and the 77,413 fans in the stands have fans in their hands. It's 93° and they have been given instructions in the local press on how to survive the brutal heat. They fan furiously. On the stadium floor it's 20° hotter, and the Crimson Tide is lurching along toward a 20-7 victory.
Lurching because the offense that seems so spectacular at times does belly flops whenever it looks close to achieving orbit. Yet it still gives the impression that it's fully capable of being efficient and workmanlike at any time. Soon, even.
Alabama has gone off an 18½-point favorite over Tech, and Perkins was right: The Tide's not 19 points better. But that's because Tech is better than everybody else thought. Perkins is wrong later when he says the Tide was "lucky" to win. So, in fact, is Curry when he says Tech "gave it away."
Perkins had come onto the field with a decal of the familiar Bryant houndstooth hat pinned on his shirt collar and Hennessey at his sleeve. The idea of sharing the spotlight is Perkins', and it wasn't lost on regulars in the south stands, who cheered them both lustily. The hounds-tooth hat decals were also on the Alabama helmets. In a team meeting, Perkins had led the players in a two-minute silent prayer in Bryant's memory.
Alabama scored in the first two minutes after a fumble recovery at the Tech 20. On third down, Lewis drilled a sideliner to Carter. The play went for 15 yards, and it was 7-0. Over the noise, Perkins told an assistant: "That was too easy. It's better when you earn it."
He was right. Tech, stung, battled back to hold its own through the first and most of the second quarter. Then Lewis again connected, this time for 53 yards to Jesse Bendross. The gain reached the Tech 17, but on the next play Tech intercepted—and then fumbled the ball back before the play was dead. Given that second chance, Alabama's Van Tiffin kicked a 39-yard field goal, and it was 10-0.
Lewis played the entire game. He threw 19 passes, completed 10 for 204 yards, ran for 15 more and generally looked good except for some third-down inconsistencies and a few other foul-ups. In the third quarter, Lewis got Alabama in position for a Tiffin 45-yard field goal, and then the Tide blocked a punt, and Stan Gay ran it 32 yards to push the lead to 20-0.
Tech scored in the fourth quarter and growled enough to keep Alabama from going to sleep. But it's important to note that the best drive of the day, by either team, was Alabama's move from its 24 to the Tech goal line late in the fourth quarter. Fourth-quarter drives say a lot. This one was without a pass and ate up almost five minutes. Craig Turner fumbled the ball at the Tech one, however.
Perkins has a headache afterward, but he says, at last, that he's "relieved." He had awakened at 2 a.m. at the motel and had, indeed, felt as if he were on Bryant's bus and on Bryant's field. But the more he thought about it, the more he realized "it didn't bother me. It might always be Bryant's field and Bryant's place on the bus. What's wrong with that, anyway? I'm not replacing him, remember, I'm following him. I couldn't be prouder."
Thus the 10th day of September became the first day of the Ray Perkins era. On Sept. 11, Bear Bryant would have been 70 years old.
The desk is smaller, the rug is new, but Perkins brings a familiar toughness to Bear's old office.
There are reminders of Bryant everywhere in Tuscaloosa—posters, billboards, street signs—but only two bumper stickers refer to Perkins.
At practice, Perkins gives the Crimson Tide a few pointers on his offense: Bear's wishbone is out, while a new emphasis on passing is in.
Bryant's famous observation tower is rusting amid the weeds at a Tuscaloosa steelyard, because, says Perkins, it had become "a distraction" to his players.
Namath appeared at Thursday's practice to buck up the troops for their opener against Georgia Tech, an archrival in his day, an 18½-point underdog in 1983.
Perkins received this neighborly send-off as he left his home in Ridgeland at dawn on Friday.
The 3,000 fans at a campus rally even cheered when Perkins blew on the mike.
A sweltering, standing-room-only crowd greeted Perkins as he trooped onto "Bryant's field."
Lewis successfully launched Alabama's new passing game by hitting on 10 of 19 throws for 204 yards.
Small wonder Perkins was "relieved" when his debut was over.
In the end, Alabama had perked to a 20-7 win over Tech.