Roy Exum: Scottsboro’s Pat Trammell

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I got a warm feeling Tuesday when it was announced Pat Trammell will be among those in the inaugural class of the Jackson County (Ala.) Sports Hall of Fame. When the august group is enshrined at Scottsboro’s Goose Pond Civic Center on Nov. 1, most folks won’t even know who Pat Trammell was but I knew all about him in my very first year as a fledgling sports writer back in 1967 and, believe me, I’ll never forget him.

As a matter of fact, I can argue with some authority that Trammell is easily among the top five athletes to ever come out of the Chattanooga area. Oh, I’ve studied it. The late Scrappy Moore, who played at McCallie before starring in both football and baseball at the University of Georgia, is easy. He shunned a major-league contract to end up coaching football for years at UT-Chattanooga and he would be in my Top Five.

I’d also have to include Cleveland’s Steve Sloan, who was an All-American in everything during high school before becoming a big-time All-American at Alabama, and certainly Bill Spears who went from McCallie to become Vanderbilt’s greatest and – with Scrappy – is in the National College Football Hall of Fame.

While my fifth pick gets edgy – because so many deserve it – Trammell has always been my favorite because after being All-State and All-American at tiny Scottsboro High, Pat went on to become the “bell cow” who ushered in the greatness at the University of Alabama. You don’t remember because Trammell, right after he obtained his M.D. degree, died in December of 1968 of testicular cancer. He was 29 years old and I’ll never forget that, either.

The way the legend has it, Alabama head coach E.B. “Ears” Whitworth had stunk it up for the third straight year in 1957, going 2-7-1 in a dismal attempt to coach the Crimson Tide to glory and, as “Bear” Bryant would so quaintly says years later, “Mama called me home.” Well, that’s not the whole story.

Bryant was 8-2 in his fourth year at Texas A&M in 1957 and as the Aggies awaited a date to play No. 20 Rice in the Gator Bowl, Bryant quietly slipped away for several days to study his chances of success if, indeed, he was hired as the next Alabama coach. Coach Bryant always had a plan and very few knew he sneaked into Alabama to scout around weeks before he ever agreed to return to “Mama.”

Wouldn’t you know “Bear” almost immediately sniffed his way to Jackson County, flying in through nearby Chattanooga the night before, and once he got to the sleepy little hamlet of Scottsboro, he immediately went unannounced out to Dr. E.L. Trammell’s house.

“Doc Trammell” was the area’s beloved physician for many years. It so just happened Dr. Trammell’s son was the most fabled athlete in the state and was so good, Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd had already gotten Pat and his parents to verbally agree that Trammell would join the Ramblin’ Wreck. Bryant deftly sidestepped any such pledge, explaining things might change, in what would be the harbinger of a lengthy feud between Bryant and Dodd and soon launched into a pep talk like no other.

Remember, no outsiders were there, just the Trammells and Coach Bryant, so this can’t be confirmed but I heard it come from pretty strong lips: “Pat, I’m trying to decide whether to coach at Alabama. I’ve dreamed of it all my life after playing there like I did. So here’s what I’ll say, if you’ll commit to Alabama – right now -- then I’ll come back to Alabama.”

That’s all it took. Of course, word leaked out, with A&M losing the bowl game by one point, but the die was cast. Pat Trammell got to play in his home state and was the quarterback on Bryant’s first freshman team. As a sophomore Trammell led Alabama in total offense and then came 1960, where Pat led Alabama in scoring and, glory-glory, masterminded a win over a Fran Tarkenton-led Georgia.  But the best was in 1961.

A host of Trammell’s freshmen teammates, guys like Mal Moore and Brothers Oliver and Billy Neighbors, forever swore that during an early meeting with that freshman group, who were ineligible to play back them, Bryant had promised they would win a national championship if they’d stick through what it took to get there. Alabama went 11-0-0 in Trammell’s senior year, whipping Arkansas for the national title and Coach Bryant’s first of many.

The “bell cow” – the leader – was Pat Trammell. At 6-feet, 200 pounds, he was neither fast nor mighty but listen to what Coach Bryant said at his funeral. “He was one of those people who vibrated leadership. When he walked into a room, you knew he was the leader. You’ve seen people like that, some old, some young. They walk in and you know they are that kind of people. Pat was like that.”

“As a quarterback Pat had no great ability.” Bryant said at another point, adding famously, “All he can do is beat you.”

Trammell, a consensus All-American at Alabama, was also an Academic All-American and while starring in 26 victories as “the smartest player (Bryant) ever coached,” he played in only two games where Alabama lost. His influence over his teammates was amazing, especially with Alabama’s freshman quarterback during Trammell’s championship season – freshman Joe Namath.

Don’t you see, Trammell started it all. Vince Lombardi campaigned Coach Bryant hard to get him to bless Trammell going to the Packers but Bryant demurred, saying Pat was “too smart” after having promised “Doc Trammell” long ago he’d help Pat get in medical school. Tragically, shortly after Trammell finished his residency, the cancer was discovered.

I know this to also be true. The first time any Alabama player ever saw Coach Bryant cry was early on the afternoon of Nov. 30, 1968, just before Alabama would play rival Auburn at Legion Field. Minutes before kickoff, Bryant spied Trammell walking with his six-year-old son towards the Tide sidelines. Bryant unashamedly wept at the sight, the emotion washing over his team and triggering a dramatic 24-16 win over the Tigers. Trammell, who would die 11 days later, was presented the game ball.

Then there is this: the six-year-old son, Pat Jr., triggered Coach Bryant’s greatest legacy. Trammell’s death inspired the coach to start a foundation called The Bryant Scholarship and – get this – the sons and daughters of any Alabama football player, from Heisman winner to water boy, automatically receives free tuition to attend college in Tuscaloosa where their daddies once played.

Because of Pat Trammell’s death, and the influence it had on Bryant and the Alabama family, nearly 800 children have now gotten stipends of up to $4,000 a year to walk in front of the Denny Chimes on their way to class and see Pat Trammell’s handprints and cleat marks cast in concrete at its base, simply because their dad also once paid the price.

A short time after Coach Bryant retired (due to advanced heart disease), legendary Birmingham News writer Clyde Bolton caught Bryant in a melancholy moment and asked him quietly, “Who was your favorite player, Coach?”

Oh course, Bryant would never pick one kid over the other, and he loved the guys who consistently tried to outwork their limited abilities every bit as much as his glittering All-Americans, but Bolton finally caught the legendary Alabama molder-of-men just right.

Coach Bryant talked about 10 or 15 “really special” players and then, pausing a moment, famously told the writer, “Now you’ll have to forgive me here for getting a little sentimental but … Pat Trammell was not just my favorite player … he was the favorite person … I’ve ever had in my life.”

That's who Pat Trammell was.

royexum@aol.com




Roy Exum: The Saturday Funnies

Bill Pennington, a sports writer for the New York Times, was lamenting the “huddle” is slowly disappearing in football due to the faster pace of the game and, during his search for more information, he called former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann. Bill wrote that Joe couldn’t stop laughing about the funny things that would happen between plays. Joe told this story: ... (click for more)

Managed Hunting Is Necessary In Maintaining A Stable Deer Population - And Response

I enjoy seeing the whitetail deer that we have in so many areas here in East Tennessee, but here in Hamilton County we have been approaching the maximum habitat sustainability in some places including the Enterprise South area. I make this statement due to the fact that I have seen up to 20 deer driving around in Hixson in one evening during the summer. I believe that TWRA is doing ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain To Hold Public Meetings On Idea Of Setting Up Own School System

Discussion about follow-up public meetings regarding the Signal Mountain School System Viability Committee (SMSSVC) report dominated the council’s work session on Friday afternoon. Council member Dan Landrum’s opinion about how to proceed differed from the other four council members. Mr. Landrum argued to end the study and to hold no public meetings. His reason was that of the 738 ... (click for more)

Man Shot Multiple Times In Cleveland; Jesus Teague, 14, Is Arrested

On Saturday, at 6:12 a.m., Cleveland Police Department responded to 1210 Elrod Place SE in reference to a domestic disturbance.   A man sustained multiple gunshot wounds and was transported to Erlanger by Life Force. His condition is stable, at this time.   The suspect, Jesus Tyler Teague, 14, was located and was in custody as of 3:25 p.m. ... (click for more)

Mocs Fall 20-14 To Visiting Citadel

The Chattanooga Mocs fell just short in a 20-14 heart-breaker against The Citadel. It was a hard-fought game that went the full 60 minutes.   The Mocs defense stiffened and gave their offensive teammates a shot late in the fourth quarter. The Citadel marched 41 yards, churning out 5-plus minutes of game clock. Tae Davis dropped Grant Drakeford for a 3-yard loss at the Mocs ... (click for more)

Top-Ranked Alabama Smashes Tennessee 45-7

Tennessee, a 34-point underdog in one of college football’s better long-running series, stayed close for one quarter before top-ranked Alabama switched to another gear and pummeled the struggling Vols, 45-7, Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. The rock-ribbed Crimson Tide defense locked down Tennessee’s ground game, hounded quarterback Jarrett Guarantano relentlessly ... (click for more)