BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Thursday marks 39 years since legendary Alabama football Coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant’s funeral. His family’s burial site is right in Birmingham and many fans have visited in years past leaving some of his signature favorite items – including Coca-Cola, Golden Flakes potato chips, houndstooth hats and more.
“It was really a shock because Coach Bryant was 69 years old when he passed away,” wide receiver who played under Coach Bryant in the 70s, Keith Pugh said. “We knew he had some health problems but it was one of those days and moments that you know exactly where you were when you heard that he passed away.”
That heartbreaking news brought many of his former teammates together for his funeral.
“Most of the guys came back,” Pugh said. “We were all in the church. After the service, we loaded on the buses to Birmingham to Elmwood Cemetery. It was just a sad day. You could see people all over the interstates coming out to honor Coach Bryant.”
According to Pugh, he and his former teammates still carry the lessons coach Bryant taught them.
“Even though he’s been gone 39 years, guys like me who had the privilege of playing for Coach Bryant, he was a great influence in our lives,” Pugh said. “Coach Bryant was such a strong leader and knew how to motivate and guide young men.”
In addition to his way of motivating young men, he also had a way of uniting his community.
“Coach Bryant was the first to lead us to championships in the 60s and 70s. He did a lot for the university, the city of Tuscaloosa and the state. He coached during some pretty turbulent times but gave all Alabamians something to rally around and be a part of. That was Alabama Football.”
Nearly four decades after his death, his legacy carries on.
“He was just an awesome man worthy of respect,” Pugh said.
If you would like to visit Coach Bryant’s burial site at Birmingham’s Elmwood Cemetery, enter the grounds on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Turn right from the round-a-bout and follow the red pathway left. You’ll then make a left at Block 30. The Bryant-Folmar family burial site will be on your right.