The real ring: ‘Bama players finally honored for 1966 season

Published 1:55 pm Thursday, October 8, 2009

When former University of Alabama football players Junior Davis of Hoover, Conrad Fowler of Columbiana, Mike Hall of Havana and Norris Hamer of Gardendale got together at Davis’ office in Pelham before lunch Wednesday, their topic of conversation was an odd one – jewelry.

But after more than 42 years, the four players, in addition to their 1966 teammates, now have that missing ring they all felt they rightfully deserved.

Following back-to-back national championships in 1964-65, Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide entered the ’66 season as the No. 1 team in the nation, but was dropped to third after not playing the first week of the season.

Alabama, the Michigan State Spartans and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish emerged as the top three teams throughout the season, as the Crimson Tide emerged unscathed with a perfect 11-0 record.

However, in a Nov. 19 match-up, the Spartans and the Irish played to a tie, and the two teams remained Nos. 1 and 2 in the final AP poll, each with a 9-0-1 record.

While neither the Spartans or Irish went on to play a bowl game, the No. 3 Tide dominated No. 6 Nebraska, 34-7, in the Sugar Bowl.

Some theories of why the controversial vote happened include the 1966 Associated Press poll was a backlash for the Tide winning the championship in ’64, in which Alabama beat Texas, who lost to undefeated Arkansas, while others felt it was a backlash for the ’65 title, in which the Tide finished 9-1-1, while the Spartans finished 9-1.

Another theory was that voters were punishing the Tide because the state of Alabama was still allowing segregation.

Following the vote, Fowler said he remembers Bryant leaving a note for the players the next morning.

“Coach Bryant had been up most of the night, and he left us a note the next morning saying, ‘Sorry we didn’t make it this year,'” Fowler said. “I’ll never forget that.”

While the four players said Bryant never really showed how much the missing ring meant to him, Fowler said that was just the person he was.

“That was just his nature,” Fowler said. “He wanted it, but he didn’t want to play off it.”

Hall agreed.

“It hurt him just as bad as it did us,” Hall said. “But we had to move on. We had to play in ’67.”

Author Keith Dunnavant wrote about the controversial season in his book, “The Missing Ring: How Bear Bryant and the 1966 Alabama Crimson Tide Were Denied College Football’s Most Elusive Prize.”

After the release of the book, Hall and teammate Bob Childs began throwing around the idea of having rings made up for the uncrowned ’66 championship team.

“That gave Bob and Mike the ammunition to push the idea,” Fowler said. “(Dunnavant) really wrote some inside stuff that really drew people’s attention.”

Hall said while he and Childs were “whining” one day about not getting a ring, they decided to throw the idea around to other players, which quickly caught on.

“We didn’t have a ring from that season. Coach Bryant did not believe in getting an SEC championship ring,” Hall said. “You only got a national championship ring.”

When news broke that Dave Hart had been named chief operating officer for University of Alabama athletics, Hall and Childs went to Athletic Director Mal Moore with the idea.

“I was afraid Mal was going to get out of there before we could get it done,” Hall said.

And get it done, Hall did.

“I never gave up,” Hall said.

Players began receiving rings in August, and although the rings read “SEC Champions,” the three diamonds on the middle crimson stone signify the Tide’s three-consecutive national championships, the first team to ever do so.

“I needed something to show my kids and my family,” Davis said. “It’s closure for me.”

But while the long awaited rings are certainly special to the players, there is another ring that will always hold the most special place in each of their hearts – the A-Club ring.

A-Club rings were given by Bryant to players who endured all four years of Alabama football.

“Forty-five guys signed with us, and only 17 made it the whole way,” Davis said. “That ring right there, that came from the man.”