Big game in chilly Indy tonight.
Why there, you ask? Money. Best bid to get a piece of the action included a hint of ambiance – Peyton’s statue and St. Elmo Steak House since 1902.
Southeastern Conference rematch is of double value, historical significance. Nick Saban has the opportunity to pass Bear Bryant for most national titles at Alabama. That would allow Tide fans to stop arguing about which is the greatest coach of all time.
There is another interesting individual comparison: Heisman Trophy quarterback Bryce Young against less-famous Stetson Fleming Bennett IV. One was destined for stardom. The other had offers in high school from Mercer and Middle Tennessee State.
Bennett feels the imbalance of the burden.
“That’s the nature of the beast, hero or zero.”
The Tide star, indeed, has great talent. The Bulldog has roots.
Buddy Bennett, Stetson’s grandfather, was Tennessee’s pass defense coach in 1970, the year the Volunteers set the SEC record with 36 interceptions. All-conference safety Bobby Majors led the NCAA with 10. Vol captain Tim Priest had nine. Jackie Walker picked off five. David Allen and Conrad Graham had three interceptions each, Jamie Rotella and Danny Jeffries two, Bill McGlothlin and Ray Nettles one.
Bud Ford was immersed in UT sports information way back then. He remains on the edge as Vol historian. He has assembled a legendary career.
A few days ago, he was in Arlington, Texas, in the big press box at Jerry Jones’ house, for the Cotton Bowl Classic, Alabama versus Cincinnati, national playoff semifinal.
For the 10th consecutive year, he was part of an elite cast of information specialists from across the country called in to help coordinate the bowl. This time, Charlie Fiss, media relations director, put the spotlight on Bud.
“Whenever Bud Ford is around, things have a way of running according to plan. … His duties included Media Day, open practice sessions, event transportation coordination, game notes and records.
“His specialty is keeping everyone cool, calm and collected. He’s been doing that for more than 56 years.
“Bud was a fixture at the Tennessee sports information office from 1966 to 2011. He is in the CoSIDA Hall of Fame. He received the Arch Ward Award (No. 1 in the business).
“The Cotton Bowl Classic proudly salutes Bud Ford for his many years of dedication on behalf of the nation’s media.”
Not too bad for a Halls guy on paid holiday.
Bud is an honorary Vol letterman. He has helped many who were helpless. In times past, he rescued several stumbling, bumbling sports reporters from blank stares, those who didn’t even know the question, much less the answer.
Ford is famous for attention to detail, for finishing what he starts, for caring deeply about people, places and things. He is, by nature, an honest keeper of the flame. Among an overwhelming number of photos, smart stories, colorful quotes and wise sayings, he could always identify what was important, file it in a safe place and find it a decade later.
Bud has been less of a philosopher and more a nuts-and-bolts guy with excellent organizational skills. From the beginning, he was good at just getting things done.
Bud didn’t say one word about his background but I know the original Cotton Bowl invitation was a blessing.
When it was UT retirement time, Mike Hamilton, then athletics director, worked out a part-time deal to keep Bud for less than half pay. The contract was spelled out on a restaurant napkin.
New AD Dave Hart did not honor that agreement. Hart or certain new sports information people wanted Bud gone, as in out of there. He made them uncomfortable. He knew too much.
Hart attorneys found a legal loophole. There had been no national search before employment.
Hart called it a budget cut. He almost lost a lifetime treasury of sports information while saving UT $30,000.
You may recall other Hart highlights: out with the Lady Vols name; in with an improperly vetted basketball coach; much better choice in Rick Barnes if you prefer regular-season success over tournaments; Butch Jones was the big hit. Paul Finebaum called him a carnival barker.
The first call from Dallas 10 years ago assured Bud he still had game.
A few days ago, Bud was impressed by Cincinnati. He was not surprised that Alabama met scoring threats with pressure, broken-up passes and sacks – six.
“Alabama decided to run the ball and Brian Robinson Jr. carried the load (204 yards). The Heisman Trophy winner played OK but not great. Henry To’o To’o was around the ball a lot and called defensive signals but Alabama has a better linebacker.
“I think Henry would have been far more valuable to Tennessee this year than he was to Alabama. Don’t get me wrong, he is a solid player but he is in a group of outstanding players.”
To’o To’o was second-team all-SEC.
Bud’s pick for tonight: “I think Alabama will find a way. The one big question will be whether it can defend the multi-talented freshman Brock Bowers, tight end/slot back/wide receiver. To me, he is the best in the country.”
Bud’s confidence grew when he heard Steve Spurrier had picked the Bulldogs. The old ball coach had trouble explaining why: “Maybe they’re due for the football gods to smile on them.”
They are due. Georgia has lost seven in a row to Alabama. Georgia last won a national championship in 1980.
Bud recognizes Bulldog passion. He said he’ll stick with Tide talent and coaching.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is [email protected]