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By John Williams

I didn't become a sportswriter until I was 32. But my humble beginnings in 1988 can be rooted in the late 1970s.

It was June of 1979. I was working as a correctional officer at the Guelph Correctional Center - a minimum security, provincial institution in Southern Ontario.

One day, while working in the visiting room, I met an inmate who claimed to have played football for Bear Bryant at the University Of Alabama. His name was Glenn Jackson, age 30, a running back who wore number 33 from 1967 to 71. I spoke with him several times after that about his career with the Crimson Tide.

He was a clean cut, well spoken man with a southern accent. He was also without any visible tattoos that many of the other inmates donned. I believed his story and became very intrigued by it. After a couple of weeks I decided to call the University Of Alabama to confirm it.

It was on a Friday morning in early July that I made contact with Bear Bryant's office. I wasn't expecting to speak to the legendary coach but his secretary put me through to him.

When he came on the telephone I nearly fainted. He spoke with a deep, gravelly voice but was quite receptive. I gave him the details about Glenn Jackson.

"I remember Wilbur Jackson," Bryant said. "But if Glenn Jackson played here he couldn't have played that much or I would remember him."

We parted quite amiably but it took me several minutes to catch my breath. After all, I had just got off the phone with one of the greatest US college football coaches of all time.

At the same time, I believed Jackson's story. He was doing time for uttering which is a form of fraud. I don't think Glenn Jackson was his real name.

Fast forward to June of 1980. I had returned to McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario, was coaching varsity rugby, and was living in a rooming house which included an assistant football coach. He was so impressed with my telephone conversation with Bear Bryant he asked me to try to contact the legend again and ask him - how do you allocate your talent: do you put your best athletes on offence or defence?

Sure enough the amiable Bryant took my call and was more than helpful. "You start with the kicking game because you have to kick off to start the game," Bryant said. "You develop all aspects of special teams. You then develop your defence because if you kick off, your defence will stop them. Finally, you build your offence because if you don't score the worst that can happen is that you'll end up with a 0-0 tie."

I thought Bryant was just having fun with me. After all, it's common knowledge you build your offensive line first. But then again, the Crimson Tide was noted for tenacious special teams play during Bryant's glorious reign from 1958 to 1982 at Alabama.

I had no idea in 1980 that I would eventually become a sportswriter eight years later. But my accomplishments can be rooted in my telephone conversations with a football legend. What a prelude to the last 32 years.


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