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Behold: Bear Bryant's offseason letter to an Alabama player

In a letter informing senior offensive lineman Mike McQueen when to report for training camp, Bear Bryant gave us a window into his coaching soul.

Imagine sending your players home for the summer and not laying eyes on them for months. 

Imagine, in the age of TeamWorks, a player being informed of his report date via a typewriter and the US Postal Service. 

Imagine opening fall camp on August 19th. August 19th!

That's the world they inhabited in 1982, which seriously has more in common with 1882 than 2022. 

We got a glimpse into that world thanks to Mitchell McQueen, who tweeted a letter his father received from Bear Bryant during the summer of '82.

The letter is not dated, but it details when McQueen is expected to report to Tuscaloosa for training camp, and what shape he's expected to be in upon his arrival. "I am expecting you to report in top physical condition, clean-cut, smiling, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and raring to go," Bryant writes.

How was McQueen expected to keep himself in football shape? That was up to him. This closest thing we've experienced to this in the modern world was the COVID shutdown of 2020, but even then programs were in constant communication with their players about their workouts and their diets. In 1982, McQueen was at the mercy of his local Gold's Gym. Did they have Gold's Gyms in 1982? Does anyone younger than 30 even know what a Gold's Gym is?

The letter provides a fantastic glimpse into the personality for those, like me, who only experienced Bryant through video clips as a stoic, houndstooth-wearing older gentlemen. He could be funny and warm. "I hope you will share your problems with me whether it be at home, at the dorm, in your schoolwork, with teammates, with coaches, with training regulations, self-discipline or even flying a kite," he wrote. He could also be funny and threatening. In the next sentence, Bryant continues: "If you do that, I will try to help you and if I can't, I'll recommend you get a job, join the Army, or join the Foreign Legion, but in any event, to reside in another state."

McQueen was a senior offensive lineman in 1982. His freshman season of 1979 saw the Tide win the sixth of six national championships under Bryant. In 1982, Alabama was coming off a good-not-great season in which the Crimson Tide go 9-2-1 and win SEC title -- shared with Georgia; both teams went 6-0 -- but lose to Texas in the Cotton Bowl and finish No. 7 in the AP poll. 

The letter allows today's readers to view the human side of Bryant, similar to how future generations will be surprised to learn Nick Saban did more than chew ass and spike headsets. "I want to love you, pat you, pet you, brag on you, and see you run and shout and laugh, pray, hug, kiss, and win with humility," Bryant wrote. "If we lose, I want all of us to be unhappy."

Bryant letter

McQueen would go on to become an ear, nose and throat specialist based in Enterprise, Ala. 

"In medical school, there were a lot of people a lot smarter than me. I realized that experience showing up in Tuscaloosa to a national championship team about to win another one was very similar. You go to medical school and all of a sudden, you're surrounded by brilliant, brilliant people. A lot of whom are more talented in different areas than you are. The real key is how do you take advantage of that, learn from them, and learn what they do well and make yourself better," he told The Crimson Standard in 2020.

"The other thing is medical school and residency were just hard work. If you're willing to work to achieve what you want, then you'll be successful. Coach Bryant used to say, 'If this were easy, we couldn't get enough helmets.' His point was that if you want to achieve something, you're going to have to pay a price for it. You just want to make sure that you remember the price you paid for it, so you live each day accordingly. In medical school and residency, there were people who would complain, 'Oh, it's hard. The hours are long.; I used to think, 'Dude, what brochure did you get?' I knew it was important, it was significant, and it was going to be hard. I wouldn't trade it. It was hard, man. It was tough, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. It was a fabulous experience to me."

The postscript to Bryant's letter is a melancholy one. Alabama began 1982 ranked No. 4 in the nation, then rose to No. 2 by Oct. 10 following a decisive win over No. 3 Penn State. The Tide lost to unranked Tennessee the following week, then dropped their final three regular season games, capped by a 23-22 Iron Bowl defeat. The Tide closed the year with a Liberty Bowl win over Illinois.

Bryant retired following the season, and died four weeks later. Eight pallbearers were chosen to carry the Bear's casket. McQueen was one of them.