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Twelve and Counting: The National Championships of Alabama Football

By: Kenneth Gaddy, ed.; Foreword by Mal Moore
Reviewed by: Van Newell
University of Alabama Press, 2009
$24.95, Hardcover

Like Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, Twelve and Counting: The National Championships of Alabama Football features a mountain of information, of anecdotes and of history and is a book best enjoyed slowly, letting the history digest in one’s brain. Each of the chapters encompasses at least a year’s worth of information regarding (trumpets at the ready) the Alabama Crimson Tide football program and each national championship that they celebrate (for those of you playing along at home, those years would be 1925, 1926, 1930, 1934, 1941, 1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978, 1979, and 1992). Like a road trip, the reading may take a while, but that may mean you may enjoy the ride all the more.

Along with an introduction from Alabama Athletic Director Mal Moore, some talented writers contributed to the text: Allen Barra, Keith Dunnavant, Winston Groom, even Gene Stallings. With over a dozen different voices and styles, the book differentiates with each chapter. From a historical perspective, the 1920s and 1930s reflect not only a different time in collegiate athletics but also how the state of Alabama was different as well, things we might not think of, such as the team taking trains when it visited competitors, even, for example, stopping in New Orleans on its way out west, and being cheered on by LSU fans there, who wanted the Crimson Tide to represent the South and to return the same way with a victory. Indeed, Alabama, and the South in general, was quite poor compared to other states then, and, at the time, few things that the state could hang its hat on, a victory meant the world in lifting the spirits of Alabama football fans.

As a history nerd, I enjoyed learning about the state where I live and how it was. For example, for the year 1941, the average weight of a linebacker was 175 pounds or, in other words, less than half a Terrence Cody.

Obviously, the years and the successes of the Bear are better known and more documented than the early years. We know, of course, of Broadway Joe and the Snake, but that does not mean we know the story whole and complete. It is interesting to note how much narrative can be compacted into one chapter of one season, and while one cannot guarantee it, if the reader does not learn something new in every chapter, if not every page, then this reviewer will eat his houndstooth hat. Aug 2009

Van Newell teaches at the University of Alabama.

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