by Steve Millburg; Clerisy Press; 368 Pages; $17.95
The boxer in the photograph is wearing a suit and tie. Boxing gloves secured by their laces hang around the slight young man’s neck. He is smirking into the camera. The year is 1940.
The fighter, at 118 pounds, is the University of Alabama’s bantamweight boxing champ George Wallace. Although Wallace boxed professionally for a couple of years in the early 1940s, he would go on to make a name for himself — not in the ring, but as the governor of Alabama.
Wallace is one of more than 500 University of Alabama athletes, coaches and athletic directors profiled in journalist Steve Millburg’s new book on the achievements of the university’s athletic programs.
“Gone Pro: Alabama” is the inaugural volume in a series of books celebrating college athletes who carried their sporting exploits into the professional ranks or the Olympics.
Currently, Alabama competes in 19 intercollegiate sports (eight men’s, 11 women’s). The oldest sports at Alabama, football and baseball, both commenced in 1892, and, naturally, dominate the book’s attention. However, even the newest competitive sport, women’s rowing (2005) earns a mention. All of the other sanctioned programs between 1892 and 2005 have produced athletes competing at the highest levels professionally, or at the Olympics.
As Millburg points out, national championship honors are not reserved exclusively for men’s sports. For instance, gymnastics coach Sarah (Campbell) Petterson in 2012 led her team to a sixth Women’s National Championship, tying legendary football coach Bear Bryant’s record.
In addition to the profiles of athletes and their stats and careers, “Gone Pro” is loaded with the facts and lore surrounding the university’s illustrious teams. Bryant-Denny Stadium, for example, is second by seating capacity (101,821) in the SEC, trailing Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium by less than 1,000 seats. Alabama club sports include bass fishing, cricket and rugby. More than 100 years ago newspaper writers referred to Bama’s football team as the “Crimson White.” The next nickname was “The Thin Red Line.” Then, in 1907, a writer with the Birmingham Age-Herald coined the moniker that stuck: “Crimson Tide.” In 1930 elephants appeared. That year Alabama linemen were called “The Red Elephants.” To conclude, Millburg offers a short, amusing history of Alabama’s victory chant, “Rammer Jammer.”
Fans of the University of Alabama’s sports programs will find “Gone Pro: Alabama” a must-read.
Learn more about the legends of Bama sports by visiting the book’s website: www.GoneProBooks.com.
Art Gould is a former newspaper reporter and book publisher. He lives in Anniston.