Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Alabama's Frank Thomas Educates the Media

Frank Thomas
Alabama's legendary coach Frank Thomas was famously reserved. Never saying much more than necessary and rarely ever raising his voice, he was still able to convey a sense of complete command.

"Hell yes I was was scared of him," admitted his one time player and assistant coach Paul W. Bryant many years later. 

But Thomas understood the need to build bridges with the press due to the high profile of the Crimson Tide program and he was downright accommodating to newspapermen who covered his team.

Stuart X. Stephenson, the sports editor with The Montgomery Advertiser for almost 40 years until his retirement in 1968, once noted, "If any sports scribe alive ever disliked Frank Thomas, I didn't hear it."

In his 1970 book, Quote... Unquote, Stephenson shared this anecdote of how Thomas labored to ensure the men who wrote about the Alabama team understood what they saw on the field during the season.
Tommy knew the value of good press relations and he always made the writing fraternity glad they visited the Capstone.
Several times during a knockdown, drag-out scrimmage he would saunter over to the side line and ask: "What did you think of that play?" With only a speck of knowledge of the technical phases of what had taken place, I'd make the admission.
Then he'd invite me to come on the field and stand behind the offensive team. "I want to show you this in slow motion." I learned then why so many prefer to sit in the end zones to watch the line play.
To be sure, big league football coaches didn't have time to run important plays in slow motion for sports writers. But Frank Thomas did on numerous occasions.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rudy Vallée and "Football Freddy"

By 1931, singer Rudy Vallée was a bona fide media sensation. His performances were invariably sold out and the screaming adoration of female fans would be repeated three decades later with the Beatles. He had appeared in his first feature film, Glorifying the American Girl, which was to launch a robust movie career over the next several decades.

But radio was the medium Vallée dominated. As one of the first of the "crooners" the medium played to the strengths of his singing style and that fueled his overwhelming popularity. In 1928 he debuted his radio show, The Fleischmann Hour, with an estimated 200 million listeners. It was a live variety revue with various guests that became a predecessor to the modern television talk show.

Vallée's show was popular among the college crowd and he played to the interests of his audience on his show. So when he chose to sing a tune about a football star he dedicated it one of the heroes of the 1931 Rose Bowl, Alabama's All-American tackle Fred Sington.

The famed singer and the football star had met during the Crimson Tide's trip west courtesy of former Alabama standout, Johnny Mack Brown, who had starred on the squad in the 1920s but had gone west pursuing a film career in Hollywood.

The song "Football Freddy" was written by Edgar Leslie and Con Conrad in 1930 and due to Vallee's performance it became a hit. And, as a result, Sington's fame spread well beyond the football field.

Other performers committed the song to vinyl including Jack Purvis, Ted Wallace & his Campus Boys and the group Six Jumping Jacks whose version is probably the best known today.

Despite the interest the song sparked in Alabama's Sington, the tale told in "Football Freddy" wasn't exactly an autobiographical match. The lyrics focus far more on the player's romantic pursuits than his gridiron prowess. As one verse opines:
The women folks galore,
They know how he can score,
Especially when the lights are low
Football Freddy, rugged and tan.
Football Freddy, my collegiate man.
The tune also notes of Freddy; "he's not so good at school." That wasn't at all descriptive of the actual Fred Sington who was renowned for his academic excellence, as shown by his selection as a member of Phi Beta Kappa.