The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

May 13, 2008

Bryant’s first game coaching Alabama night to remember

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s 13-3 loss to LSU on Sept. 27, 1958, in Mobile is full of historical markers. It was coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s first game in charge of the Crimson Tide, and one that flashed promise for a rebuilding program. For visiting LSU, it was an early step toward an undefeated season and national title.

Yet the most prominent memory of that night, especially for longtime Mobilians, is of the stands collapsing at Ladd Stadium.

A section of wooden bleachers in the north end zone, softened by recent heavy rains, crumpled late in the first quarter under the weight of about 1,500 fans. More than 70 were injured, though miraculously none were in critical condition.

A front-page story in the next day’s Press-Register reported that the stands “collapsed like an accordion.” A “series of popping noises similar to small arms fire” was followed by “a loud hollow sound as the supporting braces completely gave way.”

The fence separating the bleachers from the field was toppled by fans in the front rows rushing from the falling planks.

“You knew what was going to happen,” victim Elizabeth Armand of New Orleans said at the time. “But you didn’t know whether you’d end up under the pile, on top, or where.”

The game was halted for at least five minutes. Players took a knee and watched fans being pulled from the wreckage and carted away in ambulances.

“It scared us all, let me tell you,” said Bobby Jackson, Alabama’s quarterback and former local standout at Murphy High. “Coach Bryant was not very happy, but he didn’t get real mad. He stayed in there with us, and we looked a lot better than we could have looked.”

Once the game resumed, Alabama carried a surprise 3-0 lead into intermission before a deeper, more talented LSU team bowed up with two touchdown drives in the second half. The second score was a 12-yard run by Billy Cannon, who won the Heisman Trophy the following season.

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