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The life and times of Pat Trammell

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Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2018 10:01 am

If time heals all wounds, it can sometimes bury the past to the point we forget, it seems.

The grave sits at a corner in Pinehaven Memorial Gardens in Hollywood, just one of so many there. 

In a way, it sits idly by, surrounded only by family. His parents are next to him, along with a grandmother and his younger brother.

It's sort of sad, really. For a man, who meant so much to a small town, then later to a whole state, it seems more would be expected of his final resting place.

Connie Wilkerson, who works at Pinehaven, points to a small University of Alabama coin resting on his head stone.

"Someone put that on there sometime back," she says. "We don't know who, though."

And that's the only memento of the boy, who left Scottsboro in the summer of 1958, arrived in Tuscaloosa at the same time a legendary coach did and declared himself the quarterback of the football team.

The ones who remember him, remember the athletic accomplishments, the toughness and mischief, are much older now.

It's been over 50 years since he left Scottsboro, over 40 years since his untimely death, but the ones who remember him, remember him as if it was yesterday.

He was different, they'll tell you, one of a kind, no doubt. He was a winner, a natural born leader, they mention.

The flaws, we all have them, are protected. He could cuss with the best of them, they say.

He chewed tobacco and liked a drink of whiskey now and then. But those that were there, probably sharing the bottle with him, don't get into that much.

He was here, on this earth, for 28 years, still a young man. He was a quarterback on a national championship football team, the unquestioned leader. He was Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's favorite person in his life. He was a husband and father. He was a doctor.

Cancer took him away. He took it with dignity, as those around him crumbled at the thought of this dreaded disease taking someone so young, so strong.

Still, those that knew him, that were there, know it didn't beat him. The boy, who would fight anybody or anything, just ran out of time.

Early on

By all accounts, Patrick Lee Trammell, the middle son of Dr. Edward Lee and Mattie Trammell, made his way to Jackson County right about the time World War II was coming to an end.

He was born July 11, 1940 in Clay County. By the time he was around five years old, the family had moved to the small town of Dutton on Sand Mountain, where his father opened a doctor's office.

It was in Dutton where Bobby Hodges, a later high school football teammate and lifetime friend, would first meet Trammell. Hodges and his mother were living in Dutton at the time with his grandparents while his father was overseas in World War II.

His first memory of Trammell was of him having the measles or mumps and being told not to leave the house.

"He climbed out of a bathroom window and walked down the road in his pajamas to come play with me," said Hodges.

Ted Evans, who still lives in Dutton, remembers meeting Trammell in the first grade.

"You name it, and we'd do it," Evans said.

One time the youngsters planned a night of camping out without telling anyone.

"We went down to Bob Powell's store, bought a bunch of stuff and charged it to our dads," said Evans. "After dark, they got to looking for us. [Doc] Trammell came down there in the woods and found us. He whipped our butts all the way home, whipping me awhile and then Pat awhile."

Nina Jo Green Atkins remembers playing with Trammell as kids.

"My grandmother lived in Dutton," she said. "Nobody was allowed to play on Maw maw’s bed after it was made, except Pat. In Maw maw’s eyes, Pat could do no wrong."

"He was a different breed," said Evans. "There's never been another one like him."

Later, the Trammells moved to Scottsboro, where Dr. Trammell opened his practice.

The story goes that Trammell and older brother Dale decided they wanted to move back to Dutton. So one day, they stole their mother's car, both still years away from the legal age of driving.

"They were going to drive back out here," laughed Evans. "A policeman stopped them at the river bridge. Pat was in the floor board feeding the gas and working the brake, while Dale was driving."


In Scottsboro, Trammell would discover the game that would make him a legend not only in Jackson County but all of Alabama.

Hodges, a year older, said Trammell went into his first game as a freshman at quarterback after the starter got injured.

"I don't remember the outcome of the game," he said. "But I do remember that as far as I know, no one ever took a snap as quarterback on the first team after that until he had graduated."

John O'Linger met Trammell for the first time their freshman year. O'Linger would be the man snapping Trammell the ball in Scottsboro and later at Alabama.

"He was a natural born leader," remembers O'Linger. "He was very smart, very brilliant. He was as smart as the coaches."

The late Jack Cornelius, the football coach at Jackson County High School from 1955-57, then one year at Scottsboro High School, once said Trammell was a better football coach than himself or Bear Bryant, according to Hodges.

"[Cornelius] said it took Bryant a whole season at Alabama to learn Pat knew more football than he did," said Hodges.  "And it only took coach Cornelius one game to learn that."

Hodges said Trammell's knowledge of the game of football was second to none.

"He would readily take command of a team and no one on that team ever doubted who was in charge," said Hodges. "He had amazing insight into where the defensive backs were and what weak spots were in the defensive line."

Bo Davis, a high school teammate of Trammell, said coaches would turn the offense over to the quarterback.

"He developed the game plan," said Davis. "He was like an assistant coach."

O'Linger said, on the Trammells' front porch, he would sit for hours watching his friend draw football plays.

"Ain't no telling how many," O'Linger said.

Evans, who remained close to Trammell through their high school and college years, said his friend had a photographic memory.

"He was a genius," said Evans. "I've often thought probably the simple things were boring to him."

Another story goes that Trammell would ask a teacher a question while in high school.

"Some teachers were kind of leery about answering him," laughed Evans. "They figured he already knew the answer."

By his junior year, Trammell was quarterback on, arguably, one of the greatest teams in Jackson County football history. The final football team of Jackson County High School finished 9-1, in 1956, the only blemish a 25-24 heartbreaker in the second game of the season to Etowah County.

"We missed all of our extra points, and [Etowah County] made one," said Hodges, who was a senior on the team.

Another senior, Davis, said Jackson County led 24-13 at the half, but Trammell suffered a concussion and didn't return in the second half.

The team rebounded and closed the season on an eight-game winning streak, defeating Albertville 26-14, Stevenson 52-7, Marshall County 25-8, Oneonta 39-7, Fort Payne 59-6, Sylvania 60-2, Bridgeport 40-0 and Rossville, Ga. 40-0.

Seven players off that team signed football scholarships. Seniors Hodges, Davis, Perry Boykin and Ray Gentle signed with Auburn, while senior Bill Sanders signed with Tennessee-Chattanooga. A year later, Trammell, O'Linger and David Webb signed with Alabama.

During that season, Trammell threw five touchdown passes in the win over Fort Payne, returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the win over Sylvania and threw two touchdowns and ran for two more touchdowns in the win over Bridgeport.

His senior season, Trammell led the first Scottsboro team to a 7-3 record.

That year, Scottsboro exacted revenge on Etowah County with a 33-6 win. Trammell rushed for 193 yards on 21 carries and threw two touchdown passes in what he called his greatest game in high school.

Over 50 years later, Trammell still holds a few football records in Scottsboro. His 40 career touchdowns passes are still the most in school history. His two interception returns for touchdowns in one game are still a record as is throwing five touchdowns in a game, done twice.

Trammell was also an excellent basketball player. As a junior, he helped lead Jackson County High to a 39-2 record, falling 20-18 in the state tournament to Fayette, a team they had beaten 94-56 earlier in the season. Still, Trammell was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.

His senior year he was named the Most Valuable Player in the state.


Grady Bennett met Trammell in 1954 after graduating high school in Harriman, Tenn. near Knoxville. Bennett was a few years older.

"We met at church," said Bennett. "It just grew into one of the best friendships. He was one of the dearest friends I ever had."

On weekends, Trammell, Bennett, O'Linger, Hodges and Davis were always together.

It was great times, Davis remembers.

Sometimes, they would go watermelon stealing. Bennett would stay in the car to catch the watermelons while the others grabbed them. It ended the night Bennett forgot to roll down the window, and Trammell heaved a watermelon that splashed all over the window.

"We'd go to the movies, sit up in the balcony at the Bocanita Theatre," said Bennett.

He said Trammell wanted to sit up in the balcony so he could chew tobacco.

Once, sitting on the front porch, Trammell convinced Bennett to try some chewing tobacco.

It was Bennett's first and last time as he got sick and dizzy, all the while his friend sitting there laughing.

Trammell had a way of getting those around him to do what he wanted.

"I never met anyone that could be a leader like him," said Bennett.

He was mischievous and also prone to fight.

"He would fight a circle saw," said O'Linger. "But he'd have to be provoked. He wasn't scared of anybody."

Bennett said Trammell wasn't mean, though.

"Everybody liked him," he said.

Evans remembers only one fight they had as youngsters. They were playing basketball.

"We got into it about something," said Evans. "He hit me in the mouth. We went to Doc Trammell's office and he scolded us about fighting."

The stories go that Trammell would fight someone, usually whipping them, then taking them to his father's office for treatment.

"One night a guy smarted off to him," remembers Bennett. "Pat broke his nose, put him in the car and took him to Dr. Trammell's office to fix it."

There was another story of Trammell and a teammate on the football field. Trammell told the guy, "take off that helmet and I'll whip the....out of you."

The teammate took his helmet off, but Trammell left his on. The results weren't pretty.

"He was always in control," said Evans. "He never lost his cool. That's what made him a leader."

The only man known that Trammell didn't whip doesn't talk about it.

O'Linger remembers the fight between Trammell and Hodges long ago.

"They fought and fought," he said. "Then they would sit down and get up and fight some more."

Davis, who was in class the day of the big fight on the football field, said it wouldn't have happened if he'd been out there.

"I was the peace keeper," he said.

To Hodges, it's a long ago memory buried deep away.

"I respectfully decline to recount it," said Hodges. "Out of respect for Pat and the fact that he is not here to give his version of it. That is long water under the bridge and never brought up between us again."

The decision

Following high school, Trammell's heart was set on attending Georgia Tech, where he had grown close to head coach Bobby Dodd. Trammell planned on majoring in Engineering.

"Pat had already told Dodd he was coming," said Bennett.

During football season, Cecil Word had taken Trammell and O'Linger to the Alabama-Auburn game, a game Auburn won 40-0.

After the game, Word carried the boys by to see Alabama President Dr. Frank Rose for a few minutes. Rose told the boys the school was hiring a new coach to turn around the downtrodden football program, which had been struggling the past few years.

"He said all he could say was the coach was a winner," said O'Linger. "But he couldn't tell us who he was."

O'Linger planned on signing with Alabama, but Trammell was sticking with Georgia Tech.

"I told him, 'you need to go to Alabama. It's your state,'" said O'Linger. "He said, 'well, I'm going to Georgia Tech.' I said, 'well, ok, then we'll beat your ass.'"

Bennett said Trammell told him he had already promised Dodd he was going to Georgia Tech.

On a Saturday morning, Trammell was with Bennett when Mrs. Trammell called and said for him to come home, there were a couple of coaches from Alabama there to see him.

Trammell didn't want to go, so he talked Bennett into going with him.

When they arrived, Alabama assistants Jerry Claiborne and Sam Bailey, part of new coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's staff were standing in the living room talking to Dr. Trammell, while Mrs. Trammell was in the kitchen cooking lunch.

Trammell didn't say much as the men talked. Finally, Dr. Trammell retrieved a book from a shelf. He opened the book and showed his son something he had written in it when he was in the third grade.

"When I grow up, I want to play football at Alabama," the note read.

Later, Trammell met up with O'Linger. Trammell swaggered around and said, "I reckon I'll be going to Alabama with you."

"I was so happy," said O'Linger.


The legend, or maybe folklore, is in the Fall of 1958, in the first meeting of freshmen football players at the University of Alabama, Trammell stood in the middle of the other quarterbacks, pulled out a switchblade and stuck it in the table. While the blade still quivered, he said, "I aim to be the quarterback."

Legend also says one of the quarterbacks switched to defensive back that day.

Bryant told the 55 freshmen that day if they stuck with him for four years, believed and worked hard, they would be national champions.

"Eleven of us did," said O'Linger. "They quit like flies."

Trammell became a three-year starter at Alabama (freshman were ineligible in those days), had a 26-3-4 record, was named All-SEC as a senior and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1961.

In two of the losses, he was injured during the game.

Trammell was the same fiery leader in Tuscaloosa as he had been in Scottsboro.

"He was a commanding leader in the huddle," remembers Tommy Brooker, a teammate through their four years who went on to play in the AFL. "He was able to relate to coach Bryant. He could comprehend what coach wanted to do."

In those days, players played both ways. Brooker said Trammell was as good on defense at cornerback as he was as quarterback.

"He was demanding in everything," said Brooker.

Brooker said Trammell would dog cuss someone in the huddle for missing an assignment. He also said Trammell was calling plays at the line of scrimmage long before that was the thing to do.

Brooker and O'Linger both said Trammell didn't hesitate to argue with Bryant, even going as far as to reject plays sent in from the sideline.

In one game, Trammell quick-kicked on third down in a tight game. As he was running off the field, Bryant came up to him livid saying, "what in the hell are you doing?"

Trammell replied, "well coach, those damn guys aren't blocking anyone, so I thought we might as well see if they can play defense."

Keith Dunavant, author of "Coach" and "The Missing Ring," and also editor of CrimsonReplay.com, said no one else who ever played for Bryant could've gotten away with that.

"[Trammell] was one tough hombre," said Dunavant. "He had a fire inside of him, a determination to be a winner."

O'Linger said Bryant had faith in Trammell to change plays.

"They were like father and son," said O'Linger. "Pat would tell Bryant what he thought. Bryant would listen."

In 1961, with Trammell as quarterback, Alabama won the National Championship.

Billy Neighbors, another teammate who also played pro ball, was once quoted as saying, "Pat Trammell was the smartest, toughest quarterback I've ever been around, and I've been around some good ones. He controlled the game. He would have been a great general."

Bryant loved Trammell, according to all. And all of his teammates felt the same way.

In "Coach," Dunavant writes, "sometimes combative, usually profane, always tenacious, [Trammell] was even tougher on his teammates than his coach. But he was a natural leader, and they loved him like a big brother, followed him like a litter of puppies."

Bryant once said of the now famous quote, "[Trammell] can't run, he can't pass, all he can do is win."

Dunavant said that was a little misleading.

"He was a pretty good runner and passer," said Dunavant. "He was just such a competitor."

After the championship season, Trammell and Bryant attended the National Football Foundation in New York. On that night, Trammell met President John F. Kennedy, Gen. Douglas MacAuthur and Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi.

Lombardi asked Trammell if he was interested in playing pro football for the Packers. Bryant, however, quickly jumped into the conversation and said, "this boy's not playing pro football. He's going to med school."

Trammell was still drafted by the AFL Dallas Texans, though he never played.

Bennett, who never missed an Alabama game during his friend's playing career, said the Detroit Lions tried hard to get Trammell but without luck.

Instead, as his coach said, Trammell entered med school at Alabama.


Trammell married shortly after his playing days. He and wife, Baye, had two children, Pat Jr. and Julianna.

In the summer of 1968, after earning his medical degree and only six months from finishing his internship as a dermatologist, Trammell was diagnosed with metastatic testicular cancer.

Many believe it began with a groin injury during his playing days at Alabama.

However, Davis said during a pickup basketball game Trammell's final year in medical school, he was kneed in the groin.

Rather than getting it checked out, Davis said Trammell, "just kept putting it off and off."

Once diagnosed, Trammell, the fighter, took over. He was determined to beat the cancer. Twice, he went to New York City to an experimental clinic for surgery.

The second time he finally cracked a little, asking Bryant, "will you go with me?"

His coach said he would. As the late Benny Marshall wrote in a column in The Birmingham News in December 1968, "[Bryant] would've gone if it had been the afternoon of the Auburn game, because people are important to Paul Bryant, and this young man owned a piece of his heart."

They thought he'd beat the dreaded disease after the second trip to New York City.

"Everybody thought he'd be all right," said Brooker.

But it came back, and it came back hard by the fall of '68. It had spread through his stomach and into his brain.

Evans saw his friend alive for the final time one afternoon at his dad's store in Dutton.

"He came up with Doc and little Pat," remembers Evans. "I guess we sat up there for couple of hours."

Trammell told his friend he was in pretty bad shape.

"You could tell," said Evans.

Trammell and his son attended the Alabama-Auburn game a few weeks later. Alabama won 24-16 and following the game Trammell and his son went into the dressing room. Linebacker Mike Hall presented him with the game ball in an emotional moment for all involved.

Bennett said Trammell and his wife had just bought a house in Mountain Brook. During a visit, Bennett and Trammell walked in the backyard. Trammell told him he knew he wasn't going to be around much longer.

"He told me not to worry, he was ready to go," remembers Bennett.

The last time O'Linger talked to Trammell was earlier that summer in Anniston.

"I was coaching," said O'Linger. "He came and was considering opening his practice in Anniston. That was about the time he discovered he had cancer."

One of the last times Hodges saw his friend they were together at a football game at Legion Field watching a young quarterback named Joe Namath.

Namath, who was a freshman Trammell's senior year, remembers him well.

"Pat's leadership was exemplified by his toughness," said Namath. "He was a demanding mentor and certainly made me a better quarterback. I miss that smile of his."

While in the hospital, practically on his deathbed, Trammell was visited by his former coach, Bryant. Bryant asked him if there was anything he wanted. Trammell responded, "a bottle of Jack Daniels."

He also told his coach, "I sure hope we sign some good freshmen."

Trammell died on Dec. 10, 1968 in University Hospital in Birmingham.

"Pat's mom called Bo [Davis] and I and told us she did not think he had much longer, if we wanted to see him," remembers Hodges. "Bo and I jumped in a car and drove down there. We got to the hospital some 10 minutes after he died."

Bennett was on his way to Birmingham that day when it came over the radio that Trammell had passed away.

"I turned around and came home," remembers Bennett.

Evans got the news at home. He got up and went to the woods with his bird dogs. He sat down and cried.

Bryant, on hearing Trammell had died, called it "the saddest day of my life."

Before his own death, in 1983, Bryant said of Trammell, "he was the favorite person in my life."

The funeral

There was a huge gathering at the old United First Methodist Church at the corner of  Laurel Street and Scott Street in Scottsboro for the funeral.

Bennett said the church held 500 people and was easily filled to capacity with many more standing outside.

Pallbearers were Hodges, Bennett, Davis, O'Linger, Hugh Stewart and Dennis Huey. Honorary pallbearers included about 100 Alabama football players, past and present of that day.

Bryant was there, before and after the funeral, Bennett remembers. Auburn head football coach Shag Jordan was also at the funeral, as were representatives of Gov. Albert Brewer.

Dr. Rose, the Alabama president, spoke during the funeral. His words soothed an aching Evans.

Rose said, "Pat's dying was not the act of God...but the failure of man. Someday a child who is now in a classroom will become a man or woman in a hospital laboratory and will find a cure for cancer. They will eliminate this dread disease like they have eliminated typhoid fever and diphtheria."

Evans had wondered, "Why in the world didn't the Good Lord take somebody like me. Here's a young man, married with kids, just getting ready to do mankind some good in being a doctor."

That day is the only day people said Bryant was seen crying in public.

At the gravesite, at Pine Haven Cemetery, Hodges stood there thinking and remembering.

"I was thinking how lucky I was in never having had to play against him," remembers Hodges. "I remember thinking at that moment what an extraordinary journey we had made together and how fortunate I had been to call him my teammate."

His legacy

At the Holiday Inn following the funeral Brooker remembers what seemed like at least 100 people in a room.

"Coach Bryant was sitting on the bed, and said what in the hell are we going to do for his children," said Brooker.

Three weeks later, the Alabama A Club Educational and Charitable Foundation was created. Bryant made an initial contribution of $1 million with Trammell's children in mind.

Brooker said the foundation is still in operation 42 years later to help children of former Alabama football players in times of need.

The Pat Trammell Award is presented annually to an Alabama football player each spring that demonstrates the merit, leadership and character of the former player.

In 1975, Trammell was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

Four years earlier, the football field at Scottsboro High School was named Trammell Stadium.

He's been dead for almost 42 years, yet the ones who were there, the ones called friends still remember.

"I can see him just as vivid as if it were yesterday," said Bennett, still remembering the times his friend would knock him down with football passes.

"I can't believe it's been that long," said O'Linger of his friend's death. "Everybody loved Trammell. He was a winner."

Davis called Trammell's death a tragedy.

"He had quite an influence on a lot of people," remembers Davis.

Evans said it seems like it was only a few years ago he was still watching his friend play football.

Bennett called his friend, one of a kind. In all his life, Bennett said he never had a better or kinder friend.

"People that didn't know him got cheated," said Bennett.

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1 comment:

  • Terry posted at 12:36 pm on Tue, Dec 11, 2018.

    Terry Posts: 2

    Great article Dewayne! I really enjoyed reading it! Keep up the good work!


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