UPDATE: MYSTERY SOLVED!
When Ole Miss finally suits someone up in a bear costume, they’ll actually only be the second SEC team to have done so. At least from what I can tell.
I could never quite get a make on what I was looking at in this Larry Parker photo from the 1972 Iron Bowl: an actual bear? a line judge suffering from gigantism? someone in a bear costume?
But a Google image search has me convinced that 40 years ago, before Big Al, the University of Alabama indeed had someone walking the sidelines in a red jumpsuit and a giant white bear head.
From the 1971 Iron Bowl:
It’s not quite as disturbing as the Proto-Gator that appeared in Gainesville around the same time, but it’s still odd to think that a coach could hold such sway in the imagination of a particular fan base as to trump the team’s traditional power-animal identification (in this case the noble elephant). But we’re talking about Alabama fans and Bear Bryant. Anything is possible.
UPDATE — 7/5/2011: We found the beast in another one of Parker’s photos, again from the ’72 Iron Bowl.
UPDATE — 8/10/2011: Here’s even more photo evidence (including an enhanced closeup) of the existence of the terrifying University of Alabama White Bear that haunted Crimson Tide sidelines in the early 70s, or at least at the 1971 and 1972 Iron Bowls. It’s the crypto-creature gift that keeps on giving. Look closely, click to enlarge.
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