Heisman Trophy winner John David Crow put it lightly.
"There's a great deal of connection between Texas A&M and Alabama," said Crow, who played for and was the athletic director at A&M and coached three years as an assistant for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama and A&M, two programs which have squared off only four times on the field, sure share a surprising number of similarities.
Three separate head coaches have led both programs in just the past 60 years.
"They both have a lot of great tradition and both are very great universities in so many ways," said Dennis Franchione, former head coach at both Alabama and A&M. "They have comparable communities and large fan bases and alumni bases."
Now that A&M has joined the SEC, the two similar-yet-unfamiliar programs will get to know each other much better. They will meet for the fifth time -- the first in Tuscaloosa, Ala. -- at 2:30 p.m. Saturday as the No. 15 Aggies look to put a dent in the national title hopes of No. 1 Alabama.
The connection started in 1954 when Paul "Bear" Bryant, who played end at Alabama and won a national championship in 1934, took over a floundering A&M program. Bryant's tough-nosed tactics led his first A&M team to Junction for a brutal training camp in the heat of summer. The "Junction Boys" limped to a 1-9 season during Bryant's first year. It stands as the only losing season of Bryant's illustrious career.
Two seasons later, he led A&M to a Southwest Conference championship. And in 1957, his Aggies were a mainstay in the Top 10, and Crow raced to the program's only Heisman Trophy.
But as the story goes, Bryant "heard Mama calling." The Crimson Tide had won four games combined from 1955-1957 and were looking for a coach who could revive the program. They called on Bryant, who left A&M after four seasons and a combined 25-14-2 record with the Aggies.
Since Bryant, no A&M head coach has chosen to leave, instead being forced out. Crow said that Bryant's departure "upset quite a few old Aggies." However, Bryant's former player could understand why Bryant had such a fond view of Crimson Tide football. Crow also called Alabama an escape of sorts for Bryant, who grew up one of 12 siblings in the small town of Moro Bottom, Ark.
"He really had nowhere to go. Alabama got him out of there, so to speak. It really got him out of there," Crow said. "I think he did have a very, very close attachment to Alabama from day one."
Crow also admits Bryant left A&M for a better job.
"He was going somewhere where they had girls and sororities on campus and A&M had military," he said. "That's one of the reasons he would go back. [Alabama] was a better potential job when [A&M] was all-military."
From 1958-1965, Bryant turned Alabama into a national powerhouse, winning three national championships. On two of those teams was Jackie Sherrill.
After Sherrill's playing career, he went into coaching and, in 1982, took over the same A&M job his former coach once held, only Sherrill did so by signing at the time the most lucrative coaching contract in history. He coached the Aggies for six seasons, instituted the famed 12th Man Kickoff Team and won three straight Southwest Conference championships, turning A&M into a well-respected program heading into the 1990s.
"The two schools are linked together," Sherrill said. "The biggest difference comes back to one thing: Bryant built Alabama to be a very consistent winner."
In his 25 seasons at Alabama, Bryant won six national championships, 13 conference championships and retired as the winningest coach in college football. During his tenure at Alabama, Bryant hired five players who played for him at A&M -- Crow, Bobby Marks, Dee Powell, Bobby Keith and Gene Stallings.
Stallings became the head coach of A&M at the age of 29 after helping the Crimson Tide to the 1964 national championship as a defensive assistant.
Stallings had two consecutive losing seasons to begin his A&M tenure. However, in 1967, Stallings led A&M to a surprising 7-4 season, which earned the Aggies a berth in the Cotton Bowl. They were pitted against Alabama and Stallings' mentor, Bryant, whose Crimson Tide had won three national championships in a decade. Stallings said he was exuberant about the matchup because it would get his players on the same field as the "Bear."
"The real reason I wanted A&M to play Alabama was I wanted my players to have some exposure to Coach Bryant," Stallings said. "I wanted the players to hear him, see him."
They did so much more.
The unranked Aggies shocked the No. 8 Crimson Tide 20-16. Bryant lifted Stallings onto his shoulders after the game and visited the A&M locker room after the game to congratulate the victors.
Stallings was fired at A&M following the 1970 season, having compiled an overall record of 27-45-1. He had a successful stay as an NFL assistant under Tom Landry, coaching the secondary for the Dallas Cowboys for 14 seasons and following that with a stint as the Phoenix Cardinals' head coach. Stallings returned to college football in 1990 when Alabama offered him the head coaching job.
Stallings' first Tide team finished 7-5, but he got the program back to it usual heights. Alabama won a national championship in 1992 after a perfect 13-0 season for one of their 14 titles. Stallings called it a career after 1997, having led Alabama to 62 wins. Post-career, he spent time as a member of the A&M Board of Regents and was instrumental in the school's move to the SEC.
"I loved every minute of my time at both Texas A&M and Alabama," he said. "I wouldn't trade it for anything."
The only significant difference he noted are the increased expectations held by the Crimson Tide faithful.
"If you want to be accepted at 'Bama," he said, "you have to beat Tennessee, beat Auburn, and you have to win a national championship."
The shoe was on the other foot more than a decade after Stallings' coaching tenure ended at Alabama. With the football program struggling, Alabama targeted Franchione after he led TCU to its first bowl victory since 1957 and its first Top 25 finish since 1959. He took over a Crimson Tide team that had gone 3-8 in 2000 and led them to 17 wins in two seasons and an SEC Western Division championship. Franchione turned down a contract extension from Alabama during the 2002 offseason, and when A&M fired R.C. Slocum, Franchione resigned from Alabama and took the A&M job -- a move that angered the loyal Crimson Tide fan base.
Franchione's stint at A&M began with a 4-8 season, and the Aggies compiled only 27 victories in the next four seasons, failing to finish a season ranked. Franchione's final season, 2007, was marred by a secret newsletter for boosters controversy. The discovery of the newsletter coupled with five seasons of mediocrity led to Franchione's resignation following the Texas game in 2007. Under Franchione, the Aggies went 19-21 in Big 12 play.
Now Texas State's head coach, Franchione said the biggest difference between A&M and Alabama is the Crimson Tide's faithful.
"Alabama football is a deep part of the culture and tradition and is very significant to that state and to the people," he said. "The love of the football program at Alabama is unparalleled to any place I've seen."
Crow seconded that notion, saying that not only does Alabama expect to win, they do it.
"It's a genuine feeling because they've won so much, so many national championships" he said.
"There's got to be a great feeling of pride in that program and deservedly so."
Crow has deep feelings for Alabama football. He served as a backs coach for three seasons and his son and namesake, John David Crow Jr., grew up in Tuscaloosa and played football for Bryant and the Crimson Tide. Crow Jr. died near Tuscaloosa in 1994 at the age of 39 when he was struck by a car. Crow Jr.'s two daughters, Krista and Sarah Beth, both graduated from Alabama and attend every home football game.
So while Crow still lives in the shadow of Kyle Field and is a proud Aggie, he is almost equally proud of his ties to the Tide.
"I tell everybody. I'm not ashamed of it. I'm proud of it. Alabama's a close second to me," Crow said. "It's still second, but it's a close second."
Both Crow and Stallings will be watching Saturday, and Crow said that A&M will get a close glimpse of the kind of program it should aspire to be.
"[Alabama]'s success is what I'm hoping [A&M] can look forward to having, where they're expecting to have success," Crow said.
Paul "Bear" Bryant at A&M: 1954-57. 25-14-2 record. His 1956 team won the Southwest Conference. Bryant coached at Alabama from 1958-82, going 232-46-9, including a 138-27-5 SEC record. He won six nationals championships and 13 SEC titles.
Gene Stallings. He coached at A&M from 1965-71, going 27-45-1. His 1968 team won the Southwest Conference and beat Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. Stallings coached at Alabama from 1990-96, going 70-16-1, including a 43-12-1 SEC record. His 1992 team was 13-0, beating Miami in the Sugar Bowl.
Dennis Franchione. He coached at Alabama from 2001-02, going 17-8. He coached at A&M from 2003-07, going 32-28.